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  • Programs of the Improbable, Short Circuits of the Unheard-of
  • Bernard Stiegler (bio)
    Translated by Robert Hughes

[End Page 70]

Several years ago I read Bird Lives! The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie (Yardbird) Parker, a biography written by Ross Russell, several passages of which still come back to me. They concern improvisation in jazz in general and how Parker in particular became familiar with the memory of this tradition. On his first tours, at twenty years old, he traveled with two musical instruments: his saxophone and his phonograph—plus records featuring Lester Young, but no sheet music. According to Russell, it is with both of these instruments, and not just with the saxophone, that Charlie Parker (1920–55) became Bird, master of the bebop revolution.

I have now come to think that if jazz can be considered as a popular music that is also sophisticated (and as a music that, by way of the phonograph, has influenced the planet in innumerable ways—itself a result of Western music’s influence on black music in the same way), it is first of all because jazz has thrived within the age of electronic and analog recording technologies—that is to say within a technology of writing—starting from an oral tradition of singing belonging to a people torn from their land, abstracted, so to speak, from their ethnic determinants, and literally deterritorialized. And it is in a huge short circuit that black music encountered and invaded an ultra-modern technology of non-lettered (non-littérale) writing and recording (mémorisation). The ears of jazz are electronic.

All recording is a form of writing; technical forms of recording open up and configure the fields of writing and the general surfaces of inscription—musical and non-musical.

There are techno-logics of music that involve not just musical instruments alone, but technologies of memory, where such technologies are necessary for memory to take place, and memory is necessary for the constitution of any cultural heritage. This issue takes on a certain urgency when the reproduction of traces in general assumes an industrial scale. Indeed, new forms of technology—mnemotechnologies (including those of so-called oral cultures)—induce phenomena of rupture at all levels, while nonetheless being rooted in the deep continuity of a recurring question. Such ruptures are particularly noticeable due to recent digital technologies, but they are already at work, under other modalities, with analog technology, the effects of which remain largely unmeasured.

The present study will argue for a conceptual elaboration that might characterize the reproducibility and the operability of “techno-logics” in art and in thought. More specifically, it will propose principles for a typology of media and of modes of reproduction of traces from three broad categories: lettered (littérale), analog, and digital, in the general context of cultural programming industries that combine the three types of reproduction. In this context, jazz is a characteristic object. In order to analyze reproducibility broadly, this essay will introduce the specific concept of a différant identity.

The main hypothesis is that lettered, analog, and digital reproducibilities configure heterogeneous temporalities; thus, the analyses that follow will focus on the question of time.

In its conclusion, this essay will seek to highlight some consequences in the field of the development of synthesis and of real time concerning new specifications of deferred time and new conditions of access to collections and archives in various domains. These [End Page 71] new conditions of access affect the transmission and elaboration of knowledge in general: cognitive, artistic, ethical, savoir-faire, savoir-vivre.1

>> Charlie Parker, the Analog Inscription of Jazz, and the Configuring of a Différant Temporality

Jazz, as a musical culture, belongs to written tradition as much as to oral tradition. It is, strictly speaking, an analog and electronic culture, a musical knowledge transmitted through phonogrammatic and radiophonic media, without which it would not have existed. Jazz is conveyed through these media, but beyond that it has developed through them; not inhibited by the schemata of graphically notated musical culture, jazz has both inhabited these schemata and benefited from them. In jazz, it is...