AMN Reviews: Nicholas Deyoe – “for Duane” [populist records PR013]

Nicholas Deyoe’s “for Duane,” a collection of recent work for small ensembles, opens up areas of expression that often take advantage of the incremental dissonances of microtonal sounds and the darker shades of low-compass instruments. Deyoe, a West Coast composer who studied with Roger Reynolds, teaches composition at the California Institute of the Arts’ Herb Alpert School of Music. In addition to his compositional work, he is an experimental electric guitarist and founder of the ensemble wasteLAnd, the Los Angeles new music collective featured on most of the disc’s performances.

Voice figures prominently throughout the collection. The first piece, the seven-part Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along (2016) is a setting of texts by poet Allison Carter for flute, trombone, cello, double bass and soprano Stephanie Aston. Deyoe floats Carter’s text, which includes incongruous images and free associations arranged alphabetically, over the sharp ends of notes clustered together in a close but brittle proximity. It’s a good match of music to words, as harmonic tension complements semantic ambiguity. Lied/Lied (2013) has violinist Batya MacAdam Somer speaking and singing her own text–at times surreal, at other times a fractured reminiscence—while playing a suitably fragmentary violin part that seems capriciously to underscore, punctuate, amplify, argue with and contradict the words, just as the title’s multilingual pun implicitly calls their veracity into question.

The instrumental 1560 (2016), a three-part composition for violin and viola realized by the Aperture Duo, is a performance piece with a spatial element: each movement calls for the players to take up a specified position relative to each other. The individual parts reflect this movement by matching up in unison drones and flurries of notes, or separating into lines rising and falling against each other. The underlying constant is a tight coordination between the two. Lullaby 6, also from 2016, is a two-movement concerto for amplified cello and nine-piece chamber ensemble that both closes the album and serves as its center of gravity. Dedicated to Deyoe’s recently deceased father, the piece is a lullaby in the way that a requiem is a lullaby for the dead. The orchestration is decisive in creating a charged ambience—it’s heavily weighted with a preponderance of low brass and reeds, giving the piece the gravitas it needs. Cellist Ashley Walters’s solo lines maintain the understated emotional intensity of the piece as the ensemble raises a dark curtain of sound behind her.

Daniel Barbiero