Douglas Boyce: Some Consequences of Four Incapacities

, composer


Composer Douglas Boyce, composer-in-residence of acclaimed new music ensemble counter)induction, releases his debut portrait CD, featuring three of his kinetic chamber works in riveting performances by c)i, Aeolus Quartet, and Trio Cavatina. Boyce's music reflects a wide array of interests, from Renaissance traditions to modernist aesthetics, embedding these influences in works that oscillate between tightly organized ensemble mechanisms  and carefully curated moments of independent instrumental freedom.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 57:19
01102nd & Amsterdam
102nd & Amsterdam
Aeolus Quartet14:26
02Piano Quartet No. 1
Piano Quartet No. 1
counter)induction: Miranda Cuckson, violin; Jessica Meyer, viola; Sumire Kudo, cello; Steve Beck, piano8:21

Fortuitous Variations

Trio Cavatina
03I. every deduction involves the observation of a diagram
I. every deduction involves the observation of a diagram
Trio Cavatina9:43
04II. the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another
II. the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another
Trio Cavatina9:34
05III. so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless
III. so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless
Trio Cavatina8:23
06IV. the dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement
IV. the dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement
Trio Cavatina6:52

"Some Consequence of Four Incapacities" is a project that takes its role as a namesake quite seriously. The philosopher C.S. Peirce wrote the eponymous essay in 1868, in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, with all the brash intensity that flavors all his work. He attacks so much over which human thought claims a singular ownership: we are incapable of introspection, for the interiority we value as something singularly ours is a mirror of the world; we are incapable of intuition, for each thought is predicated upon prior thought, some our own to be sure, but all in the end derived from judgement and labor predating our own births; we are incapable of thinking a thought without the use of a language of signs, which as signs must be something other than the truth that they (re)present; and most perturbingly, we are not capable of conceiving of these limits, to catch even some sense of what resides beyond our finite imaginings. An odd source of inspiration for a composer, someone tasked with bringing something that has never existed into the oikumene of musical being. In writing this little essay, I hope to frame some of the manifestation of this thinking in my work. Even better: this is a memo, a note to help one remember, to carry forward into the moment of listening. It aims not to predetermine or privilege interpretations or experiences, but to contribute to the expansiveness of music's potential for meaningfulness, the ever-not-quite-ness that abets its escape from language's prisonhouse and reason's legalistic entanglements.

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) is a fascinating figure philosophically, historically, and biographically. He was the inaugurator of Pragmatism, America's great contribution to philosophy; he is the founder of an intellectual enterprise committed to disrupting all foundations. His most inventive work addressed language, communication, and symbology; the pure volume of his output on pretty much everything is quite belittling to one's own sense of capacity– mathematics, mathematical logic, physics, geodesy, spectroscopy, astronomy, psychology, anthropology, history, and economics. He developed a theory of semiotics quite distinct from his contemporary Saussure, and always, like his great friend William James, sought to radically reconsider the relation of thought to practice, of theoria to praxis.

His biography is as cinematic as his thought is imposing. For thirty-two years, from 1859 until the last day of 1891, he was employed by the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, mainly surveying and carrying out geodetic investigations. This largely mechanical work done to finance his philosophical work and his extravagant spending. This was increasingly a problem after the termination of his teaching position at Johns Hopkins; this was due, it seems, to the public disapproval of Peirce's second wife (a Gypsy), and even more so by the scandal that Peirce had more or less openly cohabited with her before marriage and before his divorce from his first wife. This was all quite beyond the pale of 19th century American academia. Thereafter, Peirce often lived on the edge of penury, eking out a living doing intellectual odd-jobs and because of the overt or covert charity of relatives or friends, for example that of his old friend William James.

For Peirce, humans' knowledge of their world is contingent on understandings of external facts, there is no intuition, as all thought is carries forward its past. Indeed, there are no means by which the human can think anything wholly new– there is no "conception of the absolutely incognizable.” This is a thread the runs through much of his work, but is distilled in this essay most clearly. There is a darkness here, as there is in so much of Peirce– a seeming submission to human finitude, to limits both cognitive and biological.

