html> bergsonvirtual
Selected notes on: Hulse, B. (2008) On Bergson's concept of the virtual.  Gamut 1 (1). Retrived from

Dave Harris

[NB after the discussion on virtuality, the 'application' is music theory -- gripping but way beyond my scope]

The virtual for Bergson 'represents the harmony of mind and matter, the affirmation of time over space, and the living, creative power of difference'(1).  As well as Deleuze, people in the humanities find it useful, although it tends to be confined to artificial electronic music environments, and this article shows how it might extend music scholarship.  We might see it as offering a conception of time and movement, reciprocal links between perception and memory [so we can start to see how the memory of one note overshadows the next, or the note refers to the whole].  Musicians describe these effects in terms of other concepts already.  Deleuze is the source of this as well as Bergson.

The virtual is implicated in intuition, which may be inaccessible to conventional thought, although intuition is often cited, sometimes as a final authority.  There is some link with Buddhist notions of direct knowledge, but Bergson and Deleuze [especially in Bergsonism] also argue that we can be philosophically rigorous about this as a method.

In Matter and Memory, the reality of both body and mind is asserted first and then brought into a new relationship.  This is not realism which operates with a dualism where perception and reality are treated as equivalent, because this reduces matter to a perception [I thought that was Idealism].  Perception is more than just receiving a stimulus, and there is more to matter as well.  Similarly, idealism argues that matter produces perceptions, and suggests that the objective world is accessible only through reason and deduction [I must say I have never seen it that way].  Both realism and idealism involve the same assumptions, involving an external world accessed through transparent perceptions or concepts respectively.  This makes thought into an endless circle between the two.  The problem is that for both positions, perception is supposed to be a result of the speculative interests of mind, but Bergson insists that perception is directed towards action.  This in turn means that objective reality is split [human perceived bits and other bits?] , and that the effect of perception is to produce the idea of matter as an aggregate of images.  The image is more than a representation but less than a thing.  It is the body ultimately that inferences the perception of images, primarily of objects surrounding the body which will permit action.  Perception is no longer a matter of indifference, but is intended to initiate a particular return, such as a response to potential movements relevant to action.  This in turn implies that the mind is not just free to speculate, but occupies 'a certain posture of tension'(4), dependent on perception and in particular on its content.  The mind does not just interpret perception, but helps form it in the first place, explaining the tension between perception and mind itself, neither of which is entirely independent.  Mostly perception links to action automatically. 

Memory similarlyinfluences perception by providing it with 'a vast reservoir of images'(5) which may be unconscious or latent but which are actualised by being joined with perception, as an active partner, supplementing perception, offering potentials that intervene in the interval inherent in the act [although in this quote confined to 'the interval between what is done and what might be done'].  The memory is actualised by being connected with a perception, and its '"body"', a shape in both the spatial and temporal sense.

What makes this unique to Bergson is that the distinction is made between perception and the memories 'that melt into it' (6), and memory becomes an essential ingredient to perception, which explains the temporal nature of perception—'objects and actions appear thrown into relief by  time'.  It is not just a simple resemblance between perception and memory—memory prolongs perception and enriches it.  Perception also creates memory images for further use.  But it is the temporal dimension ['environment'] for a movement which is important: a temporal image is not static but a nascent kind of movement.  We are always selecting and deploying memories, in advance of movement.  We are blending memories.  'In other words, it is a profoundly immanent engagement', not at all like associationist approaches, where each psychical state is a separate element.  Associationist approaches depend on some similarity between psychic elements, so that memory confirms the identity of a perception, or the existing construction of it.  Temporal continuity and movement is neglected.  There is also an arbitrary interest in the intellectual, rather than say why one image and recollection is chosen to appear in consciousness: the interests involved in consciousness are not grasped, but only the affects.  The actual connections remain mysterious: 'independent entities have somehow mobilised, autonomously towards one another' (8).  The fault lies in neglecting the role of action, seeing thought as purely speculative.

The virtual can now be seen as indicated by the 'immanent intersection between perception and memory'(9).  This intersection involves a reciprocal return of perception to the virtual memory image.  The virtual provides 'a halo of temporality' for perceived objects, which Deleuze describes as an internal repetition within the singular [citing Difference and Repetition].  The virtual must be fully immanent [to be able to provide this kind of interconnection— a 'taught, continuous doubling'.] Thus the memory image that infuses the perception with the qualities and temporal depth can be understood in Deleuzian terms as 'a "virtual object".  They are hard to grasp in their effects on the real content because they animate perception in such a way that the qualities originating in the virtual appear as 'properties belonging to the perceived objects proper'[which include 'their consistency in time']. So the virtual is not so much a system affecting perception by memory , but rather 'an ongoing, reciprocally conditioned process', where memory is 'continuously flooded by  perception' to much increase the density of activity.  Remote memories can also flows seamlessly into those closer to perception.  Sometimes the process is designed to produce continuity rather than adding new memories.  For Bergson, memory is far more than just a sort of catalogue at the disposal of the consciousness aiming to recognise and affirm identity.

