Thursday 14 May 2020

Millions Like Us

Boredom has now taken over from anxiety, although anxiety remains as a dull rumour in the background. Still. Things are happening:

a) I seem to have lost three-quarters of a stone (10.5 pounds; 4.8 kilos) in weight since my post-Christmas peak at the start of the year. This is good. I put it down to the immense effortful quantities of decorating and home improvements I’ve been managing in the last few weeks; plus, cutting right back on the red. Seriously. It’s the red wine that lards you up. Don’t take my word for it: try a month on whisky and tea and see how you are at the end. I guarantee success. You will be amazed. I am also available for motivational talks and seminars.

b) The theme tune to this time has to be Noël Coward’s There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner. If you don’t know it already you can listen to it here, but just to get you in the mood, the first chorus begins:

There are bad times just around the corner,
There are dark clouds hurtling through the sky
And it's no good whining
About a silver lining
For we know from experience that they won't roll by.

And goes from there.

c) I keep buying whisky. It’s a nervous compulsion. We now have nearly five litres of Scotch in the house, just in case.

d) A pal of mine tipped me off about Boris Vian and his incredible Pianocktail. Vian (b.1920) was a novelist, trumpeter, avant-gardist, party-thrower, enfant terrible, jazz obsessive, Parisian, pataphysician, friend of Duke of Ellington, engineer, friend of Albert Camus, playwright, virtuoso scamp and inventor of the Pianocktail. His novel L’écume Des Jours, published in 1947, is, from all accounts, mostly an Existentialist love story; but it is also the place where the Pianocktail makes its entrance:

- Prendras-tu un apéritif? demanda Colin. Mon pianocktail est achevé, tu pourrais l’essayer.
- Il marche? demanda Chick
- Parfaitement. J’ai eu du mal à le mettre au point, mais le résultat dépasse mes espérances.

What does the Pianocktail do? Each note on the keyboard corresponds to a different liquor, these liquors contained in an array of bottles built into the piano and connected by a sytem of pipes, levers, relays and valves. Play a sequence of notes and the machine transposes the music alcoholically, pouring an equivalent sequence of beverages into a glass. At the end of a piece, you have a cocktail. The length of any given note determines the amount of drink poured. The loud pedal dispenses beaten egg while the soft pedal distributes ice. There’s an injunction not to play your jazz too hot or you’ll make an omelette. The first cocktail to come out of the machine, according to L’écume Des Jours, is a Black and Tan Fantasy, a product of Ellington’s famous 1927 number. Colin pronounces it vraiment ahurissant. Thus the mood of any given piece finds tangible expression in a mixture of cocktail ingredients. Music becomes drink, the drink is consumed, the art becomes truly internalised. It is genius in action.

And what do you know? Ça existe. One version appears in the 2013 movie Mood Indigo, directed by Michel Gondry (of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and starring, among others, Audrey Tatou - but, yes, this is a delightful film prop rather than a real working model. On the other hand: a pair of Romanian bartenders cobbled together a kind of working Pianocktail in 2015; while a Swiss musician called Géraldine Schenkel has also got one to function. In other words, this fabulous device has escaped the confines of fiction and become a work of art in its own right. This, more than ever, is why we need the French.

e) Georges Perec: Il n’y a pas de lettre e

My work h r is don .


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