And, I think, that gothic and mournful mood carries across all the works on the disc, and the following postings should illustrated the significance of historicality, conditionality, and finitude in my work. And there is also a ferocity to Peirce's faith in Mind, in the potentiality of human thought, and I hear a bit of this heroism in this music– certainly in the peerless performances of my collaborators Trio Cavatina, Aeolus Quartet, and counter)induction.

There is here a poetic of composing that is generative rather than creative— a kind of redemptive catastrophism, a newness achieved the the acknowledgement and endorsement of its own lateness.

AN INTERESTING ASPECT of returning to an older work for a recording project is that one returns to a work's history, its biography, in anticipation of a final rendering, an official version with about as much durability as one might hope for. During the course of this piece's performative life, it has been accompanied by a quite brief program note, one almost stereotypically avoiding any discussion of the pieces form or affect, focusing rather on inspiration and intent:

102nd & Amsterdam is dedicated to my father, Raymond Boyce; this was the first of many New York addresses for him. My father’s stories of growing up in New York in the 40’s and 50’s cemented in my mind the idea of New York as The City, an idea strengthened by my own relocations and peregrinations. My father is a wonderful, if diffuse, storyteller, with many narrative elements being developed, abandoned, rediscovered and sometimes corrected; while writing this piece, I thought often of his kaleidoscopic rhetoric, not merely episodic, and yet open and unbounded.

And this is a fair statement– the piece has unity in harmony and to a lesser degree motive, but the general sense of change, progress, flux. The form is dialogic, rather than than episodic, and the musical surface is the skein between dunamis to entelecheia, from potentiality to actuality and fulfillment. And the hyletic substrate is largely a field of rhythmic play: metrical shifts; contrapuntal interactions, and transformations of rhythmic density. There is a sense of the open, but it is Lutoslawskian rather than improvised— breathing not counting, frames and ornamented unisons, dynamic mixed meter; pulses open, closed, forming and dissolving.

This approach is fundamentally Modern, of a certain kind of disruptive momentism. Seeking a perpetual awareness that, unlike the Expressionists that is more phenomenologic than it is emotional, hyletic (and so on the cusp of the Real, rather than pulling towards an emotional interiority). This approach marks a path towards form, a path which winds through Husserl's retention and protention and demarkates James' specious present. The now event only happens with in the past and the future, and in its becoming/having-been enables a construction of a Now.

As with much of my music, before and after, it is a music with corners, even if those corners don't quite lead to where you thought you were headed. Chronos is deceitful, complicit in the disruptions of Aion, and weakly fading as order is reasserted. Time's becoming takes two gods, because time does not instantiate itself. It is a product of action of Da-sein, and Da-sein is crafty, trying new strategies for new understandings and stubborn, holding with holding what has become dear to it.

In the time I have come to realize is that the true play is the play of memory; homo ludens plays within rules, ADOPTS those rules, and in making them his own moves from the general to the particular, from the game to a game. True generative play requires the imagination of potential futures and the memory of both the immediate past and deeper pasts.

Gadamer shows us that Husserl's pro- and re-tentions are also forejudgement and re-presentation. The Now is not manifest through creative action, but hermeneutic agency. The aspiration to be that "writer of history with the gift of setting alight the sparks of hope in the past." In the case of the arts, the concern with technique, which allows for the genius, the craftsman, the scholar, as well as the hierophant and the mystagogue. Adoption empowers, and also sets obligations. Sorge as retelling and retelling and retelling reveals the player to be homo curator.

It is here that I understand more fully the place of my story telling father in this musicking– this is the retelling of a being within which I was never present. The profound personal, geographic, and cultural changes experienced by and undertaking by are accompanied by interest in the preservation (through re-presentation) of the past - this is bringing historicity into that well lit grove.

It also makes me think of the radicality of this position – it is an acknowledgement of a perpetually transforming world of flux, but speaks to the role of critical agency in moving the world forward. Though rooted in faith, it is not rooted in knowledge. It echoes Peirce Where is the real, the thing independent of how we think it, to be found? There must be such a thing, for we find our opinions constrained; there is something, therefore, which influences our thoughts, and is not created by them. It is the same when we exert ourselves against outer resistance; except for that resistance we should not have anything upon which to exercise strength. This sense of acting and of being acted upon… is our sense of the reality of things."

