Français : Projecteur cinématographique 35mm
Image via Wikipedia

I heard Andrew Bird play his new album Break it Yourself at the Barbican on Monday. Having previewed it on NPR’s First Listen the previous week, I was familiar with the gist, but the show game me opportunity to scrutinise it.  One rather important detail I had previously missed was the subject of the sixth album track ‘Lazy Projector.’

The song explores the fallible impermanence of memory:

It’s all in the hands of a lazy projector,
That forgetting, embellishing, lying machine.

As artistic interpretations of memory go, this isn’t ground-breaking, but the preceding lyrics set a context that belies a man who has thought about the purpose and mechanism of this fallibility.

If memory serves us, then who owns the master?
How do we know who’s projecting this reel?

The awareness that we can be fully conscious of ourselves, with our own psychological interests to protect, yet still be unaware of the source (and often the presence) of the unconscious reconstructions of memory is an insight into a paradox of memory. Bad memories hurt less the less we ruminate on them, but we aren’t able to actively, effortfully forget them.  If we could, the projector would have no need to hide himself from the rememberer – they would be the same part of the same person working to attain the same goal. As it is, distraction, the passage of time, and all of the multitude of things that happen after a bad event give the projector opportunity to work undercover, in the only conditions in which he can work.  These conditions give him the opportunity to get his alterations made before the rememberer has the chance to interrogate his memory and discover, to his relief, that it has softened.

It’s a lovely insight into memory, metacognition and the self and an example of why I appreciate Andrews Bird’s music.