ROBERT B. CANTRICK
Semantics and Music
Editor's note: the following text is excerpted from a chapter on new flute sounds from Robert B. Cantrick's unpublished monograph, The New Humanism of the Performing Arts, written in the late 60s. Though the sounds described are now somewhat well-known (by other terms) and documented in other sources both in print and online, Cantrick's text is perhaps of special historical interest, particularly with regard to his own invention, the "buzz", now known as "trumpet sound." Cantrick's description of buzz is probably the most comprehensive and accurate one extant. A fingering chart for buzz is included. Fingering charts for the other sounds can be made available.
An audio demonstration of new flute sounds made by Cantrick in 1971 is linked.
For a contemporary flutist's account of extended techniques, visit www.sfz.se
The present discussion will set forth a systematic description of five unusual types of flute sounds: air rush, buzz, ht, pop, and split-tone.
1. Air rush. When any flutist "warms up" his instrument before beginning to play, he covers the embouchure hole completely with his lips and blows air through the instrument. If he blows gently, the resultant sound is all but inaudible. If he blows forcibly, a rush of air can be distinctly heard. Careful listening will disclose that this air rush has a pitch, varying with the intensity of the air pressure. What causes the pitch? The stream of air is being split against the inner rim of the embouchure hole, not against the outer edge as in normal blowing. Further contemplation of this fact will reveal an unusual possibility: the angle of the air stream may be varied, with resultant variations in the pitch of the sound. Therefore, the player may develop a special embouchure for directing the air stream against the inner edge of the embouchure hole, and by practice gain control over the angle of the air stream. Through varying the angle, intensity, and tube length a chromatic range of three and a half octaves can be developed. The astonishing altitude of the highest notes exceeds the highest notes of the piano!
In learning the air rush technique the flutist encounters several problems. The least of these is the development of an embouchure; it is not difficult to direct the stream of air at varying angles. Of moderate difficulty is learning a new set of fingerings; none of the fingerings are the same as for normal blowing, and there are many alternatives. The most difficult problem of all is breath control; the breath is quickly expended, and notes of prolonged duration are extremely difficult. However, with practice, it is possible to gain a degree of control over sustained notes. Also with practice, a vibrato can be introduced, and a flutter added.
The overtone series for air rush tones has the same acoustical property as does normal tone, that is, splitting the fundamental air column into successively shorter segments yields a complete harmonic series of partials, whose wave lengths are proportional to 1, ½, ⅓ , ¼, etc. The practical implication for the flutist is that without any change in fingering he may produce the octave above, etc., simply by altering the angle of the air stream across the embouchure hole. However, air rush pitches are a half-tone higher than normal. For example, the fingering for normal C will produce air-rush C-sharp.
The musical uses of air rush are highly colorful. An ear-splitting fortissimo is possible. In pianissimo the sound is delicate and fragile. These soft tones may be used effectively as harmonics.
The multitude of upper partials which can be produced on one fundamental tone offers unusual potentialities. Each fundamental can be overblown to the seventh overtone, i.e. three octaves above. This "rainbow" of upper partials may be rapidly and fluently traversed, as easily as a string player may produce upper partials by moving one of his left-hand fingers lightly up and down a string while bowing. Further-more, this kaleidoscope of changing colors may be played at different dynamic levels. Most interesting of all, the various overtones may be, on the one hand, clearly separated or, on the other hand, combined into a "white noise" sound - with the possibility of merging gradually from one of these extremes to the other.
As for notation, the abbreviation "AR" is written above the staff just before the air rush notes. A small notehead is placed below the regular notehead to indicate the fingering. For example, suppose that a certain fingering produces A by normal blowing, whereas the same fingering produces B-flat by air rush blowing. Then a small notehead is placed at A on the staff to show the fingering, whereas a normal notehead is placed at B-flat on the staff to show the pitch.
2. Buzz. Here is a sound that few flutists have realized was possible, and which has never been explored systematically until now. The potentialities of buzz tone are indeed exciting. Of all five unusual sounds being explained here, the buzz is by far the most flexible, the most expressive, and the most versatile. It may be claimed without exaggeration that buzz approaches the potentialities of normal tone for nuance, quality, agility, and control.