[Now we move on to music scholarship and I get well out of my depth.  Very briefly, it seems that some people have tried to understand the pleasures offered by music in terms of notions like expectation or anticipation, and some of those approaches go on to suggest that there are models of appropriate music held in the memory, an understanding of tonal values, for example. Hulse rejects these for various reasons, including that they have the conventional distinction between listener subjects and musical objects, and compares them to Bergson on memory.  Some have also used Deleuze to argue that the variations between specific performances can be understood as actualizations of some underlying virtual performance Then on page 16 we get to the most Bergsonian approach so far, which suggests that the notes or rhythms in a piece of music are put into some sort of order, a concatenation, and that listeners get involved in the progression that emerges from one point to the next.  This is not a process of abstraction leading to some general underlying model, but expresses the human faculty of being able to organise unities of perceptions, a form of apprehension which supplements what is actually heard at any particular moment.  'Durational spans'(17) become important, which are almost virtual objects, and there is an interest in 'more flexible and agile processes of listening' (18).]

Applying Bergson to music raises the whole issue of whether there is an accessible method in his analysis or not.  The problem is that at the most general level, it is more difficult to make a connection with the perception of actual events, and the whole thing looks speculative again, outside any specific effects of music.  We have to work somehow with the notion that memory is 'directly engaged and immediately responsive'(19), closely connected to perception, 'a function of the events of the actual piece'.  Ironically, we can then presume more universality among listeners [I can half understand this—the universality would extend to the process of how we understand music in general?].  We would have to understand what listeners remember moment to moment, and how these memories are developed as a potential, how they had doubled perception and gone beyond it to produce the 'vivid expectations and profound dynamics that are so characteristic of musical experience'.  We need a distinction between the actual and virtual here, to link fleeting perceptions with this extensive experience, and to distinguish actual perceptions from their effects on experience.

Links between notes, say, should not be seen as having direct simple effects on each other.  Instead they should be grasped as 'an active temporal image' with a dynamic relation to events, and a potential which unfolds in time and transforms.  Bergson describes a process which involves connecting discontinuous objects of experience and understanding them as vibrations which can be put into some relation of mobility.  This will be an abstract vision of matter.  We can then bring back consciousness and all the pressures of life, and grasp our history in terms of '"quasi instantaneous views"' [quoting Matter and Memory, 208].  We will then be able to grasp time, with difficulty,  in pictorial terms as '"an infinity of elementary repetitions and changes"'.

Hulse says this reminds him of the sort of intense concentration involved in creative lucidity in music.  Applying the characteristics of music leads to an approach where first we think 'in terms of continuity rather than juxtaposition'; then conceive of movement rather than objects; we isolate these quasi instantaneous moments; reconstruct the inner history of these movements in terms of repetition and change that produce 'qualitative intensities'(20).  We can understand the effects of other virtual moments which bear on a particular actual moment rather than thinking of simple successive moments.  It is a kind of peering inside movement to arrive at 'an approximate image of the breadth of intensive content traversing time and space'(21). 

We  isolate and 'listen into' musical moments and produce a pictorial representation of its component parts, including temporal depth.  The example is a particular beat in a Chopin etude.  [Out of my depth again].  First we put it in context [in the context of a few bars, perhaps a particular phrase?] and then in the context of an interval [between two series of notes in one bar]. Hulse tries to describe his experience in pictorial terms, with arrows showing movements completed or anticipated, movements in process, various recognition of 16th note contours, projected down beats and projected bass rhythms.  Temporal depth is represented as spatial breadth in the diagram. These elements are felt in the immediate perception of the specific note, although they are not actually heard at the time—they are virtual.  Various 'temporal strata' are experienced, some occurring before, some projected into the future.  It is also the case that some notes 'continue to cast a hue on the moment' (24) in a form of 'reciprocal' articulation.  Particular patterns occur and are anticipated, in the form of 'coming downbeats'.  All this can be experienced as a compound quality, although we only become conscious of them once we isolate and analyse them.  Overall 'there is much more music in this moment than the moment itself can objectively contain', and it is this 'more' that this fundamental to musical experience. Other cross sections of later moments might be added to develop the virtual environment [he calls this a 'cinematic analytic perspective'] to produce 'a web of subterranean musical dynamics', 'vivid to the ear' but difficult to analyse conventionally.

