Issue 12: Ergodos
By Matthew Mendez
I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like.
-W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
By all accounts, Ireland's new music scene has never been livelier. As critic Liam Cagney recently put it, "Something is stirring in Irish music. Quietly at first, and now increasingly more loudly, a group of composers are giving Irish music a new edge." Headlining this creative awakening are names like Linda Buckley, Ann Cleare, Donnacha Dennehy, Deirdre Gribbin, and Jennifer Walshe—to say nothing of figures from an older generation such as Gerald Barry and Kevin Volans (the latter a naturalized Irish citizen since the mid-1990s)—all of whom, taken together, add up to a remarkably diverse menagerie, if ever there were one. Indeed, one of the defining qualities of this "new edge" seems to be its very indefinability: "Irish music" today is defiantly a moving target, all the better to distance itself from the old, facile commonplaces about Enya and fiddling leprechauns. Yet arguably the most difficult of all to pin down is the Dublin-based Ergodos imprint, launched in 2006 by Benedict Schlepper-Connolly and Garrett Sholdice, two thirtyish composers the local press has dubbed the "dauphins" of Ireland's new music upsurge. Like so many of the current success stories chronicled in these digital pages, Schlepper-Connolly and Sholdice have wedded keen curatorial acumen and a lively communitarian spirit with all the advantages accruing to the middleman-less, DIY ethos. It seems to have been just the ticket in a nation that, until recently, lacked much of the cultural infrastructure available to composers elsewhere in the developed world.
Though Schlepper-Connolly and Sholdice initially envisioned Ergodos as a multipurpose presenting organization, the recording arm quickly assumed precedence, and these days concerts tend to be coordinated more in the way of promotion for new or upcoming releases. Hence it was characteristic that one of the keys to Ergodos' intentions was put forth with their very first published offering, 2010's Dubh (the Irish for "black"). Featuring nonstandard tuning crusaders trio scordatura in works by the founding pair alongside five similarly-minded colleagues, Dubh was described by the label as being "about a certain generation of Irish composers, a generation that is finding its place between tradition and the modern world." For a capsule-sized mission statement, these words would be hard to better: while Ergodos does not shy away from the catch-22s of national identity, they do not actively court them, either, and they refuse to be hemmed in by the label "new music from x." Yet their micro-manifesto explicitly broaches the dichotomy between heritage and innovation, a subject with no little relevance for a country without a strong classical music tradition (relative to its peers). In which direction, then, is an Irish composer in 2015 to cast about for inspiration? Eastward, towards the continent, with all its history? Or westward, to America, that horizon of newness?