Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

The Aural Zone


Echo Chamber: Listening to La Jetée by criterioncollection

I’ve always been fascinated with the soundtrack of La Jetée, and indeed the enigmatic, complex soundtracks Chris Marker crafted throughout his long career. Here’s a short video essay to be found in YouTube’s ‘criterioncollection’ channel that delves into this aspect with insightful detail. The film was written & narrated by Michael Koresky, produced & edited by Casey Moore and audio mixed by Ryan Hullings. As Hillary Weston points out on the Blackbook blog, the music alone is a ‘hall of mirrors.’

Marker’s subliminal audio beds have been one of the least foregrounded elements in the endless reviews and critiques his work has received. The juxtaposition of large musical themes with enigmatic background audio is part of his signature. Consciously, the viewer is drawn to focus on the base relationship between the image stream and spoken text/commentary (already requiring a mental engagement rare in cinema). Secondarily, there is often a emotional wash of the main musical themes. Underneath or at times as counterpoint, we are drawn into an underground audio river by subtle synthesizer sequences, foley sounds, ambient sounds, dreamlike audio collages – unfamiliar audio languages registered perhaps only at a deeper level of the human sensorium.

Thinking along these lines recalls the passage of the image in Marker’s work from the documentary image tout court to the distortions of the Zone, as evoked in Sans Soleil. Long before the image veered into the irreality or surreality of the Zone, Marker had woven layers of his soundtracks into a kind of Aural Zone. La Jetée is a prime example, but also already in Les Statues meurent aussi (1953) and Si j’avais quatre dromedaires (1966) there are enigmatic aspects to the soundtracks. There are hints of time going backward, or sideways, or looping. There are the musical stairs, dream audio of train sleepers in Sans Soleil. There are whisperings in German in La Jetée by the future captors, almost impossible to decipher. In Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the source of the Zone, there is an extraordinary audio move in the ‘railroad’ sequence from realistic to otherworldly ambient. Take a close listen to this…

In Catherine Lupton’s book Chris Marker: Memories of the Future, there is a whole chapter called "Into the Zone". She traces its inception to Quand le siècle a pris formes (1978). She defines the Zone as “a machine with the power to create a realm outside space and time, designed for the contemplation of images in the form of memories.” We might say that zonal audio is the hypnotizing agent that provides access keys to this machine and its nonlinear domain.

Jean-Louis Schefer writes: "It’s that the subject (I don’t know whether to call him the hero or the narrator), confesses, articulates, discovers something that is the constitutive principle of his soul (and no philosophy stops us from imagining this as the producer of synthetic time, an excess)." This ‘Synthetic time, an excess’ is quite like the Zone, the turn from linearity to the spiral, a dominant motif in La Jetée as it was in Vertigo, Marker’s obsession film that resonates throughout La Jetée before being directly investigated in Sans Soleil.

Some further references:


Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory
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