Together, such experiences provide grounds for talking about an external reality, but only in a limited sense that is reminiscent of Kant's noumenal realm: if reality emerges only as a constraint or condition on our experience, then we can't say anything about its nature as it stands apart from us.

Peirce ran towards logic and his signs as the foundation of memory; I move towards memory first, towards a trust in the conditionality of being, in memory and its imperfect continuing reestablishment of the universe.

This work was premiered by counter)induction on Sept. 9th 2005 at the Tenri Cultural Institute, New York. by counter)induction, an ensemble with whom I have been most closely associated since its formation in 1999. This recording features members of the Aeolus Quartet.

Piano Quartet No. 1 (2009)

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 and bled 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.

Fortuitous Variations (2014)

C.S. Peirce (1839 – 1914) wrote that "three modes of evolution have thus been brought before us: evolution by fortuitous variation, evolution by mechanical necessity, and evolution by creative love." Fortuitous Variations tries to capture something of Peirce's extravagance of thought; music growing, changing, and always almost not quite bursting at its seams.

The notion of order as an emergent property of chance and flux threads itself through all of Peirce's works, as well as those of his great friend and supporter William James (1842 – 1910); the title of Fortuitous Variations and its constituent movements, as well as various tempo and character markings in the scores, are drawn from the writings of Peirce, James, and one of his great heroes, Aristotle. This piece was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation.

Over the course of the four movements a small array of intervals folds on to and out of itself, generating new patterns, passages, textures and harmonic lattices that are themselves only smaller neighborhoods within the greater and more greatly varied manifold that is the work in toto. In parallel, three different means projections of musical time are operative: the chronos of pulse, the aion of the cloud, the churning substrate of being. And everywhere, the device of developing variations pervades -- an overflowing of diversity held in check by forms and rhetorics, a diversity which conceals a deeper, intrinsic oneness while leading to a spiral of Heraclitian flux that is both violent and cathartic.

The notion of order as an emergent property of chance and flux threads itself through all of Peirce's works, as well as those of his great friend and supporter William James (1842 – 1910); the title of Fortuitous Variations and its constituent movements, as well as various tempo and character markings in the scores, are drawn from the writings of Peirce, James, and one of his great heroes, Aristotle. This piece was made possible by a grant from the Fromm Music Foundation.

The work is dedicated, emphatically, to Trio Cavatina.

Movement Titles and Quotations

I. every deduction involves the observation of a diagram

"I have proven that every Deduction involves the observation of a Diagram (whether Optical, Tactical, or Acoustic) and having drawn the diagram (for I myself always work with Optical Diagrams) one finds the conclusion to be represented by it. Of course, a diagram is required to comprehend any assertion." C.S. Peirce in a 1909 letter to William James

II. the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another

"[E]xtensity, being an entirely peculiar kind of feeling indescribable except in terms of itself, and inseparable in actual experience from some sensational quality which it must accompany, can itself receive no other name than that of sensational element. It must now be noted that the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another. Its dimensions are so vague that in it there is no question as yet of surface as opposed to depth; 'volume' being the best short name for the sensation in question." William James, from "The Principles of Psychology" (1890) CHAPTER XX THE PERCEPTION OF SPACE; Section 1: THE FEELING OF CRUDE EXTENSITY

III. so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless.

"Just, in fact, as the vessel is transportable place, so place is a non-portable vessel. So when what is within a thing which is moved, is moved and changes its place, as a boat on a river, what contains plays the part of a vessel rather than that of place. Place on the other hand is rather what is motionless: so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless. Hence we conclude that the innermost motionless boundary of what contains is place." Aristotle, The Physics Book IV, Chapter 4

IV. The dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement

"Pure Play has no rules, except this very law of liberty. It bloweth where it listeth. It has no purpose, unless recreation.... The dawn and the gloaming most invite one to Musement; but I have found no watch of the nychthemeron that has not its own advantages for the pursuit. It begins passively enough with drinking in the impression of some nook in one of the three Universes. But impression soon passes into attentive observation, observation into musing, musing into a lively give and take of communion between self and self. If one's observations and reflections are allowed to specialize themselves too much, the Play will be converted into scientific study; and that cannot be pursued in odd half hours." C.S. Peirce, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God”