Buzz is so-named from its similarity to the method of producing tone on the cup mouthpiece instruments of the brass family. Buzz is accomplished not by blowing across the embouchure hole, as in normal playing, but by blowing directly into the embouchure hole. No air is allowed to escape over or around the hole. While blowing in this fashion, the lips are compressed together just enough to cause them to vibrate together as the air passes through. This vibration of the lips causes the sound, and the flute tube amplifies this sounds. The resultant quality of tone bears some resemblance to clarinet or French horn tone.
The technique of blowing is similar to that used by players of cup mouthpiece instruments such as trumpet, French horn, etc. However, it is not exactly the same, since the size and shape of the flute embouchure hole are obviously different from those of a cup mouthpiece. The typical brass player does not find that he can immediately buzz the flute. The typical flutist finds that he can do it without a great deal of difficulty, particularly if he uses the inner portion of the lip surface while retaining a flutistic "feel" in the embouchure.
Buzzing the flute is a flutistic technique, which lends itself to a flute-like approach. In the hands of an imaginative performer buzzing can yield genuinely musical results. It is not a mere trick, and there is no "catch" to it. Of course, it does have tremendous impact as a novelty. However, after the novelty wears off, genuine musical value still remains.
As for the mechanics of it, the instrument is held in the normal way, except for being turned in toward the lips slightly. No change or modification of the instrument is required. Most techniques of normal tone production are transferred to buzz tone production without change, the obvious exception being the position of the lips. In other words, breathing, tonguing, palate position, diaphragm control, etc., are similar for buzzing and normal playing. Even the lip position is not as different from normal as might be supposed at first impression. A fairly loose embouchure is employed, making use of the inner red portion of the lips. The lips are pursed toward the middle, as in normal playing, not stretched tightly back toward the corners of the mouth. For all these reasons the change from normal tone to buzz tone can be accomplished as simply as a string player changes from arco to pizzicato.
There is no damage to the normal embouchure. The author has alternated buzz and normal playing daily for several years without any harm whatsoever. On the contrary, he has found that the acquisition of a new skill has given him better control, in general. Improved muscular control and coordination transfer to all other aspects of technique. In all honesty, however, the difficulties of buzzing technique should not be minimized. In the beginning, buzzing is tiring. Short periods of practice, interspersed with frequent rests, are absolutely necessary. But again, the long-term reward is increased technical control.
An astonishing fact is the extraordinary range of buzz tone: four and one-half octaves, ranging from contra-E (the lowest note of the bass viol) to the B-flat notated one line above the treble clef. Even some upward extension of this range is possible, depending on the individual's lip. The acoustical explanation for the unusually wide range of buzz tone is that the flute is transformed into a closed tube. As such, it takes on the overtone series characteristic of the clarinet. That is, by splitting the fundamental air column into successively shorter segments the player produces an incomplete harmonic series consisting only of the odd partials, whose wave lengths are proportional to 1, ⅓, ⅕, etc. The practical implication for the flutist is that with one fingering he may produce both the twelfth above any fundamental tone and the seventeenth above (but not the octave nor the fifteenth above), simply by varying the tension of the vibrating lips. Played in this way as a closed tube, the flute produces fundamental tones an octave lower than normal. Due to acoustical distortions, however, normal fingerings cannot be used; the buzz fingerings must be carefully chosen to compensate for the placement of the tone holes, which are tuned to normal blowing. Sharpness develops from the middle to the top of the tube.
How can buzzing produce sounds not just one octave but actually three octaves below normal? Unexpectedly enough, a range of pitches can be produced even below the fundamental tones. Buzz includes an "under-range." The fundamental tones can be not only "over-blown" but also "underblown." That is, they can be extended, not only upward by overtones, but also downward by undertones. How is this accomplished? If the lip tension is reduced markedly - as much as in playing "pedal tones" on low brass instruments - the flute tube will furnish some resonance to the resultant low vibrations in the "under-range." While such pitches lack full resonance, they do have partial resonance. While they lack the pitch precision of notes in the middle and upper buzz registers, still they do have recognizable pitch. For these reasons they have musical potentiality for those who conceive timbre per se as a structural element in music. Experiment has shown that for practical purposes the undertones resonate satisfactorily at the twelfth below each fundamental tone.
