1. Concerto for piano, bird, and car horn
March 29th, 2020

Phil Smith - Blüte, Gerüst
(File under: piano, spring, teleportation)

Listen: philsmith.bandcamp.com

This isn't a joke, but it does begin with a man walking into a bar.

It's spring in Berlin, almost three years ago, and a man is walking home when he finds a bar with a piano inside. He sits down and performs an impromptu fifty minute concert in two parts, recording the whole thing with his phone. The owners bring him a free beer. The music feels improvisational, often breezy and wistful, occasionally punctuated by bursts of playful discordance.

The phone records not just the piano, but life happening indifferently all around: birdsong, traffic, the variable murmur of customers ordering drinks. Sometimes the music seems to be in cheerful conversation with it all. A two-tone siren wails in the background and the piano pauses, repeats it back like a myna bird. There's a moment around 6:38 that still makes me smile every time I hear it, when a distant car HONK falls perfectly in the space between two notes. (Jazz is all about the horns you're not honking, baby.)

What makes this all so magical to me, and why I've listened to it hundreds of times over the past few years, is that it's just as much a recording of a place as it is of a performance. As we all adjust to life for the foreseeable future as a primarily indoor species, the ability to project ourselves outdoors seems vital. Maybe you do this by reading, or by stewarding desert islands of sassy talking animals, or by watching musicians sing to you live on Instagram as you squint into the background to see how messy their living rooms are. I've been doing all of those things too, but I've also been returning to this music—finding a spare seat outside a bar on a warm spring night somewhere in Berlin, and listening to stranger conduct a concerto for piano, bird and car horn.

I've always thought of music as an affordable method of time travel; turns out it also makes for a serviceable teleportation device.

Dept. of Enthusiasm is a weekly email from me, Jez Burrows. You can read some past issues, or sign up below.