— Douglas Boyce

Further notes

Boyce opens the program in a haze — specifically the murky intersection of 102nd & Amsterdam. Ponticello tremolos dart around the ensemble, and one can imagine standing on the city corner, peering this way and that in response to sounds and darting figures in the charged nighttime atmosphere. A poignant cello solo follows, a balance between imploring high notes and shaking glissandi and admonishments in the bass. The glissandi find their way into all the parts for a subsequent section, leading into a densely energetic, chromatic passage. The eerie atmosphere of the opening returns as this portrait of an urban crossing beautifully captures how one spot in a city can contain an entire universe. PIano Quartet No. 1 begins with Bartokian off-kilter accents (or perhaps Fripp-ian, reflecting Boyce's love for cult favorite progressive band King Crimson), alternating with hocketed passages between viola and piano. The texture gets progressively more dense as lines snake in and out of the ensemble, before a passionate passage leads back to the fervor of the accented opening. Fortuitous Variations opens with similarly angular music, pillars of repeated octaves in the piano alternating with swooping gestures in the strings. The subsequent variations subject the material to all manner of manipulation, from timbral, to rhythmic, to registral. The pensive chords at the work's close dispense with the urge to clinch a closing statement, preferring to leave with questions hanging in the air. Boyce's music contains a powerful focus and impetus, but also an uncanny ability to sustain complex rhetorical arguments within sophisticated structures.

- D. Lippel

Recording engineer: Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio

Producer: Ryan Streber/Douglas Boyce


Track 1: members of the Aeolus Quartet: Rachel Shapiro, violin; Greg Luce, viola; Alan Richardson, cello

Track 2: counter)induction: Miranda Cuckson, violin; Jessica Meyer, viola; Sumire Kudo, cello; Steve Beck, piano

Tracks 3-6 Trio Cavatina: Harumi Rhodes, violin; Priscilla Lee, cello; Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano

Douglas Boyce

Douglas Boyce writes chamber music that draws on Renaissance traditions and modernist aesthetics, building rich rhythmic structures that shift between order, fragmentation, elegance, and ferocity. Regarding A Book of Songs (2006, in process), the Washington Post wrote “[they] can only be described as drop-dead beautiful. Easily the most captivating works on the program, these songs of love and death are extraordinarily well written and insightful.” Regarding La Déploration, (2016) Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim wrote that "...the violinist, cellist... and clarinetist... spread out throughout the crypt. Against vaporous harmonics and ghostly fragments of Renaissance music played by the strings, [a] warm, clear clarinet announced itself as very much alive as it sashayed in and out of blues territory and laughed in the face of their mournful keening.”

Aeolus Quartet

Formed in 2008 at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Aeolus Quartet consists of violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro, violist Caitlin Lynch, and cellist Alan Richardson. Since its inception, the all-American quartet has been awarded prizes at nearly every major competition in the United States and performed across the globe with showings “worthy of a major-league quartet” (Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News). Mark Satola of the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes, “A rich and warm tone combined with precise ensemble playing (that managed also to come across as fluid and natural), and an impressive musical intelligence guided every technical and dramatic turn.” They were the 2013-2015 Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Juilliard School, and they currently make their home in New York City. The Aeolus Quartet are Grand Prizewinners of the 2011 Plowman Chamber Music Competition and 2011 Chamber Music Yellow Springs Competition. They were awarded First Prize at the 2009 Coleman International Chamber Ensemble Competition, a Silver Medal at the 2011 Fischoff International Chamber Music Competition, and a Bronze Medal at the 2010 International Chamber Music Ensemble Competition in New England. The 16th Annual Austin Critics’ Table named the Aeolus Quartet their 2010-2011 “Best Ensemble,” and the “Best Touring Performance” in 2017. The Aeolus Quartet has released two critically acclaimed albums of classical and contemporary works through the Longhorn/Naxos label which are available on iTunes, Amazon, and major retailers worldwide. A third album of contemporary and classic American composers is schedule for worldwide release with Azica Records in spring of 2018. The Quartet has performed across North America, Europe, and Asia in venues such as Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Reinberger Recital Hall at Severance Hall, Merkin Hall, The Library of Congress, Renwick Gallery, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center.


