I made it to the Unitarian Church on Stephen’s Green last night to what is best described as Boys Night in the Ergodos Festival. A brilliantly programmed concert, Expressway To Yr Skull featured five works (all written by male composers) performed by five guys on electric guitars and drums. I realise, of course, that this may be coming across as tinged with female chauvinism but in no way did the “boys night” feel to the evening detract from my ability to enjoy the concert.
Festival co-director Benedict Schlepper-Connolly welcomed the audience and also prepared us for the likelihood that they would spend a large portion of the evening tweaking guitar strings as, through “some stroke of genius”, they managed to programme five works in five different tunings (actually it was more than five tunings as in a couple of the works there were two or three tunings used!). The first work was a duet between Connolly and the work’s composer Brian Ledwidge Flynn. I am a big fan of Flynn’s music (and I am comfortable saying this despite being a friend of his) and mentioned his Abraxas project in an earlier post. Last night’s work Zeitgeber Gears was another demonstration of his versatility as a composer. I would like to reprint the programme notes here as they illustrate the work perfectly (which is not always the case with programme notes) but suffice to say, the four movements, or “tracks”, tease the listener as they evoke half-remembered B-sides from early 90’s alternative rock.
I found Brian Bridges Infraction for electric guitar and strings a difficult work to appreciate. An expression of deviation from western tonality, my initial impression was that of my great-grandmothers old button accordion, which was desperately out of tune but could produce the most amazing sounds if you ignored diatonic tonality.
Simon O’Connor explored the “magic line” of sound produced by electric guitar in prolonged notes on two guitars, building one note on each guitar to the point of breaking before releasing tension with a new note on the other guitar. This continued and the piece grew into repeated rhythms and long sustained notes.
After a brief skip out into the rain for the smokers, the concert continued with Larry Polansky’s ii-v-i, a beautiful exercise in tuning and loop pedals for solo guitar and ended with Electric Guitar Quartet by festival co-director Garrett Sholdice. After a bewilderingly extended set-up time and tuning, the guitars finally settled into what seemed like random note and rhythm patterns but what resolved into the creation of a distinct melodic atmosphere. In an inspired move Sholdice invited drummer Dennis Cassidy to perform with the quartet. Cassidy is a pleasure to watch as he works hard to produce the most gentle and delicate of sounds, supporting the four guitars in their efforts.