Our eighth birthday event was initially billed as a sound art night, but as it turned out, two of our performers decided to deliver their poetry, setting up some delicious counterpoints for the evening. In time-honoured fashion we had to have a gimmick – on this occasion it was a complete copy of the annual anthology turned page by page into paper aeroplanes which got fired at various points during the evening at an increasingly wary audience.

Gary Fisher opened proceedings, working from the back of the room in order to be able to plug directly into the PA. This necessitated us rearranging the seating to face the opposite direction, a surprise which our regular audience seemed to enjoy on their arrival! Gary’s set was surprisingly lyrical – opening with gorgeously soothing chimes and giving way to a deep regular, beat with high, melodic notes weaving through. One passage involved some remarkable sounds emerging from Gary’s handling of a hardbound book with a contact mic attached. Pages were turned and the cover scraped and tapped and drummed with the fingers and fingernails to amazing effect. I found out later that the book was actually a copy of a biography of Mozart! Other sounds which passed through included recordings of conversation and walking on ice. It felt like the piece utterly transformed in the last quarter, or even final fifth, as the note relationships shifted and became gorgeously strange. Other exquisite touches included Gary scraping the aerial of one of his devices on a rotary fan standing nearby, and the presence of his lucky cat that waved its luck-beckoning paw throughout his performance.

Linda Kemp took the second set: offering a rare performance of her poetry, although she is often to be heard making free improvised and other musics on the alternative sound scene in Sheffield. Linda’s clear and focused delivery was a strong contrast with Gary’s sound world, but also contained its own extraordinary internal counterpoint. With a textual dynamics that felt part-collage and part lyric, Linda’s opening ‘Ashley Sonnets’ gave way to a long extract from ‘Archive of Separation’ before closing with the stunning work of the unlikely-named ‘Piggle Plus’. The texture shifted from incredibly abstract, yet concrete ideas and images to moments which felt much more embodied and emotional –marked by subtle yet distinct changes in body movement and the pitch of the voice. This was captivating and challenging work without compromise or deference to ego or personality – quite pure in its way.

Following the interval and the launch of more paper planes, the back of the room was again the focus as Rosanne Robertson began her performance by crawling slowly towards the stage using a mug and glass on the floor and the metal of the chair legs to create some fascinating sounds. She was clad in an unnerving costume over her normal clothes made of fabric stuffed with cotton to give the impression of organic, organ-like structures slung around the body – an uncanny spectacle. Once on stage Rosanne proceeded to work across the wood panelling at the back of the room, stroking and dragging her fingers across it. Indeed, this was a sound piece of sorts but one in which the body of the performer had been fully taken into account. Coming down to the floor Rosanne created more sound patterns by using a tin full of writing implements like pens and pieces of chalk. Various parts of the costume at different times were put under stress or dismantled by being ripped from her body. Taking up a cymbal she then proceeded to unravel a large pile of coiled wire with hair draped around it. This strange fetish-like object reminded me distantly of the wire monkeys that US psychologist Harry Harlow used in his famous attachment experiments. The sound aspect of the piece found a new level when Rosanne started stroking the cymbal against the wire. Finally, divesting herself of the last remnants of her external costume Rosanne began manipulating a large piece of cloth on the right of the stage, finally making little cuts with a pair of scissors before bodily tearing it apart, which more or less ended the piece. This was a totally focused and compelling act of presence which seemed to dramatise the perils inherent in being embodied and interacting with the world of objects that are nevertheless part of our psyche.

What was fascinating in the chemistry  of the evening was how our final reader Stuart Calton, reading a long extract of his new pamphlet Blepharospasms, seemed to be providing a verbal equivalent for some of the relationships to the embodied self enacted by Rosanne’s performance. Introduced by Tom as a book about two dreams, one of which features a dreamer with a herniated bowel, and the other an encounter with Tupac involving a fall from a playground slide (!), the image-fantasies of bodily disintegration read like a textual analogue of Rosanne’s dismantling of her external organ costume. At one point Stu read the lines: ‘ on the right is a black crag of mashed netting and shredded mops of polythene; a bad object’ – precisely calling attention to the pile of Rosanne’s left-over props that exactly resembled black polythene and netting and indeed stood to Stu’s right. Not least the designation of these as a ‘bad object’, linked with other references to the psychoanalytic theory of object relations that ran throughout Stu’s piece, seemed like a perfect commentary on the earlier performance. This was the strongest performance I’ve ever seen Stu give – full of  virtuosic word play, extraordinary theoretical abstraction and disarmingly direct and troubling statements, such as ‘I want to live under tyranny’.

Thanks to all our performers for a very special birthday performance!

Scott Thurston, 14.4.16