Film director Laurent Goldstein interviews Magma bandleader Christian Vander. Contributed photo

In the footsteps of a legendary Euro rock band

Documentary on the music of Magma screened at White Rock’s Blue Frog Studios

Filmmaker Laurent Goldstein can’t pinpoint exactly what led him to produce and direct his documentary on French drummer/composer Christian Vander and his legendary, and highly influential, progressive jazz-rock-fusion band Magma.

“It came not as a rational decision,” he admitted to Peace Arch News. “I felt a need and an urge to do this.”

The French-born, Vancouver- and Peninsula-based Goldstein – a familiar figure to local audiences for his inspirational documentary, Your Second Fifty: Rising Above The Fears of Aging – is back at Blue Frog Studios (1328 Johnston Rd.) Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7:15 p.m., for a screening of the resulting feature-length film.

To Life, Death and Beyond: The Music of Magma, produced by his Citrus Pie Media Group, is an affectionate, but thoughtful, salute – blending archival footage, interviews with many musicians, and footage of recent concerts – that captures the essence of one of the director’s all-time, favourite bands.

But, as he insists, it’s not simply an exercise in nostalgia. Though first formed in 1969, Magma continues to be a vital force in music around the world today.

“They’re doing concerts around the world, after 50 years,” Goldstein said.

“They will be playing the Paris Philharmonic in June – it’ll be a huge concert in three parts. And in May they’ll be releasing their masterpiece, Zess, which was recorded with the Prague Philharmonic – some 55 musicians.”

Not only touring in Europe and North America, Magma also has a huge following in Japan, he pointed out.

“They had three concerts in China and sold them all out – they have a universal appeal.”

Magma continues to be a bravura fusion of the complex rhythms and harmonies of the mentors of Vander’s youth, such as jazz musicians Elvin Jones and John Coltrane, with the theatrical dynamics of rock and opera, and the classical concepts of such composers as Stravinsky and Orff.

And how many bandleaders can you think of that have based a progression of albums on a science-fiction back story of humans fleeing Earth to settle on another planet (which Vander called Kobaia), or have invented a whole language (Kobaian) in which most of the lyrics are sung – or created a genre of music called Zeuhl (a Kobaian word) which inspires other groups and spin-offs?

“If you look at bands that are still doing concerts after 50 years – like The Rolling Stones or Yes – they’re acts, pale reflections of what they were,” Goldstein said.

“Magma continuously produces new music that is strong and groundbreaking,” he added.

“What is interesting is that Magma attracts a very young crowd, people in their late teens and early 20s, not just old guys like me. If you listen to (other long-lived bands) you can date where their music is coming from, but Magma is timeless. And, as much as their melodies and harmonies, it’s also their energy – if you attend a Magma concert, the energy is like nothing else.”

Goldstein said his fondest wish is that young music students will come out to the screening and be inspired by what they see.

Goldstein still recalls encountering his first Magma album, Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, more than 40 years ago in a listening booth in a record store that he haunted as a teenager in his home town of St. Etienne (near Lyons).

For his generation, he remembers, the very act of looking through album covers and taking out the discs, cleaning them and placing them on the turntable was a “communal experience – almost like a ritual,” he said.

“As soon as I heard the first few bars of Magma, I was blown away.”

That early fascination ultimately led him to seek out Vander and become friends with him and his family – years before he thought of making the documentary.

That friendship made filming key interviews with Vander at his secluded mansion in eastern France, and accessing other musicians and archival materials, very easy, although Goldstein still describes the process of putting together this labour of love as “an amazing experience.”

There can be no doubt that the charismatic, incredibly talented, yet complex Vander – Goldstein describes him as “possessed by the music” – has been the visionary driving the artistic success of Magma.

When Vander was 14 years old, Goldstein related, he had an epiphany – that he would maintain his child-like willingness to explore, to play and create throughout his life.

In that, there is a life lesson that applies to everyone – not just musicians and music experts – Goldstein said.

“If people pursue their passions, and keep that child-like attitude, they can have very rich and rewarding lives,” he said.

Tickets ($12) are available from bluefrogstudios.ca or call 604-542-3055.

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