We might generalise this to see what Bergson's analytic technique might involve.  The basic idea is to add a temporal dimension, and to try to experience 'a multiplicity of moments within this actual one', 'virtual content', and how what is stored by memory gets articulated in time.  The virtual object, in music at least, can be seen as 'an articulated temporal body'.  It can be located near the start of the piece.  Listeners are holding a tension with the actual duration of the musical piece.  The virtual will be 'saturated with impressions of sound, contour, rhythms and other looming qualities which can be quite explicit, or at least intensely palpable' (25).  The actual events will influence 'the number and complexity of temporal articulations'.  There will be no simple cohesive  internal state but movements that contract and expand consciousness and its development [citing Matter and Memory].  This will help us experience the influence of other moments, and qualities distributed in the virtual field.  These will be actualised through the 'doubling' with perception

The expansion of the virtual can be understood as a symmetry between the idea of the depth of past experience and a 'potential horizon of future action' (26).  As a sequence unfolds, a future shape can open, sometimes dominated by the beginning, but sometimes developing its own differentiation.  A contraction of consciousness can follow the recurrence of the opening events.  There can also be events which produce a digression away from anything that differentiates beginnings or ends of sequences.  Further examples follow involving chords or series of notes as events [diagrams of various contractions and expansions.  Some chords might indicate a departure from a particular pattern, or a shift in harmony, processes of differentiation of a process, suggesting that one part has been completed and the other is just beginning].  Experience of processes like this help us form the virtual object [and musical repetition can solidify our grasp?].  The virtual object can exist 'on either side of the present' (29)
. The construction of the virtual complements actualization.  This corresponds to Deleuze on the relation between differenTiation and differenCiation [my spellings] in Difference and Repetition.  In music, there may be a connection of internal differenTiation with the internal development [differenCiation] occurring after actualization.  Overall, the virtual is the larger form, not just based on immediate perception, but depending on a temporal process,' a 'dynamic envelope'(30). 

The virtual object is formed after differenTiation, actualization involves a contraction of the potential.  Actual music will show all sorts of combinations of creative divergence, extensions, reversals and so on.  Actual events can become the beginning of a virtual object, activating a virtual form which can be developed along the way.  Repetition is important in this process: it leads to the coalescing of formations.  Simple forms might involve echoes between notes, more complex forms can produce whole phrases, and here repetition will be a form of differentiation.  Invariant forms of repetition occurring towards the end of the peace can reinforce the construction of the virtual.  Forms of softer repetition at the start can hint at an eventual return or closure [and examples are given from Schoenberg—an opening passage establishes a form of  phrasing which is extended and differenCiated into various patterns of rhythm and musical articulation, or arpeggios and various rhythmic modulations] [Maybe this discussion of types of repetition is better understood in music? I think that is the claim about developing Deleuze in the Conclusion] .  Segmentation of the sequence can be signaled by harmonic changes.  Rhythm and harmony can produce a repetitive binding and segmentation.  Overall, we can see how a virtual object is differenTiated and differenCiated.

In general terms, musical repetition also indicates a process of 'self-differing'[not entirely sure about this but apparently, a tone can indicate a difference even while being repeated].  Repetitions can even interact to form clusters and groups, compound forms with their own properties [again the example is hard to follow, but it seems to describe a process whereby segments are first differentiated from an earlier segment, and when repeated 'add to and expand the virtual object' (34)]. Sometimes the virtual object can be contracted by repetition, but even here, an 'overall rhythmic patterning'makes repetition more than just a simple one, but rather a differenTiation of the virtual object.  [Far too technical to follow, page 35f]. 

Overall, the concept of a virtual helps us grasp music as a continuous process'an ever unfolding landscape'where what is actually heard get inflected by virtual planes, which can be developed before and in the future simultaneously.  Analysis should be devoted to understand how this happens, how the actual events can be understood as prospective or virtual events and how this produces an extended musical experience. Bergson's conception of the virtual is rigorous and precise as these examples show, although 'much depends on the ear and the analytic imagination of the theorist' (38).  Exploring these examples will even extend the notion of musical repetition in Deleuze [which is horribly confused and paradoxical with all that stuff about how repetition is also difference and so on, in Difference and Repetition].

So Bergson's concept of the virtual can be an analytic category and suggest further research.  Both perception and memory are in tension.  Memory supplies temporal depth to perception and this creates a virtual field, coalescing memory as well as offering a potential for projected actions.  This has already been grasped in music as vital to musical experience, but using other concepts and terms.  This analytical schema is more promising: we will examine creation and actualization of virtual objects, as differenTiation and differenCiation.  Repetition in particular seems to be a useful way to explore both of these, on the immediate as well as aggregate levels.  Bergson will help us explore 'the depth, power, and.  novelty of musical expressions' (39)

Deleuze page