In its twenty years of virtuosic performances and daring programming, the composer/performer collective counter)induction has established itself as a force of excellence in contemporary music. Hailed by The New York Times for its “fiery ensemble virtuosity” and for its “first-rate performances” by The Washington Post, c)i has given critically-acclaimed performances at Miller Theatre, Merkin Concert Hall, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Music at the Anthology, and the George Washington University. Since emerging in 1998 from a series of collaborations between composers at the University of Pennsylvania and performers at the Juilliard School, counter)induction has premiered numerous pieces by both established and emerging American composers; including Eric Moe, Suzanne Sorkin, Ursula Mamlok, and Lee Hyla. c)i has also widely promoted the music of international composers including Jukka Tiensuu, Gilbert Amy, Dai Fujikura, Diego Tedesco, and Elena Mendoza. Since its inception, c)i’s mission has been straightforward: world-class performances of contemporary chamber music, without hype and without agenda other than a complete commitment to the most compelling music of our day.

Trio Cavatina

Pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, violinist Harumi Rhodes, and cellist Priscilla Lee formed Trio Cavatina in 2005 at the renowned Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. Deeply rooted in a strong sense of shared musical values, Trio Cavatina has rapidly emerged as one of today's outstanding chamber ensembles whose committed music-making prompted Harris Goldsmith to describe the trio, in his 2008 Musical America article, as offering 'potent, intense interpretations’. As the winner of the 2009 Naumburg International Chamber Music Competition, Trio Cavatina made its Carnegie Hall debut in 2010 with scintillating performances of two monumental Beethoven trios, Leon Kirchner's second trio, and the world premiere performance of 'Faces of Guernica' written for them by Richard Danielpour. They also made their San Francisco debut earlier that season at Herbst Theater (San Francisco Performances).



Avant Music News

The music of composer Douglas Boyce reflects an eclectic set of influences and interests. He has turned to pre-Baroque music for inspiration as well as raw material; at the same time, he is conversant with contemporary compositional language rooted in Modernism. On Some Consequences of Four Incapacities, Boyce presents recent work in a contemporary vein. The string trio 102nd and Amsterdam is a sonic portrait of an intersection in upper Manhattan: the energy of an urban crossroad translated into vertiginous glissandi, frantically pulsating rhythms and the often dissonant coincidence of independently moving voices. The rhythmic cohesion and propulsion of the string trio find a counterpart in Piano Quartet No. 1 for violin, viola, cello, and piano. The piece’s asymmetrical but regular rhythms and heavy chords wittily acknowledge—and reveal the congruence between—two of Boyce’s early influences: Bartok and King Crimson. The CD closes with the well-crafted, thirty-five minute-long Fortuitous Variations, a four-part composition for piano, violin, and cello.

-Daniel Barbiero, 8.7.2018, Avant Music News


Vital Weekly

Douglas Boyce used to play in punk bands back in the 70s. Nowadays he is a composer of chamber music combining influences of medieval and renaissance music with modern contemporary music. ‘Some Consequences of four Incapacities’ is the triggering title of Boyce’s first full-length CD if I’m not mistaken. The release contains three compositions all excellently performed: ‘102nd & Amsterdam’ performed by the Aeolus Quartet, ‘Piano Quartet no.1’ by Counter) induction and ‘Fortuitous Variations’ by trio Cavatina. These are thoroughly composed works that underline that Boyce also takes many influences from our modern times. ‘Piano Quartet no.1’ I liked most because of its power and pulse.
— DM, Vital Weekly, August 2018


The Art Music Lounge

Truly a strange album, this, with no liner notes to speak of and no information on the composer. I found this information on the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society website (et. al)

So now you know as much about him as I do. The music, as I hear it, contains elements of Baroque and even some folk music in a modern idiom. At times he relies on the same kind of devices that so many modern composers do, such as sudden burst of atonal, energetic passages in the midst of calm and sliding chromatics, but he at least tries to be original. The opening piece, 102nd at Amsterdam, begins mysteriously, eventually leading to a slithering cello passage that leads the ear away from the higher strings’ skittering. It is not music that is immediately attractive, but rather seems to attempt a purposely abrasive quality that is couched in a fine sense of structure. A contrapuntal passage follows, after which the entire quartet employs slithering portamento against one another before the viola plays busy, quadruple-time passages around which the others make comment. It seemed to me to be music that revels in trying to sound formless when in fact it has a considerably tight structure.

