Mezzanine is an opera for cinema by Martin Parker with a visual libretto by visual artist Anna Chapman Parker. The piece lasts around 1 hour and is played by a trio consisting of two instrumentalists (such as flute & bass clarinet, or soprano & baritone saxophone) with live laptop percussion. This music is underscored, supported and contrasted with projections and soundscape recordings.
Mezzanine follows on from Nicolson Baker’s 1986 novel, The Mezzanine. Baker’s story tracks the book’s narrator, Howie, through his lunchtime ritual working at a large office complex. Going for lunch appears to be as routinised as all the other functions of Howie’s day; however, the break gives him pause to latch onto the smallest details and he fills copious footnotes with information about the origins and evolution of straws, paper bags, escalators and urinals.
The book’s humour combines irony and revelation about apparent trivia, as if to explain that even though office-work may have its limitations, we are still free to think, observe and involve ourselves in reverie. Howie’s insights and observations draw us into details of his environment, but also remind us of the huge industrial complex that permits these objects to exist in the first place. Are we really free to think and feel as we wish, or hemmed in by something so large, we can’t even see it?
Thirty years on from Baker’s novel, we are perhaps even further enmeshed in vast, yet unseen industrial complexes, presently dominated by screens and their associated distractions. Our piece offers time for reflection but also does battle with the idea that there could be a straightforward reading of the contemporary connected world and our place within it.