This week, Boat-Ting hosted the mighty N.E.W who opened the evening with a predictably dramatic set. Despite being rapturously noisy, they also reward deep listening; the interplay is fascinating and reveals the group to be no mere macho blustering thunder band. Their sturm und drang is complicated by light and shade and surprising U-turns; one stormy passage abruptly gave way to what sounded (very) briefly like an obliterated scorched-earth calypso. The players meld with their instruments; John Edwards utilised the full body of the bass; Alex Ward leant back precariously in his chair when he unleashed a riotous punk section; Steve Noble seemed to materialise different sticks and percussive tools into his hands from the air, his kit an extension of his limbs. Another aspect to Noble’s playing is that he is never just a “god of the gaps”, filling the spaces with rolls and flourishes; he is a fully committed driving force in any configuration of players I’ve witnessed. This was spontaneous music at its best; whether bouncing call-and-response blurts between guitar and drums, or the lowering cattle and whale song Ward and Edwards at one point conjured up. They are, individually, incredible musicians and soloists, but in this combination, rotate around a collective point of gravity. N.E.W. are a crack improv unit, playing opposite a Walkabout bar, on a swaying boat, like a commando group, deep behind enemy lines. As Sybil Madrigal, Boat-Ting’s captain, said at the close of the set, “fucking brilliant.”
Barrel were a trio of Ivor Kallin (viola), Hannah Marshall (cello) and Alison Blunt (violin) who played a broken Avant-chamber romanticism. Kallin scraped out upper register squeaks and creaking-door horror film groans. Marshall was an impressive soloist, often using her cello percussively and launching lightning strikes of quick insectoid scrabble. Kalinn vocalised odd buzzes and gagged-mouth burble throughout with Blunt joining with low-key operatics. The group explored the full range of sounds available to them; Kalinn occasionally sounding like he was making a sausage dog out of uncooperative balloons*; they ranged from beautiful sweeping tones to harsh rasping abstraction; the dynamics of a string trio often subverted and mangled into a blur of Morse-code un-music. An almost inaudible section prompted a clap from an audience member that caused the band to collapse into giggles with Blunt saying, “I think they want us to stop”; Kalinn played a final note and the real applause began. This was a fun and light-hearted close to some very serious music. Barrel are a difficult and fascinating listen.
One of the virtues of Boat-Ting is the total sound environment behind the music; the slamming of a toilet door; the rattle of change behind the bar; the knock of a pint glass against a wooden table and the almost audibly tangible straining of curious ears, mixes with the often complementary mess of noise coming out of whatever band happens to be playing.
We moved into less comedic territory with the final group; an ensemble of Sharon Gal (vocals), Matt Chilton (laptop) and Anthony Donovan (guitar and electronics). They began with the boat reverberating with Gal’s treated and processed croaks and Chilton’s clanking chains. Donovan smashed what appeared to be Styrofoam into the strings of his bass guitar and bowed dark waves of noise out of it. The manipulations of the groups’ noise through the laptop pushed an already disturbing swamp of sound into the realm of genuine menace. Gal was a commanding presence; her whoops, sighs, croaks and strangled coughs giving Chilton ample material to warp and deconstruct into a dark peripheral static. Their set was frightening and troubling in the best possible way, full of feedback and shrill drilling whistles; Donovan offered occasional shelter with warm bass tones before casting us back out with violent string slashing. The group created a thrilling signal/noise confusion like prime Wolf Eyes; consisting of inhuman shrieking, electrical buzz, lacerating noise and sci-fi gloop. Gal’s voice and mad gibbering were translated into Exorcist levels of fierce wailing and cat-hissing protest. She was a demonic preacher, flaying her converted on an altar of smashed effects pedals and blown amps.
*With thanks to Elliott for this comment.