By contrast, the opening of the Piano Quintet [sic] is loud, with sharp staccato chords, which lead to the piano playing a running bass line while the strings play above it. The music eventually moves into more graceful bowed figures, again played in counterpoint against one another, and again the music develops well, eventually moving back into contrapuntal figures as part of the development section. Boyce then alternates these motifs and moods through the rest of the movement.

This brings us to the Fortuitous Variations, the only multi-movement piece on this disc. Boyce again contrasts a staccato opening against a lyrical passage, then another passage in counterpoint between the various instruments, piano and the string playing pizzicato. By this time I had come to realize that these sort of cat-and-mouse games form the backbone of Boyce’s style. It’s quite interesting to a point, but the continual abstraction of his music tends to wear a bit on the advanced listener. I’m not sure that he consciously realizes this, but the continued effects he produces lead to predictability rather than surprise. In the second movement, he returns to the slithering style of 102nd at Amsterdam with aggressive plucked notes thrown in.

In the fourth and final variation, titled “the dawn and the gloaming most,” Boyce creates his tightest-constructed piece on the album, a brilliant canon that pits the strings against the piano and each other in an ever-expanding series of variants.

Overall, then, an album of well-constructed music that strives for effects, achieves them, but never quite reaches greatness.

—© June 2018, Lynn René Bayley, Art Music Lounge


New Music Buff

The rather plain cover belies the contents of this album of exciting and powerful chamber music. This is billed as a “sampler” album and it contains three works by Douglas Boyce (1970- ). He is a founding member, curator, and composer-in-residence of counter)induction, a composer/performer collective active in the New York region. He also has experience playing in various punk bands.

Boyce holds a B.A. in Physics and Music from Williams College, an M.M. from the University of Oregon and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania (1999). He has studied with George Crumb, James Primosch, Kathryn Alexander, Robert Kyr, Judith Weir, Ladislav Kubik and Robert Suderburg. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Music at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.

All this gives only the faintest hint of what his music sounds like. In the three works represented here the listener will notice some influence of Bartok and mid-century modernism. The first work 102nd and Amsterdam (2005) reflects a composer well schooled in writing for string instruments. This piece is a string trio played by members of the Aeolus Quartet (Rachel Shapiro, violin; Greg Luce, viola; Alan Richardson, cello) and they are given a great deal to do. This is an energetic piece which engages the listener immediately and doesn’t really let go until the end some 14 plus minutes later.

The writing is virtuosic and the variety of techniques employed in his string writing are engaging and never seem gratuitous (i.e. extended techniques because I can). Despite multiple glissandi and other string effects, the work, like the others on the album, are basically using the tonal language common to most western music. This is seriously engaging and masterfully developed music. It hooked this listener immediately.

The second work is Piano Quartet No. 1 (2009). This is an even more visceral work true to Bartokian esthetics. In its relatively brief 8 plus minutes the listener is taken on a virtuosic journey by the musicians of counter)induction (Jessica Meyer, viola; Sumire Kudo, cello; Steve Beck, piano). They are joined by the wonderful Miranda Cuckson who steps out of her soloist role and moves deftly into this chamber group as the finest musicians can do. Boyce cites influences as diverse as Robert Fripp and King Crimson but the details of that are not necessarily clear to this writer nor is it necessary to the appreciation of the work. It is a powerful and exciting piece of chamber music. This work left this listener a bit tired by the end (it is quite a workout) but the same ability to sustain interest and attention which applied to the first work is also present here.

Finally the Trio Cavatina (Harumi Rhodes, violin; Priscilla Lee, cello; leva Jokubaviciute, piano) presents a reading of the four movement Fortuitous Variations (2014). This most recent composition is the big work on this disc. The underpinnings, if you will, involve philosophical ideas and are elaborated well by the composer on his web site but, like the influences of the previous work, the music stands very well on it’s own.

There are four movements which seem to correspond (at least roughly) to the sonata form commonly used in such works. Each maintains its character as said variations are rolled out and, as in the previous works, sustains interest easily. This is perhaps a more ponderous work which is less direct than the previous two pieces but this most recent composition no doubt reflects the composer’s development and time will tell what direction his work will take. There is, however, a sense that the composer has developed a personal style and is cultivating it. Give a listen.

