Works by various Irish composers

Trio Scordatura (ER1)

18 October 2010 3 and half stars

ErgodosDubh (pronounced Dooh or Duv depending on what part of Ireland you're from) is the first album to be released on the fledgling Ergodos label.

Ergodos is a Dublin-and-Berlin based music production company founded and run by the composers Garrett Sholdice and Benedict Schlepper-Connolly. Started in 2006, Ergodos has to date organised a few festivals of new music in the Irish capital, and has also over the past few years arranged various concerts of new music

In this Ergodos has collaborated with many performers of note, including Mark Sabat, Aki Takahashi and Paul G. Smyth. Continuing in this line, its inaugural record sees the label presenting the listening public with the inaugural record by Amsterdam's Trio Scordatura, comprised of Bob Gilmore, Elisabeth Smalt and Alfrun Schmid.

As its name suggests, Trio Scordatura is mainly interested in work branching off somewhat from the norm, perhaps in a like fashion to scoratura tuning's wayward wandering from standard tuning. Scanning the names in the ensemble's repertoire we find such composers as Scelsi, Radulescu, Grisey, Niblock – composers who've made it their business to probe the margins of musical thought and the possibilities continually being afforded by sound.

Here, as befits the premiere release by a new Irish label, the Trio's focus is on a group of young Irish composers; seven composers in the early stages of their careers.

It is readily remarked by those with an interest in the topic that the current state of affairs for contemporary music in Ireland is without precedent, in terms of the number of young composers who are active and the number of events taking place. For young composers in Ireland now there are many avenues to follow, many venues, promoters and performers willing to collaborate, as well as a listening public interested in hearing their works performed.

It may appear, then, that a scene is being set for some new school of Irish composition to name itself, or be named. (There is an interesting essay, 'Ghostbusters: Capturing the Geist of Contemporary Irish Music' by the composer Sean Clancy online here.) Playing a part in this would be Dubh, disseminating to a wider audience recent works by some of this young generation.

The record opens with its eponymous piece by Linda Buckley. Dubh means black in Irish, and the tone of the work adheres to that evocation. Resonating synthetic electronics mix with the sound of human breaths, and gradually live instruments and human voice enter to weld together an imposing ambience.

Judith Ring's Hush follows. The mood here is much the same, scordatura harmonics, high-pitched squeals and scraped bowing episodically alternating with silence. The result is abstract in the best sense, marking a distinctive compositional voice.

By Scott McLaughlin's Marx the continuity of the album's tread is established. Again we have quiet wailing atonal slowness, as if conjuring a darkened empty room in some cottage in the middle of a countryside left to its own devices. Feldman is a notable presence; and you feel the music wouldn't be out of place at a black mass.

Enda Bates's Invocation drifts in with an electronic drone like the chanting of Indian priests. Over this, Alfrun Schmid intones lyrics again referring to the colour black. The modal character of the vocal melody gives the overall an impression of an updated Irish folk song.

More modal colour, drone and silence comes with Garrett Sholdice's Fliehen/Nehmen. Here Schmid's voice is reminiscent of Nico, and the quality of the voice along with the work's overall mood creates a hearkening back to the ruined grandeur and the coldness of The Marble Index; except with the drama here taking place in slow motion, outside of normal time.

It is not true… by Peter Moran is a little quirkier than anything else on here. Its lyrical themes as far as they can be made out are again on the dark side. The starkness characterising much of the album here emerges into the open in a viola's seeming dialogue with an Elizabethan court jester.

Cyan by Benedict Schlepper-Connolly brings the album to a close. Over six minutes, solo viola is pitted against an electronic part which moves through a sequence of chords that subtly shift mood in a journey-like way. As the final movement here of sorts, it exudes a Messiaen-like lull, bringing the hour's music to a rest in coloured openness.

Landing in the middle of our sound-bite omnivorous world, one of the merits of this album is the fact that it really works as an album: a collection of music to sit down and listen to from start to finish, the listener submitting to its content for the whole duration. This is a credit to the programme and performances. While none of the pieces here may be immediately memorable, that is probably something that grows with time. In any case, it seems to mark a moment in Irish music: what that moment is we shouldn't be too quick to say.

By Liam Cagney


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Concert Review: Ergodos Voices in Dublin
Concert Review: Lachenmann chamber works in Dublin
Concert Review: Works by Jennifer Walshe at the NCH