The total range of buzz tone comprises three registers: undertone, chalumeau, and clarion. Each register is approximately a twelfth in range, accounting for the four-and-a-half-octave range of the total gamut. As on the clarinet, special fingerings are needed to bridge the register gaps. A low B-flat footjoint is useful in bridging these register gaps, but it is not essential. Even with the low B footjoint which most advanced players now use, a complete chromatic scale can be produced.
The timbre of buzz tone differs in each of the three registers. In the undertone range it resembles the pedal tones of a trombone, in the chalumeau range a clarinet, and in the clarion range a French horn or flugelhorn. As for dynamics, the range is generally from pianissimo to mezzoforte, except in the clarion range, where a powerful fortissimo is possible. These dynamic gradations are about parallel with normal tone.
Buzz tone is nearly as agile as normal tone, being capable of a wide variety of articulation, nuance, and speed. The buzz tone can be colored with vibrato of varying amplitude and frequency as easily as normal tone. It can also be fluttered with tongue or uvula. It can be combined with hum. It is particularly adaptable to jazz effects such as scoop, smear, groan, growl, etc. In short, it is an astonishingly versatile addition to the flutist's resources.
The musical uses of buzz are many and varied. Two examples will give some idea of the possibilities. An illustration of the brilliant potentialities of buzz is the "Fanfare" from Three Mimes.
A contrasting lyrical use of buzz is the "Ballad" from Three Mimes.
Note the extreme contrasts of range, dynamics, and timbre that can be achieved in quick succession. As for notation, the abbreviation "BZ" is written above the staff just before the buzz notes. A small notehead is placed above or below the regular notehead to indicate the fingering. For example, suppose that a certain fingering produces C by normal blowing, whereas the same fingering produces D-flat by buzz blowing. Then a small notehead is placed at C on the staff to show the fingering, whereas a normal notehead is placed at D-flat on the staff to show the pitch. This notation would appear as in the following figure:
A complete buzz tone fingering chart is linked.
3. Ht. The third unusual type of flute sound is a staccato sound. Ht is incapable of sostenuto. It is the flutistic counterpart to the reed-player's "slap-tongue" and the string player's pizzicato. This sound derives its name from its manner of production: pronouncing "ht" sharply and directly into the embouchure hole. More precisely, ht is the staccato production of tone by:
a. sforzando diaphragm attack, blowing through the tube without allowing any air to escape outside the embouchure hole;
b. immediately after the attack thrusting the tongue sharply into the embouchure hole.
Like buzz, this is a closed tube sound. Therefore, the lowest tones lie approximately an octave below normal flute range. The highest tones overlap about a twelfth of the normal range. Thus, the entire range of ht is about two and a half octaves from B in the bass staff to F at the top of the treble staff.
It is not possible to produce overtones by means of the ht technique. The tones of the second octave are accomplished by forked fingerings. All ht fingerings are somewhat different from normal fingerings and must be learned independently, for the same reason as for buzz-tone - namely, sharpness develops from the middle to the top of the tube. However, it is not difficult to learn these fingerings in a comparatively short time. They are identical in the low register with the buzz fingerings of the chalumeau register. The main challenge to the performer is not fingerings but tone production. Ht requires the strongest and swiftest diaphragm movement of which the player is capable. This readily explains why it can be an asset to any flutist's overall technique, which is ever in need of diaphragm support. However, diaphragm support is only half the secret of effective ht production. The other half of the secret is effective tongue placement in cutting off the attack. There is a knack to striking the flat of the tongue against the outer rim of the embouchure hole in such a way as to achieve maximum resonance. When this facility is gained, the sound becomes strong and the pitch well defined. The tonal strength relative to normal tone is much like the relative strength of pizzicato to arco: relatively softer. The agility of ht tone, likewise, may be compared to the agility of pizzicato relative to arco: relatively slower. In the case of pizzicato this is due to the repeated finger stroke involved. So with ht: its speed of repetition is limited by the repetitive speed of diaphragm and tongue movements. The pitch of ht is unusually reliable, incapable of flatting or sharping in the slightest degree. Thus, it can be used in rehearsals as a check on the intonation of buzz pitches, which are quite susceptible to pitch distortion.
Since ht is a previously unknown type of flute sound, its musical potentialities remain undeveloped. One example of its musical occurs in the "Entry" of Three Mimes.
