Chris Mapp’s Gonimoblast and Arve Henriksen burst out of the sonic darkness at The Crossing

Chris Mapp was one of three ‘Fellows’ (the other two were Lauren Kinsella and Yazz Ahmed) supported in 2014/15 by Birmingham promoters Jazzlines, with financial support from the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. For the culmination of his year’s project, which has included the release of three EPs of this band’s music on bandcamp, he presented Gonimoblast (the leader on electric bass and electronics, Mark Sanders on drums and percussion, Dan Nicholls on keyboards and synths, and Leafcutter John on electronics) over two nights, with an added Norwegian guest on each. On this second night that guest was trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and an added bonus was supplied by the first night’s visitor, vocalist Maja Ratkje, staying on to present an opening solo set. The venue, a modestly-sized black box theatre at South and City College in Digbeth, was a new one for Jazzlines and it proved the ideal setting for this project, giving the music and the shafts of stage lighting room to breathe.

Gonimoblast focuses on improvisation and electronics, taking inspiration from the drone metal of Sunn 0))), the ethos of Supersilent and the live remix principle as featured so strongly at Norway’s Punkt Festival. The adding of guest musicians – one of the band’s EPs has saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings on board – acts as a wild card, and the band sounds eager to adapt accordingly.

The favoured dominant frequencies are, given the leader’s instrument, likely to be low and so it was on this rainy Friday night in Digbeth. Mapp, Sanders and Nicholls created the audio equivalent of a black abstract by Robert Rauschenberg, textures thickly applied to give depth and nuance to the dark drones, with Leafcutter John adding the unexpected canvas slash with his trademark light table sound manipulator. It fell to Henriksen to set off the darkness with gleaming flashes of golden trumpet or silver hazes of high vocal tones, reworked via his own electronics into a sonic swirl and burst.

The last time I heard Gonimoblast they played support to Polar Bear at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, Birmingham, back in March of 2014; they were interesting but perhaps a little unformed. In 18 months they have grown immeasurably and this was a towering performance.

Ratkje shows that modern Norwegian musical mindset where genre falls away. In shorthand she’s a vocalist because the sounds she makes are generated by her vocal cords. But, as with all the musicians working in this field, and all the musicians performing on this occasion, the initial sound creator is a very small part of the process. Using a conventional microphone, but also what appeared to be a tiny one which she would put into her mouth, Ratkje created a whole electronic orchestra of notes and noises, given even greater effect by the surround sound in the auditorium.

­– Peter Bacon
– Photo by Sam Slater

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