Composer: Trevor Bača.
Forces: bass flute.
Duration: 12-13 minutes.
Page 4 of Čáry (2006) for bass flute.
The following inscription, written by the composer, appears at the head of the score:
Čáry is the Czech word for 'sorcery' or 'witchcraft'. The material of the piece is drawn from several dozen different ways of starting, stopping and sustaining the breath: sharp tongue- and lip-affricated attacks at the beginnings of sounds; ghostly, whispered vocalic nuclei at the center of the breath, whether sustained, transformed into each other, or made super-short; and the terminations of different sounds sometimes let to fall off or vanish as in traditional technique, but much more often cut decidedly short with the tongue, the lips, or the throat. Altogether hundreds of different types of breath make an appearance in the piece, frequently worked out in rapid succession, one type of magic syllable following rapidly after the other. The effect is, perhaps, of an intensely sculpted whisper. Against all of this, the fingers press down, hold and release the keys of the instrument independently, in a sequence of rhythms designed to conflict, rub up against, and frequently cut into the path and progress of the breath.
Sorcery. A secret study of secret details. And the surplus of a barely recoverable code.
Gap. Western vocal literature and notation establish the musical phrase. How is a breath to begin and end? What changes of pitch? Do pitches melismatically outnumber words? Or vice versa? And what about dynamic changes of loudness and color over time? To believe unreflectingly that the phrase governs the part of musical structure 'above the level of the note' but 'below the level of the section' dangerously presupposes not only the existence of things like notes and sections but also acceptance of the same old inveterate, and unremitting, hierarchy. We do better to understand the phrase as a type of performative milieu in which events are to lead into and out of each other, to dovetail, to establish the possibility of recurrence. Phonetics establishes the segment. What are the place and manner of articulation? The degree of stricture? The phonetic setting? And, crucially, which of these features carry semiotic value? And when? This difference between, on the one hand, the extended, performative milieu of the phrase and, on the other, the moment-to-moment analysis of segmental differences leaves a gap — not a dichotomy — within which the development of all sorts of new material becomes possible. The question is not what we can do to bridge or even move between the minimal differences of the articulatory segment and the cognitive milieu of the phrase. But rather what we can hybridize and assemble with bits and pieces of both. Mass enough of these attacks closely enough together and something changes. The note / phrase categories drop away and leave us with a multiplicity, a mass. A shining mass.
Reading. It seems to me something of a miracle every time a child learns to read: to trace the outlines of letters with the eye; to commit a first menagerie of characters to memory, and, later, to internalize their dancing, ever-recombining occurrence on the page; to draw sounds, at first slowly and with difficulty, from those symbols; and, eventually, to intuit meaning from the pages that they cover. And then consider the process, acquired later as adults, of learning not just to read but deeply to internalize the new, as-yet unknown piece from score: to return to learning-to-read, to the careful concentration, initial uncertainty and hesitancy of children, wondering at symbols and working out their meaning on the page, to find or build secrets, to draw meaning where first there was none. I would need someone forcefully to argue that this work — this work of quiet internalization done alone, but always with the specific intent to gather others at a specially appointed time, in a darkened and special room — is not sorcery, and is not work done actively to cast, and to incant.