As for notation, the word "ht" is written above the staff just before the ht notes. A small notehead is placed above the staff just before the ht notes. A small notehead is placed above or below or beside the regular notehead to indicate the fingering. For example, suppose that a certain fingering produces C by normal blowing but D-flat by ht blowing. Then a small notehead is placed at C on the staff to show the fingering, whereas a normal notehead is placed at D-flat on the staff to show the pitch.
4. Pop. Staccato production of tone by percussively striking the keys against the rims of the tone holes is a technique employed in several twentieth-century compositions for flute, notably Density 21.5 by Edgar Varese. Although pop is therefore not a new sound for flutists, new refinements and developments of it are presented here, namely: stopped tones, forked fingerings, striker keys, ambiguous concepts, "off-lip" uses, bong-like uses, clear notation system, and complete fingering chart covering nearly three octaves.
a. Stopped tones. The range of pop tone can be extended an octave below normal by the application of the closed tube concept. The embouchure hole is stopped tightly with the tongue to convert the flute into a closed tube. With the tongue in this position a new low range of pop tones becomes playable, extending the flute range downward one octave.
b. Forked fingerings. The upper range of pop tones, extending above the fundamental octave of normal tone, is produced by forked fingerings. Some pop fingerings are identical with normal fingerings, but many are different. However, the fingerings are easily learned. The total range is nearly three octaves.
The performer's challenge is slight, by comparison with other flute techniques, consisting only of digital dexterity in mastering unusual finger combinations. Pop is the easiest of the five techniques to master.
c. Striker keys. Pop resonance can be made ample for concert hall projection by the systematic use of certain keys as "strikers." The striker keys best suited to produce pop tone of maximum resonance are the twin G keys. These keys, situated near the center of the tube and having double percussive surface, are best suited to overcome the weakness of volume inherent in pop tone. For a few tones lying above the G keys, the A and B keys must be used as strikers. No matter what fingering the flutist uses to control the pitch of any pop tone, he uses the striker keys to initiate the attack. The use of striker keys obviates the necessity to assist the projection of pop tone by sounding the normal tone simultaneously. Pop can stand independently as a timbral resource.
d. Ambiguous concepts. It is true that pop may be conceived as a mode of attack for normal sound rather than as an independent type of tone. This concept — variety of attack rather than variety of tone — may be the intent of Varese in Density 21.5, since he does call for normal tone production with pop attack. Conceived in this alternative way, as a mode of attack rather than an independent sound, pop may be used to attack normal, buzz, ht, and air rush tones. However, let us re-emphasize: pop has potentialities as an independent type of tone, not just as a mode of attacking normal tones. Such potentialities are realized most resonantly by using certain keys as strikers, usually the twin G keys.
e. Off-lip uses. An unusual characteristic of pop tone is that it can be produced while holding the instrument away from the lips. This adds a mobile potentiality to the performer's visual aspect. A comic use of this "off-lip" potentiality is made in "Silent Drill" from Three Mimes. However, when pop tone is produced without the lips covering the embouchure hole to the normal extent (one-half to one-third of the opening), the pitch is raised a half-step. Therefore, pop tones produced away from the lips must be fingered a half-tone lower than tones produced with lip in normal position.
f. Bongo-like uses. Pop is the most delicate of the five sounds under discussion. A most effective musical use is for percussive effects at low dynamic levels. For example, it can parallel the effect of pianissimo temple blocks or bongo drums. Such an effect is exemplified in Verse One of "Every Good Boy Does Fine" from Three Mimes.
As for notation, the word "pop" is written above the staff just before the pop notes. For those pop tones in the bass clef that require the embouchure hole to be stopped by the tongue, write "stopped" above the note. A small notehead is placed above or below or beside the regular notehead to indicate the fingering. For example, suppose that a certain fingering produces C by normal blowing but D-flat by a pop stroke. Then a small notehead is placed at C on the staff to show the fingering, whereas a normal notehead is placed at D-flat on the staff to show pitch. The striker key is shown by an x, placed on the staff at the pitch which that key produces by normal blowing. For example, if G is to be used as the striker key, then an "x" is placed at G on the staff.
5. Split Tone. The normal tone can be split into two or three tones simultaneously. Tentative experiments at producing four tones at once are in progress. One method of playing split tones has already been exploited to some extent by contemporary composers and flutists: sounding simultaneously two or three tones in the same overtone series, commonly the fundamental and its octave. This split tone type is accomplished by means of the embouchure: the flutist learns to direct the air stream at a point midway between the upper and lower tone, thereby activating two vibration frequencies in the tube. Because this concept is easily grasped and applied, no extended discussion of it is necessary here.