Most will want to hear these works multiple times. This reviewer managed to find three separate drives which allowed uninterrupted listening to the entire disc and I know those three won’t be the last.

-Allan J. Cronin, 10.8.2018, New Music Buff


The WholeNote

Some Consequences of Four Incapacities features extremely esoteric – I would say old school new music – chamber compositions by American composer Douglas Boyce. The disc opens with 102nd & Amsterdam, performed by members of the Aeolus Quartet. The work honours the composer’s father and his love of New York City. It begins in near silence with nervous scratching and harmonics in the high strings. Ever so gradually, melodies emerge and a cello solo comes to the fore. Later the violin and viola join in a furious round of glissandi and dense choppy rhythms. Eventually the eerie atmosphere of the opening returns as “this portrait of an urban crossing beautifully captures how one spot in a city can contain an entire universe.” Members of counter)induction perform the brief but intense Piano Quartet No.1 which is a splendidly raucous homage to Boyce’s youthful love of Bartók and King Crimson.

The final work, filling more than half of the disc, is the intriguing Fortuitous Variations, in four movements performed by Trio Cavatina. There are literally pages of program notes about this piece in the covering letter I received from Boyce, on the one-sheet press release and in the extended notes on the new focus website (the disc itself has none). Boyce writes “The CD’s title is borrowed from an essay of C.S. Peirce, the inaugurator of philosophical Pragmatism and its particularly ferocious rethinking of the potential of thought in comparison to practice. […] There is a darkness here, as there is in so much of Peirce – a seeming submission to human finitude, to limits both cognitive and biological. And, I think, that gothic and mournful mood carries across all the works on the disc.” The movement titles – every deduction involves the observation of a diagram; the vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another; so it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless and the dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement – presumably refer further to Peirce and his development of “America’s great contribution to philosophy.” The web notes tell us (in part): “Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) is a fascinating figure philosophically, historically, and biographically. [...] founder of an intellectual enterprise committed to disrupting all foundations. His most inventive work addressed language, communication, and symbology; the pure volume of his output on pretty much everything is quite belittling to one’s own sense of capacity – mathematics, mathematical logic, physics, geodesy, spectroscopy, astronomy, psychology, anthropology, history, and economics.” How this actually relates to the music and its composition is beyond me, but Boyce, who is associate professor of music at George Washington University, has found in it inspiration to create a compelling cycle of works. Recommended for those who are not concerned with finding hummable tunes in their craggy contemporary music. The performances are all outstanding.

-David Olds, 9.26.18, The WholeNote



Composer Douglas Boyce is inspired and influenced by the works of C. S. Peirce, inaugurator of philosophical Pragmatism; a worldview in which our own knowledge of our own world is determined by our understanding of external acts. We, as humans, cannot conceive of anything new: There is no “conception of the absolutely incognizable.” Within this aesthetic is an admission of human frailty but also Boyce grasps and projects in his own music a ferocity of Peirce’s faith in the mind itself. I personally first came across C. S. (Charles Sanders) Peirce in V. Kofi Agawu’s postgraduate lectures on semiotics (semiology) at King’s College, London: Peirce’s writings on signs and semiotics were seminal. In fairness, we did not get quite as far as concepts such as Peirce’s “Rhematic Indexical Sinsigns” and the like….

It is rather more easy to get one’s teeth into external stimulants that birthed compositions. Such is the case with 102nd & Amsterdam, the title a reference to first New York address of Douglas Boyce’s father. A skilled storyteller, Raymond Boyce’s tales sometimes took unexpected detours—pretty much as his son’s music does. There is a spirit of exploration to this music; although it shifts direction frequently, it is extravagant as opposed to diffuse. All credit to the performers, three of four members of the Aeolus Quartet, for their obvious precision and dedication, not to mention their instrumental command. The composer describes the basis of the piece as “always phantasmagoric”; different instruments may be our storytellers, either solo or in combination, but there is always a tall tale to tell.

