Nula: Butterflies Rise is a decision-making game that explores the experience of living with anxiety.
Inspired by puzzle adventure games of the early 90s like Myst, the surreal comedy of Flann O'Brien, and the author's experience of living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Nula creates an immersive textual experience, an insight into the daily struggle anxiety can be.
Notes on Listening: Cécile McLorin Salvant
‘And then one morning upon waking up, it's almost nothing but it's there', sings Cécile McLorin Salvant a haunting song. ‘A dull ache in the hollow of your back'.
This song, Le Mal de Vivre, appears in McLorin Salvant’s album For One to Love released in 2015, when Cécile was only 25. One doesn’t need to know French to understand Le Mal de Vivre — the malaise of being. With her voice, Cécile chronicles the oscillation between quiet, dull desperation and the timid optimism which emerges with the accomplishment of a song and finally with life.
Originally written by French singer Barbara in the 1960s, the song has come to be, thanks to Cecile and, before her, the rendition by Stacey Kent, a jazz standard. Not all jazz standards are written by jazz composers. What makes them “standards” is their revisiting by musicians throughout the years and their wide recognition by the audience; what makes them jazz is their flexibility, their openness towards the reception of new voices, their space ultimately for novelty. ‘A quiet exercise in freedom’, Oliveira, the Buenos Aires émigré, calls jazz in Julio Cortazar’s novel Hopscotch, while he dances in the minuscule Paris apartment to a record by Charlie Parker.
What Cécile achieves syllable by syllable in her rendition is namely to state, in song, the barely perceptible moments when our life’s meaning disintegrates and we are left paralyzed by nothingness. Notice the way Cécile stretches “rien”, which means “nothing”, the accusative case of the Latin term for “thing”. With conviction in her voice, she concretizes this barely perceptible ennui. Hear her daring timing; she stretches the phrases as if she speaks rather than sings. She dives into the lyric, the song’s blood, like an actress, and yet still someone who knows of sorrow, dullness, closed spaces.
‘And then without a warning in advance, it comes, it takes a stroll from river bank to river bank'.
For a study of the voice: listen closely to Cécile and you will hear. What better way to put it than does Calvino: ‘A voice involves the throat, saliva, infancy, the patina of experienced life, the mind’s intentions, the pleasure of giving a personal form to sound waves. What attracts you is the pleasure this voice puts into existing'.
Finally notice the partita-like flourishing of the piano performed by Aaron Diehl, Cécile’s loyal accompanist since her second album in 2013, as the song reaches its end. Cécile then sings ‘La joie de vivre', replacing the title’s malaise with joy. A counterpart to the uplift expressed by the vocalist, the piano’s allegretto fills the space and in very fine ways articulates the quiet triumph accomplished in song.
Curious how this song stays with you, seeps into the daily moments, as if to keep you company during these crises, unseen and private, of the meaninglessness of things. When it gets dreary, an amulet to put around your neck, and let sing.