Our Preservation Machine

Once there was a scientist who created a preservation machine. It turned impermanent works from composers like Beethoven and Schubert into living creatures. Making them into defensive animals like armadillos, porcupines, and birds, he hoped to protect them from the fallibility of human commemoration and deterioration of time. He released them into the wild.

Sure enough the animals turned feral and started attacking each other. When the scientist tried to reverse engineer the conundrum, the music that he hoped to preserve was left in a cacophonous mess.

The scientist wants to preserve what he cherishes like a loyal lover. Yet like a lover, this yearning is over something that cannot last. The loved is, as Jorge Luis Borges notes, the “infallible god” for which the lover establishes a religion. That religion, for the scientist and us, is music.

Yet do we know that it is an infallible god? The Internet has created a veil of immortality, that anything can last forever. Definitive recordings of Schubert? Immortalized. Definitive performances of Bach? Immortalized. It has become a sort of preservation machine.

But could our preservation machines contort and disfigure like the scientist’s in the story? Could works become anachronistic shells of what they once were? Maybe the works could break free, unfettered by our preservation.

Are fallible commemoration and deterioration unavoidable? Is it necessarily a bad thing? It could be what composers of the canon wanted all along.

Inspired by Philip K. Dick’s “The Preservation Machine”


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