T E MORRIS & JO QUAIL- ‘For the Benefit of All’

There’s nothing like a piece of panoramic conceptual art imagining a possible future on the surface of Mars, to show what human beings are capable of. And there’s nothing like a global pandemic to ruin it all. 

‘For the Benefit of All’ is a collaboration between erstwhile Her Name Is Calla main man Tom Morris and experimental cellist Jo Quail. It was inspired by Kelly Richardson’s Mariner 9 exhibition and, all things being normal, would have acted as something of a soundtrack for the piece during a presentation at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester earlier this year. 

Normal, it turns out, might never be the same again. And like so much live music and so much of everything else, the exhibition was cancelled due to COVID-19. Rather than let their efforts go unheard though, Morris and Quail persisted. And while the music here would likely have made most sense in the planned context, it works consistent wonders on its own.

First track, ‘1972 (A Map from Mariner 9)’, does not blast off. Instead it mixes a ringing, metallic kind of ambience and insistent but quiet pulses with an audio clip of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, for outstanding effect. It hangs in the air in the best kind of way. In fact, there is almost no jet fuel here, little in the way of propulsion at all. While Kelly’s work imagines Earth ravaged by war and climate change, and Mars as a lost outpost, a graveyard of opportunity, this is a soundtrack of isolation, distance, light, darkness, and maybe just a little dread. 

It feels like unusual territory for Morris and Quail- both adept at emotional intensity and noisy epics- but they navigate it with apparent ease. The deepening, widening layers of 10-minute ‘2020 (My Battery is Low and it is Getting Dark)’ wind up sounding almost spiritual, the rumbling bass tones of ‘2164 (Death is Progress)’ would have sounded at home on the most recent Blade Runner soundtrack, and ‘2452 (Kalpana and Isaac’s New Frontier)’ is beautiful. Its sparse percussion, crackling electronics, and soaring centre somehow manage to seem forlorn and hopeful at the same time, maybe even the sound of an exhausted planet finally free of human interference. 

‘For the Benefit of All’ is excellent then. It’s a project that shows what human beings are capable of. A triumph in the face of adversity. A journey worth taking over and over and over again. 

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