The Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) has seen some dodgy art happenings in its time. David Toop and Jeff Noon's combined creation Needle In The Groove (an album by Toop and novel by Noon) seemed perfectly at home in the ICAs hip and cutting edge environs. For this was an evening of spoken word (Noon) with ambient musical accompaniment (Toop). However, and most fortunately for the (modest but respectably-sized and curious) audience, this evening was devoid of pretension and even provided a few good laughs.
After an hour of pulsing bass tones and twiddly noises courtesy of DJ Scanner, Toop and Noon casually walked in and took up their positions flanking either side of the small stage. As Toop fiddled with technology hidden from prying eyes behind a metal box, Noon poured himself a Coke in preparation for his address. Noon is an English SF writer from Manchester (now out of Brighton) whose book Needle In The Groove is an attempt at creating a text, part narrative, part poetry which flows like music, describing the search of a bass player for the perfect tune. For his part, Toop has created a modest but effective ambient soundtrack to the novel and this was the official launch event.
There were passages without words, but throughout there were simple, low-res geometric patterns projected onto the large screen behind the performers - sometimes in beat with Noon's voice and sometimes jigging in time to Toop's sounds. Noon's spoken words couldn't help call to mind William Burroughs but the similarities were nominal. Noon described the 'bass monster' - an insatiable sound that devours all others - and Toop politely provided suitable audio backup. One of the high spots was Noon's description of a future Manchester using only street names created from local musical heroes. This gave rise to some clever and yet daft labels that created a few belly laughs among those less 'serious' members of the audience who realised that it was supposed to be humorous. The list Noon rattled off, half spoken, half melodic included the following gems: Billy J. Cramer Circus, Ian Curtis Boulevard, Frank Sidebottom Villas, John Cooper Clarke Road, A Street Called Gerald, The Church of Take That and the wonderful Inspiral Carpets Warehouse.
Toop largely kept his emotions in check. Noon on the other hand was clearly enjoying himself and was keen to ensure the gathered crowd were too. "Can you hear at the back?" he asked at one point, and then: "Is everyone enjoying themselves?" - the answer to which was a fairly resounding 'Yes'. The whole thing lasted only 50 minutes which was well judged. Listening to Toop's album through headphones in the comfort of your armchair and/or reading Noon's novel in similar surroundings is one thing. Having someone 'do it for you' as it were has its limitations. But like everything on the night both artists were fully aware of this and when the time came for them to walk off stage only a handful of the patrons had gone AWOL. The survivors clapping and cheering as David Toop's looped static ticking and drifting piano slowly came to a halt and Jeff Noon waved goodbye with the broadest possible smile on his unassuming face.
Official Needle In The Groove website: http://www.needleinthegroove.com