“All of our brains are programmed to see patterns”, Ross Sutherland tells us in Standby for Tape Back-Up, “even when no patterns exist”.
They say that after a break-up, it’s as if every song on the radio sounds like it’s being sung just about you. For Sutherland, it wasn’t songs on the radio, but the contents of a videotape which became imbued with buried meaning after a hard-drive crash and a near-death experience left him bed-bound and depressed. Once belonging to his granddad, the contents of the tape may sound insignificant; one and a half films, one quiz show and two sitcoms. But those shards of popular culture form the vertebrae of Standby for Tape Back-Up, as Sutherland demonstrates how repetition helped him to locate hidden meaning inside the video, transforming innocuous pieces of TV into buried pieces of his psyche.
Over the course of a hypnotic hour, Sutherland uses snatches of the Ghostbusters, The Crystal Maze and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to cast a sort of spell. These pieces of popular culture are so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness that any attempt to dislodge them might seem implausible. But as the images change and blend and rewind and repeat Sutherland achieves exactly that, their original meaning receding and a series of moments and memories from his life emerging in their place.
Sutherland achieves this by layering the absorbing visual landscape of the production with a commentary of poetic spoken-word. His writing is achingly beautiful, simultaneously soothing and stirring, Sutherland creates such enormous mythology around the projected images that the videotape from which it plays can barely contain it.
Like the strange synchronicity of a dream or the bizarre inner logic of a poem, Standby for Tape Back-Up has an indescribable intricacy which is difficult to put into words. But the patterns duly emerge to make this one of the most accomplished pieces of spoken word you are likely to see.
Standby for Tape Back-Up is at Summerhall (Venue 26) until 24 August. For more information and tickets see the Edinburgh Fringe website.