Piano Quartet #1 (2008)

for 'cello, piano, viola, violin
By Douglas Boyce

This work is for me a return to the rhetorics and formal structures of my “misspent” youth playing in punk-rock bands on the New Jersey shore in the late 80’s. The music we wrote was music with much ornamentation and embellishment, but little improvisation as the term is generally used— there was little time for expansive guitar solos in songs clocking in at under two minutes. In this temporally compressed grammar (or perhaps “syllabary” is a better term) distinctions between phrase and riff and verse were unclear, yet relevant, for this was music with a flair for form, form that could be felt in the body, not merely heard in the mind’s ear. Juxtaposition was privileged over transition, and repetition over development. Our ears brimmed with The Germs and The Minutemen, but also the more aggressive side of the British progressive rock scene. First among these groups was always King Crimson and its leader Robert Fripp. The particular harmonic and formal approaches of that group has had substantial impact on my compositional approach, and my approach to functioning and persisting as a musician in the late modern. (In fact, counter)induction itself is an experiment in developing a concert music equivalent to Fripp’s “Small Mobile Intelligent Unit” which he saw as the only way forward in a marketplace dominated by dinosaurs.) Like the punk-rock models, the symmetric structures and machinic inevitability of King Crimson’s music led me to consider in the possibility of forms which functioned outside of song-forms, and still informs much of the large scale temporal organization of my music. “Unfortunately for the purposes of this concert, the work is not a particularly good example of the classical construction of thesis, antithesis and synthesis; in that model, the vernaculars of my youth would be raised by my training in European art music would be ‘raised’ into a higher form, or in an alternate but equally telos-driven construction, that the desanguinated and rarefied traditions of classical music would be reinvigorated by the ‘popular’ materials with their freshness and directness. In my experiences, the separations of genre’s and styles are never as real as our stories about them might make us think. In music, there are not two things which can be placed on opposite ends of a table for study, no Pauli Exclusion Principle keeping musical fermions apart. Repertoire, parts of pieces, and pieces themselves interpenetrate and emerge from ways of being musical, from the patterns of doing which result in the sound we call music. Music does not represent the varied influences of the composer; music re-combines and reterritorializes ourselves, remaking us in its own image.”

Other works by Douglas Boyce:
“Once when father (George Ives) was asked: 'How can you stand it to hear old John Bell (who was the best stonemason in town) bellow off-key the way he does at camp-meetings?' his answer was: 'Old John is a supreme musician. Look into his face and hear the music of the ages. Don't pay too much attention to the sounds. If you do, you may miss the music. You won't get a heroic ride to Heaven on pretty little sounds!'”
--Charles Ives