The dissonant and atonal may not be welcomed by the masses, but they have the potential to save the field of modern composition from itself. It’s all too easy to place notes where they are expected to be or to appeal to the passer-by through major chords, memorable melodies and repeated themes. Courageous is the composer who decides to be guided by a higher law, embracing the concept of the seemingly random while exercising a keen, intended precision. This is how Nicholas Deyoe approaches with throbbing eyes, one of only a few recent albums in the field not to sound like a soundtrack. (Messiaen and other like-minded composers would be horrified to encounter the corruption of the field by the bland.)
The two pieces for string quartet – the introductory “images from a sleepless night” and the album’s clear and calamitous center, “… for every day is another tentative view of the past”, exude emotion like steam from a hot spring. Ten minutes into the latter track, fury erupts in a fierce frenzy of savage bows. This is followed by retreat, perhaps remorse, a knowledge that one has gone too far, said too much, allowed secrets to spill in anger. The inevitable begins once more to build: a surge, a tide, a broken levy. Twenty minutes in, the tone even dares – if only for a moment – to turn romantic, as if acknowledging the beauty in the world, the higher calling of a mannered life, before strewing it aside like an overcoat of shame. A piece like this is bound to take a toll on the performers, and one can imagine the members of The Formalist Quartet dropping their instruments after playing the piece and walking offstage without noticing the applause. Clearly invested in the material, they’ve risked emotional drain in order to infuse it with blood and fire.
After such a performance, the appearance of the amusingly named Red Fish Blue Fish implies a touch of levity, and thankfully such is delivered, albeit in a muted fashion. “wir aber sind schon andes” is based on a Rilke poem and arranged for percussion quartet. Mallets and sticks carry on a coy flirtation, echoing each other’s expressions without ever embracing. The album concludes with an opera track in five short movements, dedicated to the composer’s wife – not the strongest section, but certainly apt. Together, these pieces form less of a narrative than a map of the human psyche: not the smooth patina we so often present, but the churning emotions that lie beneath. (Richard Allen)