Thursday, July 26, 2012

Le Cacophonium

Alba may not have an ATM or a dentist, and cell phone reception here is spotty, but for all time we will be able to boast that we were one of the first villages in France ever to be visited by the Cacophonium.

The Cacophonium (or "Le Cacophonium," as it is called in French) was invented by a lady named Céline, requires four square meters of floor space, and seats a half dozen children under the age of six. A turn costs €1.50, in exchange for which you get a zinc-plated 2” washer to slide on and off your fingers, slip into your pocket, or twirl around your thumb while you wait.

When it’s your turn to ride, you take your pick: you can climb into an old cello that has been rebuilt into a sort of a swan, sit tight in the body of a bass drum that’s gripped in the pincers of a tambourine-playing crab, straddle a harp in the shape of a whale, or take a ride on a steed made of old wind instruments.

Once everyone has clambered on, Céline begins to pedal, for Le Cacophonium is not just any merry-go-round made of recycled musical instruments and shaded by a big black café umbrella: it’s bicycle-powered by its inventor, a slender lady in a polka-dot dress and a top hat.
As a child, Céline dreamed of being a clown.
She watched the circus on television every chance she got, and whenever she had to pick something to dress up as, she picked a clown.
When she grew up she went to circus school, became a professional musician and juggler, and joined the circus.

That was before she had children, back when she liked to sit quietly in the morning with a cup of tea and honey.
Once her children came along, she gave up on tea and quiet mornings and began looking around for a project that mixed clowning, music, and motherhood.

It was then she had the idea of the Cacophonium.
At first, she imagined a carousel mounted on the back of a fantastical bull that would make farting noises as it went around -
she figured children would appreciate the resulting "caca-phonie."

As her idea evolved, she thought of a tuba (official name, "euphonium") and of the merry chaos of noise her invention would make, and settled on "cacophonium" - perhaps someday every orchestra in the land will include a child-and-bicycle-powered cacophonium in its ranks.

Upon seeing it for the first time, one man smiled and said, “If that’s what happens to my old bugle when I die, that’s fine with me.”

Going around and around and around, says Céline, is the basis for all childhood magic, and she loves to see the wonder on children’s faces when they first lay eyes on her invention.

Once they’ve climbed aboard, she begins pedaling and extends an old trumpet to her passengers; the children drop their zinc-plated washers into the mouth of the trumpet as they whiz by. The next time around she hands out musical instruments for them to play as they move, in addition to the noises they can make by pulling levers and pushing pedals on the carousel animals.

Originally, Céline had wanted to play saxophone while she pedaled, but between collecting tokens, dangling a velveteen fish on a fishing rod for some lucky child to catch, and squirting cool water on her passengers, she realized she didn’t have enough hands for the sax. Eventually, she’d like to have the carousel make music as she pedals, but for now she’s content to watch children watching the world fly by.

If you’re the right age at the right time, you can catch a ride on the Cacophonium this fall at the Féstival de la Basse Cour in Nîmes or the Art’Pantin Marionette Festival in Vergèze.

Images courtesy of the gracious lady herself, and Le Cacophonium/La Compagne du Bastringue.

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