TamTam Books News

Wednesday, October 09, 2002:

I just finished reading Joris-Karl Huysmans ‘Against Nature (1884), and I was pleasantly surprised to find this in the novel:

"He went into the dining-room, where a cupboard built into one of the bulkheads contained a series of little barrels set side by side on minute stands of sandalwood, each pierced by a silver spigot low down in its belly. He called this collection of casks of liqueur his mouth organ.

A rod linked all the spigots and controlled them with a single action, so that once the apparatus was set up, it only required the touch of a button concealed in the paneling for every tap to be turned on simultaneously and fill the minuscule goblets, which stood beneath them. The organ could then be played. The stops labeled 'flute, horn, vox angelica' where pulled out, ready for use. Des Esseintes would drink a drop of this or that, playing interior symphonies to himself, and thus providing his gullet with sensations analoguous to those which music affords the ear.

Furthermore, the flavour of each cordial corresponded, Des Esseintes believed, to the sound of an instrument. For example, dry curacao matched the clarinet whose note is penetrating and velvety; kummel, the oboe with its sonorous, nasal resonance; créme de menthe and anisette, the flute, at once honeyed and pungent, whining and sweet; on the other hand kirsch, to complete the orchestra, resonates in a way extraordinarily like the trumpet; gin and whisky over power the palate with the strident blasts of their cornets and trombones; liqueur brandy booms forth with the deafening thunder of the cymbals and the drum as the rakis of Chios and the mastics trike with all their might upon the skin of the mouth.

He was also of the opinion that the correlation could be extended and that string quartets could perform under the palatal vault, with the violin represented by fine old liqueur brandy, smoky pungent and delicate; rum being more robust, more sonorous and rumbling, took the part of the viola; vespetro, heart-rendingly long-draw-out melancholy and caressing, was the cello; while an old, pure bitter stood in for the double-bass, vigorous, solid , and black. One cold even, if one wanted to form a quintet, add a fifth instrument, the harp, which was very closely imitated by the vibrant flavour and aloof, high-pitched, silvery note of dry cumin."

This is from the Oxford World’s Edition, translated by Margaret Mauldon.

Now a brief quotation from the Brian Harper translation of ‘Foam of the Daze,’ about Vian’s pianocktail:

— Would you like a drink? asked Colin. My pianocktail is finished, you could try it out.
— It works? asked Chick.
— Perfectly. I had trouble getting all the bugs out but the results go beyond my expectations. I got a truly astounding mix out of Black and Tan Fantasy.
— How did you make it work? asked Chick.
— With every note, said Colin, I’ve matched a spirit, liqueur or flavoring. The loud pedal corresponds to whipped egg and the soft pedal to ice. For seltzer water, you need to do a trill in the upper register. The quantities are in direct proportion with the duration: the 64th note equals a 16th part, a quarter note one part and a whole note four parts. When playing a slow tune, a leveling system is put to work so that the quantity is not increased—that would make for too abundant a cocktail—only the alcohol content. And, depending on the length of the tune, the part’s valence can be changed, reducing it for example to one one-hundredth to get a drink that takes into account all of the harmonies by means of a lateral regulator.
— That’s complicated, said Chick.
— Everything is controlled by electrical contacts and relays; I won’t give you the details, you know all that. And besides, what’s more, the piano really works.
— That’s marvelous! said Chick.
— There’s only one problem, said Colin. The loud pedal for the whipped egg. I had to put in a special system of interlocking parts because when you play a tune that’s too "hot," pieces of omelet fall into the cocktail and it’s hard to swallow. I’ll modify that. For the time being, you just need to be careful. For the sour cream, it’s low G.
— I’m going to make myself one on Loveless Love, said Chick. It’ll be great.
— It’s still in the junk room that I turned into a workshop, said Colin, because the protection plates aren’t screwed in. Come on, let’s go. I’ll set it for two cocktails of about twenty centiliters, to start off with.
Chick sat down at the piano. At the end of the tune, part of the front panel opened up with a clap and a row of glasses appeared. Two of them were filled to the rim with an appetizing mixture.
— You scared me, said Colin. At one point you hit a wrong note. Luckily, it was in harmony.
— It accounts for the harmony? said Chick.
— Not all the time, said Colin. That would be too complicated. There are only a few constraints. Drink and come eat.

Tosh // 9:27 PM

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