Le cri du Choucas
To my father (the one Franz did not have)
Conceived in 1997 and left to mature slowly, Le cri du Choucas is the third and final instalment in my “Cycle des profondeurs” [Cycle of Depths], the first two parts of this long triptych (about three hours) being Sous le regard d’un soleil noir (1981) and Forêt profonde (1994-96), of which a few reminders are included in this instalment. All three are “electroacoustic melodramas” (Michel Chion) inspired by a psychoanalytic approach — Marthe Robert’s in this case, especially an insightful essay by this literary critic, translator, and psychoanalyst entitled As Lonely as Franz Kafka (1979). As Pierre Schaeffer said, “[…] how could we not wonder about the development of music itself, which mysteriously seems to build a bridge between psychology of perceptions and psychology of depths?” and, a fortiori, about the origins of this perceptive music that is acousmatic music, “psychology of depths” being just another name for psychoanalysis.
About the title Le cri du choucas, which means “The Jackdaw’s Call”… Kavka is the Czech word for jackdaw, a bird akin to a crow whose effigy Hermann Kafka, Franz’s father, used for his store sign. Kafka himself wrote “I am a jackdaw, a helpless kavka.” This match and this title are inspired by the animal symbolism found in Kafka’s works: the deep call, the solitary, unusual, often-choked, never-emphasized cry that you can hear in every single tale, however fragmentary, by this author.
Before the Law, a famous section of The Trial, serves as the red thread of my piece, the Law being a metaphoric representation of the impenetrable realms the human mind hits, and not — as what the Vulgate and the adjective “Kafkaesque” usually reduce Kafka’s complex thoughts to — a portrait of bureaucratic aberrations. It is mostly “what you cannot possibly escape from”: a doorway to knowledge is open especially for the man who gets to it, although he is also forbidden to pass through it. Which means that his — metaphysical — question remains unanswered. Symmetrically, a crucial message is addressed to him, although it will never reach him. “In The Penal Colony,” writes Marthe Robert, Kafka “reduces the law to nothing more than an inordinate power of coercion whose sole function is to automatically enforce punishment” [our translation].
Before this long piece, there were four Études pour Kafka which form, alongside new elements, the musical materials of this melodrama. However, these materials are assembled in a different order to fit a script highlighted by texts by and about Kafka told by multiple voices, some of them known, unknown, or transformed.
These are some of the themes covered in this work: the Law, guilt, the father, solitude, dreams, impossible messages, and death. You will hear, by order of appearance, excerpts from The Trial, The Penal Colony, Letter to His Father, The Verdict, Diary, Letters to Felice, The Burrow, A Message from the Emperor, and The Metamorphosis.
[English translation: François Couture, i-16]
Le cri du Choucas [The Jackdaw’s Call] was realized at the composer’s studio in Avignon (France), and premiered on October 15, 2014 at Théâtre Marni as part of the festival L’Espace du son in Brussels (Belgium). It was commissioned by Musiques & Recherches (Ohain, Belgium). This piece benefited, in its long research stage, of a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) in 1997. Franz Kafka’s original texts have been translated anew in French by Francis Dhomont. Recorded voices: Martin Engler, Marthe Forget, Tom Goldschmit, Pierre Louet, Marthe Robert, Hans Tutschku, Annette Vande Gorne, Marie-Jeanne Wyckmans, plus a few anonymous quotes. Warm thanks, for their acute listening, help, and judicious advice, to: François Bayle, Gilles Gobeil, Hans Tutschku, Annette Vande Gorne, and Inés Wickmann.
- October 15, 2014, L’Espace du son 2014: Création mondiale de Francis Dhomont, Théâtre Marni, Brussels (Belgium)
- June 5, 2015, Premiere of the Spring 2015 version: Francis Dhomont, diffusion • Klang! électroacoustique 2015: Concert 3: Around the World, Salle Pétrarque — Hôtel de Varennes, Montpellier (Hérault, France)
- April 28, 2016, Premiere of the final version (Autumn 2015): T-Son 90: Kafka Revisitado, Teatro Maria de Lourdes Sekeff — Instituto de Artes da Unesp, São Paulo (Brazil)
- 2014, Personal studio, Avignon (Vaucluse, France)
- ca 2015-07-01 – ca 2015-11-11, Personal studio, Avignon (Vaucluse, France)