However, another means of accomplishing split tone has just begun to be exploited: forked fingerings. The flutist opens one or more keys near the top of the tube while holding most of the other keys closed. This technique activates two or three vibration frequencies in the tube, one frequency corresponding to the shortest length of tubing (down to the first open hole) and the other frequencies corresponding to the successively longer lengths of tubing (down to the last closed hole). These forked split tones make available to the composer and flutist a number of dyads and trichords other than the octaves and fifths of the natural harmonic series. Such intervals as seconds, thirds, fourths, ninths, and tenths are available.
More than 25 split tones of the forked variety have been discovered by the present writer. An equal number have been discovered recently by another writer, John C. Heiss, in his article "For the Flute: a List of Double-stops, Triple-stops, Quadruple-stops, and Shakes," (Perspectives of Modern Music, fall-winter 1966, pp. 139-141.) Doubtless many more remain undiscovered. This resource of the flute has hardly been tapped. A great deal of research and systematization remains to be done.
Because the flutist must open his embouchure aperture wider than normal for split tones, their tone quality tends to be diffuse, not centered. The quality might be described as one of hazy fragility. This timbral characteristic lends itself to a variety of musical uses. An obvious use is to provide unexpected harmony from an ostensibly monodic instrument. Another possibility is to add to the split tone humming or whistling or both. In this way a flutist may produce four or five pitches simultaneously.
As for notation, the word "split" is written above the staff just before the split tone notes. A small notehead is placed below the regular notehead to indicate the fingering. The keys to be vented higher up the tube are indicated by writing their letter names above the note, for example "vent d trill key" (abbreviated "vent d tr"). Suppose, for example, that a certain fingering produces C by normal blowing, but produces a combination of middle c-sharp, middle d-sharp, and high e when the g-sharp and d-sharp trill keys are both vented. Then a small notehead is placed as C to show the fingering, whereas regular noteheads are placed at middle c-sharp, middle d-sharp, and high e to show pitch, while just above the note is written "vent g-sharp, d-sharp tr."
This completes the discussion of five new types of flute sound. There remain a few miscellaneous remarks. In addition to the possibility of composing new music utilizing these various flutistic potentialities, there is also the possibility of arranging existing music more effectively. The buzz range of the flute parallels the range of the viola, thereby suggesting the possibility of playing viola music on the flute. This suggestion is practical with easy chamber music. For example the "London" trios of Haydn (in which the lowest part does not descend below c in the bass clef) can be performed by two flutes playing normally and one flute buzzing.
Antiphonal passages in pieces of many kinds suggest an alternation of normal with buzz, of normal with air rush, of ht with pop. Antiphony is inherent in symmetrical motives or phrases, of course. Since so much traditional music is constructed of symmetrical motives or phrases, it offers many opportunities to explore such antiphonal effects via the new flute sounds.
A remarkably apt application of these twentieth century techniques can be made to that twentieth century classic for solo flute: Density 21.5 by Varese. This piece was originally commissioned by the virtuoso Goerges Barrère to demonstrate the unusual timbral versatility of the platinum flute. Obviously, the composer's chief intention is to exploit the timbral potentialities of the flute to their fullest extent. A careful analysis of the musical structure shows how to go even further in this direction than the composer specifies. In certain passages use of the new flute sounds enhances the spirit of the composition. [ed. note: an excerpt from Density 21.5 was to have been inserted, indicating the passages where extended techniques might be applied.].
The jazz idiom offers innumerable possibilities for using all five types of new flute sounds. The flexibility of buzz is particularly apt for jazz, because of the possibilities for smear, glissando, groan, etc. [ed. note: a figure illustrating these possibilities was to have been inserted.]
To summarize these various potentialities of new flute sounds a complete tabulation is useful.
If the various combinations of sounds from this table are systematically calculated (16 flute sounds with 18 timbral modifications), it turns out that the timbral resources of the flute encompass at least 50 different timbral combinations! These are catalogued below:
31. air rush
32. air rush-flutter
33. air rush-hum
34. air rush-hum-flutter