Two Commissions for Cassette Tape
“Were it not for the actors and the Irish, so they say, there would be no plays in England. Like George Farquhar, whose Love and a Bottle he adapted, the playwright Bill Morrison was both Northern Irish and an actor, and a director and trade unionist to boot. Morrison, who has died aged 71 after suffering an oesophageal rupture, had a career in theatre, television and radio that was exceptional in its range and scale, and innovative in subject matter and dramatic form.” — Guardian Obituary 22/12/11 for Bill Morrison, playwright and director, born 22 January 1940; died 7 December 2011.
Low Point stalwarts Ex-Easter Island Head’s first excursion onto Manchester-based Tombed Visions is ‘Two Commissions for Cassette Tape’. Two expansive fifteen-minute pieces see the Liverpool ensemble developing their sound even further afield, the unique elements being locative briefs, a focus on loops, the sonic and mechanical qualities of cassette tape, and a faintly discernable elegiac crosscurrent.
Whilst some parts of the three-pronged “A Curfew Tower for Bill Morrison” bring to mind previous outings such as ‘Mallet Guitars One’, other parts (namely the blistering, chiming distortion) are new elements entirely. Commissioned by Static Gallery, Liverpool, the piece was written and recorded inside The Curfew Tower in Northern Ireland, with everything developed completely in situ: all material, down to the specific tuning of the guitars, was developed over the five days of the residency.
Using microphones, prepared guitars, a four-track recorder, percussion, and the acoustics of the 18th century structure’s four-storey narrow passageways and stonewalls, Benjamin Duvall and Patrick Morrison have crafted a personal audio wake both celebratory and mournful. The clattering percussion has substantially more bite than usual, likely owing to the large helping of authentic reverb the location seems to have gifted. The mixing by James Rand is sharp, with the dynamics centre-stage and with just enough of the location at the edges to give it character.
“Mercy Commission” is a piece developed for tape loops and multiple speakers, commissioned by Mercy Arts/Literature agency for an installation at Static Gallery, Liverpool, 29th September 2011, based on a “half-erased, lo-fi, analogue/digital crossover” brief, using prepared bass guitar, harmonium and a slowly deteriorating cassette tape from 2005. The results, upon installation, ran on a six-hour loop, so the version presented for release is clearly in a much-condensed form. Although the installation piece apparently benefitted from the changing dynamic of people in the gallery, altering the timbre and shape, the piece still maintains weight in recorded form.
‘Two Commissions’ sees the arc of Ex Easter Island Head curve yet ever wider; both an assertive blend of personal musical catharsis and a document of practiced artistic process. Over a growing number of releases, they have chosen to deliberately avoid comfortable ruts and regularly injected new elements to broaden their range. In an age when everything that can be done with an electric guitar has almost been done, their idiosyncratic take on it well deserves the wider coverage that it often receives. Given their seemingly boundless potential and taste for innovation, their orbit is fascinating to watch.
Hopefully the sold out cassette release will prompt digital availability soon.