Composer: Trevor Bača.
Duration: 7-8 minutes.
Page 6 of Sekka (2007) for flute.
The following inscription, written by the composer, appears at the head of the score:
"Sekka" combines the Japanese character for snow with one of the two characters for flower. Taken together, these characters express the state of snowflakes falling soft and gently, as petals from the sky.
August 2006. The Japanese flutist Reiko Manabe asks for the piece. We leave Darmstadt and return home. Reiko to San Diego and I to Austin. Some weeks pass and writing starts. And by January 2007 and the piece is done. The reflection of snow, the motion of snow, the shape and reshaping of snow. Seven, maybe eight, minutes of snow for flute alone. All quiet and bright.
A shifting multiplicity. Cut with the tongue – or with the lips, or with the throat – the breath here stops and starts in frozen stillness. Bright / too-bright attacks affricate whispered s, whispered š, whispered ṣ with t, p, k. Not a poetics of the breath. Rather an enactment of the breath. Where sibilants s, š, ṣ swell and then go away, labiodental and interdental f, th force motion altogether differently. The teeth in f, th try but fail to cut off the rushing-on of breath. (If there is a normative breath then f, th are not it. Japanese fu with two lips, no teeth is a different story.) But our f, th here bite lips and tongue and cut quiet rivulets in our sound. Shining white sounds. An intense and sculpted whisper. Decidedly unvoiced. Because breath in every instance precedes the voice.
Signs and symbols. How to notate a shining assemblage? Four staves – pitches at top, breath at bottom, and two special staves between. (1) What of the pitches? There are patterns. And the patterns filter. And beyond the filter, irreparable deletion. (2, 3) And the two intervening staves? Small motions rising here and falling there, closer here and farther there – the body of the flute in space, moving carefully in Reiko's hands. Pitches, in both cases, bend, and, sometimes, glow. No (explicit) microtones. Our ups and downs, motions towards and away take care of that. Pizzicati and tongue rams likewise fall out of the notation as (inescapable) consequences rather than (special) effects. (4) Breath below, and in three parts. Stops and continuants, attack and release. Dichotomous labels capture nothing and letters carry uncomfortable meaning. Breath here ... no lyrics, no text. So shapes instead. Triangle, square, semicircle for types of attack. Vertical staff positions for everything else. Read the the breath at an instant, top to bottom; read the score in an evening, bottom up.
Baptism. Reiko: "Come to New Orleans." It's New Year's Eve. The streets are cold and the fireworks are bright. "But what type of snow?" she asks. "Well, what does Japanese give us?" After the streets there are coffee and beignets. And then 2007 starts. "What do you think of Sekka?" Snow plus flower. But better maybe to read the other way 'round – Japanese flowersnow. There are two hana and so we pick the bigger, lusher of the two. Later, John translates. Sekka combine l'idéogramme japonais figurant la neige avec un des deux idéogrammes figurant la fleur. Cette combinaison évoque une chute douce et calme do flocons de neige, comme des pétales tombant du ciel.
Premiere. "Mail Rainer." Rainer Rubbert and Martin Danske organize Unerhörte Musik at the Berliner Kabarett Anstalt. The New Music series at the BKA. "What about the end of May?" Reiko and I fly to Berlin some days before. Liebskind's bent and broken spaces, rings of subway and railcars, and wandering walks through the Tiergarten. A city half-and-half turned patchwork. Tuesday night the 27th the hall opens early. Mehringdamm 34. Beautiful lighting and a lot of stands. A mixed program and brilliant reception. And then the streets of Berlin host our midnight walk home.
Breath. And the way the breath becomes undone. Bright white flashes and the quiet of a still-falling snow.
World premiere given by Reiko Manabe on 27 May 2008 at Unerhörte Musik in Berlin.
Japanese premiere given by Reiko Manabe on 17 July 2009 at MusiCasa in Tokyo.
US premiere given by Jessi Rosinski on 4 March 2010 at The Stone in New York.
Catalonian premiere given by Marc Horne 26 June 2012 at Centre d'Art Cal Massó in Reus, Catalonia.