Beginning the evening, Julie Kjaer on alto sax uncoiled obliquely melodic Ayler lines; long soulful laments punctuated with guttural honks. Steve Noble on drums employed a woodpecker method with rapid drilling rolls while bass player John Edwards droned and rumbled beside him. The rhythm section hung a corrugated backdrop behind her increasingly violent forays into dissonance. She mostly dealt in short flurries of pops and squeaks rather than a sustained assault. Her playing is full of nuance; at one point locking into Edwards’s playing in a pointillist mesh before joining the drums in a duet, Noble adding foam and spray to Kjaer’s peaking waves. As the set progressed, the musicians became increasingly entwined; each pulled the sound in different directions while maintaining a central common ground. A thrilling section, twenty minutes in, found the band hurtling downhill, giving chase to Noble’s pace setting rattle. The drums then dropped out to allow the sax and bass to melt together in an atonal pairing of metallic gasps and cellophane like squeaking. The whole captivating performance ended in a teasing whisper.
Next up were the Syballine Sisters; a trio consisting of Sybil Madrigal reading poetry, flanked by Kay Grant and Armorel Weston providing vocal backing. As captivating as ever, Sybil launched straight into a passionately delivered poetic tirade. Directness is a recurring factor in her poetry, at one point shouting “Sybil sings like a bitch who could suck start a Harley Davidson”, the vocalists responding with whoops and skrees and collapsing into crazed chatter around the tale of, what I heard as, “a carpet shark” but may, in fact, have been something considerably more carnal. The performance of her greatest hit “I love you so much” is something I always looks forward when I see Sybil on the bill, a poem that is as close as Boat-Ting gets to having a theme tune or signature song.
The third act was a duo of Steve Noble on drums and Steve Beresford with a table full of electronics. From Beresford, the sub bass blurts, dub echo and oscillating gloop gave Noble impetus to spin a whirlwind of metallic clatter. The noise they conjured at times sounded industrial but with more placid intervals. Noble, freed from having to make any rhythmic sense by the dense wall of sound battered out by the electronics, employed a near constant frantic activity; an unrelenting partner to the controlled but ear-testing clammer next to him. This was a difficult but intriguing duo performance; a weird underwater sampled jazz loop was the only firm fixed point but was swiftly swallowed in a fresh melee of juddering hardware explosions and rapid machine gun dialogue.
David Birchill and Andrew Cheetham played out the evening on, respectively, guitar and percussion; beginning with glassy sharp ringing pings from the guitar, full of upper register wobble and microscopic scuttling. The range of sounds strangled out of Birchill’s guitar was fascinating: glass bowls of gamelan-like resonance, bird calls, animal growling. Cheetham, by contrast, was a mirror of rattling clarity next to the laptop axe-smashing seizures occurring alongside him; at his best during a deft, exploratory drum solo that preceded an interesting passage of amphibian burping and asthmatic respiration from the guitar. At times, the duo was austerely reductive with sections of tiny, near-silent, gestures and, at others, creating a thick tangle of deeply scribbled sonic knots, like an improv Roobarb & Custard. During one particularly inventive section of percussive string tapping and cymbal work, the two seemed to really meld. The set became an intuitive contortion of twists and turns as they grew increasingly confident. Boat-Ting admiral, Sybil Madrigal, encouraged a second “short but rockin” set from them; rockin’ it was, if your idea of rock is fractured beyond reasonable comprehension.