At eight minutes, the Piano Quartet No. 1 is the shortest work on the disc. Paying homage to both Bartók and King Crimson, and to the composer’s days in punk rock in New Jersey, there is a visceral edge to this work that puts its later stasis into high relief. As the group describes it on their website, “Boyce’s Piano Quartet No. 1 mixes furious verticals with an entwined horizontal.” That said, there are also occasional hints of a sense of play, even of fun, here.

The quadripartite Fortuitous Variations is the longest piece on the disc. A kind of “fortuitous variation” has been able to bring together “heroic angularity,” “endlessly developing variations,” and “Romantic extravagance” in the one space. Boyce quotes Peirce at this point: “Evolution by fortuitous variation, evolution by mechanical necessity, and evolution by creative love.” Perhaps the keyword is “extravagance,” as the music does seem to invoke a space that could continue forever. The four movement titles seem at first glance characteristically elusive, or perhaps a Modernist twist on koans. In fact, they are all quotations from three people: Peirce himself; a follower, William James; and Aristotle: “Every dedication involves the observation of a diagram”; “The vastness hitherto spoken of is as great in one direction as in another”; “So it is rather the whole river that is place, because as a whole it is motionless”; “The dawn and the gloaming most invite one to musement.” They still pose their interpretative challenges, though (as does the title of the disc itself, some consequences of four incapacities).

There is space in all this abstraction for beauty, and indeed that aspect is at its most marked in the second movement. There is even space for hints of dance in the finale. The instrumental contributions are commanding, perhaps particularly the sheer confidence of Harumi Rhodes’s violin.

This is vastly stimulating on all levels, whether intellectual or emotional. Both music and the concepts behind the music might not be for the faint of heart, though.

-Colin Clarke, 11.27.18, Fanfare


Midwest Record

Contemporary classical has entered a new realm when the composers behind it admire Bartok as well as King Crimson. Boyce is a serious cat that isn’t out to foist some pots and pans music to snare a grant from some insiders. Probably as cutting edge as Stravinsky or Hindemuth were in their time, some leading progressive classical crews do the material justice here as they follow it’s twists and turns through often subterranean climes. Wild stuff you don’t have to be a Sunday afternoon egghead to enjoy or penetrate.

-- Chris Spector, Midwest Record, 6.26.2018



The title of Douglas Boyce’s string quartet, 102nd and Amsterdam, would seem to suggest some specific reference, but without notes, we must let the music speak for itself. Certainly, Boyce is highly atmospheric here, getting a large range of instrumental gestures and dynamic shifts that, taken as a totality, evokes a kind of dreamy theatricality. There is a sense that this depiction of a Manhattan street corner takes place at night, as there is a noir smokiness to his tone. His language is abstract but not overly complex. There is a purposefulness and strong narrative line that makes this music very involving. The Piano Quartet is somewhat more traditionally organized, but even darker and more angular than the string quartet, qualities abetted by the inclusion of the percussive piano part. The high energy is rather relentless, right up to a slinky coda that ebbs away into the shadows.

The major work on the program is Fortuitous Variations, a piano trio in four contrasting movements. It is tempting to think of this work as a kind of large sonata or even a chamber symphony, complete with an expansive opening movement, then music with a puckish scherzo-like feel, followed by a rhapsodic slow movement, and concluding with a dynamic burst of energy. This is a broad and oversimplified view, but I tend to seek familiar structure in music, including new works. The composer Larry Bell once told me, in an interview for this publication, that as a teacher, he is less concerned about the content of his students’ works than he is in their ability to create a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the case of Douglas Boyce, that sense of wholeness is always manifested, which is comforting, but the journey within that larger body is where the real adventure happens. Boyce writes with excellent craft, a natural feel for dramatic, linear flow, and a sense of daring and imagination. Contemporary composers are extremely well served these days by top-flight musicians eager to take a break from standard repertoire, and in some cases, truly exceptional artists who specialize in the music of our time. All three of the ensembles in this outing include musicians of those kinds, and the performances here are uniformly virtuosic and full voiced, as well as intuitively in touch with the spirit of the composer. The recorded sound is superbly realistic and well balanced. Just one small production quibble; the CD cover lists seven tracks, when there are actually only six. Not really an issue for most, but a bit of a headache for the reviewer!

-Peter Burwasser, 11.27.18, Fanfare

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