Ex-Easter Island Head – The 405, 2012

Conducted in September 2012. Read the full article.

From the piece:

How important is the naming of the tracks? On the new record, you’ve got ‘Mallet Guitars Two’, which is very matter of fact; but the second track is ‘Music for Maoi Hava’, which is just as specific but much more evocative.

When we named ‘Mallet Guitars One’ as we did, it was definitely a case of adhering to the principles of the piece. When I had the initial idea in mind, I’d just thought “I’ve got three cheap guitars here, and I want to hit the body of them instead of strum them. How am I going to make a piece of music out of that?” Because of the idea coming that way I thought it would be totally transparent to call it ‘Mallet Guitars One’. To be honest, I also thought the words were quite striking together, you know.

In the same way there wasn’t really a way to name ‘Mallet Guitars Two’ anything different from what it’s named: the malleting of the guitars – the actual hitting of a guitar – is so important to the whole sound of the piece that it sort of had to be called that.

With ‘Music for Moai Hava’: that was just the strangest coincidence. The band is called Ex-Easter Island Head simply because I liked the combination of words – it looks nice written down – and partly because, as with Easter Island, I’m really interested in music of the South Pacific. But it was no more than that, really.

I play in and work with an orchestra called the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra, which is like the Scratch Orchestra in that anybody can come in and play – and ‘Music for Moai Hava’ was a commission for the a.P.A.t.T. They asked Ex-Easter Island Head to write a piece – basically ‘Concerto for Group and Orchestra’ – with the intention that when they could get a suitable concert space, the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra could perform it.

That’s where it got spooky: because around that same time the Liverpool World Museum received a literal ‘ex-Easter Island head’: called Moai Hava. It’s a really rare thing: there’s only two statues made out of this volcanic basalt, and here was one of them coming to Liverpool, where we’re based.

It was a bit too good to be true, really: there was an actual ex-Easter Island head coming to the Liverpool World Museum, and the museum is a big space, large enough for a concert. So you can guess the rest: we said “We’ll do a piece called ‘Music for Maoi Hava’, and play in front of the actual Maoi Hava statue: the ex-Easter Island head.” From there it was clear that we’d do a piece that was kind of about the statue; a sort of vague impression, with some conceptual tie.

The ‘arc’ of the piece, is: “The statue is on Easter Island. The culture is just going to git around it, and it’s a calamity.” In 1868, when the British came to Easter Island and took Moai Hava away, the culture was really on its last legs: really fragmented. A lot of people weren’t really able to speak the language any more, it was about to go extinct.

We tried to put all that in. But with instrumental music you can’t craft too much of a narrative out of it, you know – not without accompanying liner notes and all sorts. It was a case of trying to create a sort of portrait of the statue in the first section; then a sense of that calamity in the middle section and finally, at the end, a kind of lament. We got people singing the vowels of ‘Moai Hava’ at the end, to a set pattern, against a drone from the maletted guitars. We left it all very open and said “There are no wrong notes. Just sing to the best of your ability against this drone.”

We basically wrote it so that, even if you can’t play an instrument at all – which some of the people in the a.P.A.t.T. Orchestra can’t – you could still contribute to the piece. That’s an interesting group dynamic, trying to get 27 people of different abilities working like that.

In the end, all things considered, we thought it would be much more evocative to call it ‘Music for Moai Hava’ – even though there are mallet guitars all over it.

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