Saturday, May 09, 2009

ERGODOS Day 1: Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh (with Salil Sachdev)

Ergodos is this organisation run by Benedict Schlepper-Connolly and Garrett Sholdice, dedicated to the promotion and performance of strange new music. The title reportedly comes from a term invented by the late James Tenney; he apparently used the term 'ergodic' to describe a "static, homogenous environment, out of which complexity naturally abounds".

The Ergodos Festival (strictly speaking, it was called Ergodos: Off Grid) seems to be a continuation of the old Printing House Festival that the Ergodos guys had previously curated. Sticking with past practice, they took a somewhat minimal approach to publicity. The only advertisement I saw for the event was in the Journal of Music (and on the Journal's website) – highly targeted marketing. But the ad worked for me. They were selling a pass to the whole nine days of the festival at the cost of four individual concerts, so I decided to go to everything, hoping that this festival would fill the gap left by the mysterious disappearance of the Living Music Festival. Did I make a terrible mistake? Read on and see.

The first concert took place in the Unitarian Church on St. Stephen's Green, an unusual venue for a concert by a fiddler. The lighting suggested something out of the ordinary for music of any sort: instead of being bathed in strong, harsh lights, the stage area was faintly illuminated in a spectral blue. Ó Raghallaigh comes from the world of Irish traditional music, but from an interview I read with him he is intent on moving beyond the genre's strictures, with the unusual setting and the laptop onstage throwing down a marker before the concert even started. New ideas and technical progression in traditional musical forms can often go horribly wrong – witness any number of folk and traditional acts who have tried to "fill out their sound" with cheap synthesisers – but Ó Raghallaigh talked a good game in the interview, so I was looking forward to seeing him.

Ó Raghallaigh turned out to be a bit of a roffler, with an easy-going charm that belied his status as a trad iconoclast. To be honest, his music did not seem that beyond the pale of normal Irish traditional music, but there could be subtle transgressions that someone more familiar with the form would be shocked by. He did use technology a bit, doing a bit of sampling himself and then playing over it. He also used some rather odd looking fiddles, but to my untrained ear it all sounded relatively traditional. The non-transgressive nature of the music should not however be taken as indicating any kind of compromise in quality – this was all very enjoyable, with the spooky atmosphere making it seem much more of an Event than it would have been to see Ó Raghallaigh playing in a pub.

Ó Raghallaigh was joined for his last two tunes by Salil Sachdev, this percussionist bloke from India. He proved to be fascinating character, tapping out the most amazing percussive rhythms with his bare hands on two different sets of instruments. The first was a fairly straightforward West African drum (from Mali, I think, or maybe Senegal) – straightforward in appearance, but not in the sounds that Sachdev was able to get out of it. His other instrument, possibly also West African or maybe something he had just made up, was some kind of water drum. He made this with a bowl of water, and held another bowl upside down against the water; by changing the upper bowl's angle he could adjust its sound. Sachdev's playing went well with Ó Raghallaigh – he ended up sounding like a bodhran player, albeit an one of most uncommon ability. And he managed all this without having the kind of demeanour one associates with percussionists, instead coming across like an urbane musicologist (which is, in fairness, what he is).

Ergodic Panda

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