Nicholas Deyoe: With Throbbing Eyes
Populist Records

With Throbbing Eyes is both the debut recording of works by the young composer Nicholas Deyoe (taught by Roger Reynolds) and the premiere full-length recording on Populist Records, a Los Angeles-based label dedicated to promoting experimental music. It's a recording of many colours, featuring as it does four chamber works of contrasting scale (composed between 2009 and 2011) brought to life by the Formalist Quartet (string quartet), Red Fish Blue Fish (percussion quartet), and soprano Stephanie Aston and pianist Brendan Nguyen.

The brief string quartet opener “Images from a sleepless night” serves notice that the intrepid Deyoe isn't opposed to atonality and dissonance when the compositional muse calls for it—which isn't to suggest that there aren't passages of tonality and harmonic sweetness, too, but more to clarify that the composer is willing to go where said muse takes him, no matter the current fashion. That opening salvo is dwarfed, however, by the recording's other string quartet piece, “...for every day is another tentative view of the past,” which spreads its wings for more than half an hour. Not surprisingly, the single-movement work ventures down multiple pathways, exploring contrasts of mood ranging from meditative to agitated (violent, even), and the attentive listener, adhering closely to the piece's myriad twists and turns, comes away spent. Tempo shifts abound, from the furious to the ultra-slow, and there are moments, such as occurs when single-tone pitches stretch out until they're the thinnest of threads, when one suspects Deyoe's goal is to realize the principle of entropy in sonic form.

Based on a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, the percussion setting “wir aber sind schon anders” allows the listener an opportunity to recover from the intensity of the string quartet pieces, the longer one especially. Designed as a series of “mirrored” images, the percussion piece is an enigmatic animal, with the Red Fish Blue Fish players using a mini-arsenal of mallet and drum instruments to explore prismatic reflections of each other's sounds. “5 McCallum Songs” introduces one final contrast to the recording in featuring the vocalizing of soprano Aston (Deyoe's wife) in a setting of poems by Clint McCallum. Though the pieces are brief, in fact miniatures compared to the two pieces preceding them, they're perhaps the recording's most challenging in their Webern-like asceticism and demand from Aston a broad palette of vocal and emotional effects. Here and elsewhere, Deyoe chooses the road less traveled, eschewing the predictable and familiar for a style less immediately accessible but nevertheless rewarding. Though With Throbbing Eyes documents a voice in its still-developing stage, it's an impressive debut that bodes well for Deyoe's future.

March 2012