A gonimoblast is a storage or generative cell in algae, so I guess adopting the name for a band suggests an urge to seed something rootless, in which case kudos to Chris Mapp and co. for this lively synthesis of improvisation and electronics.
Gonimoblast the band is Mapp on bass and electronics with Mark Sanders on drums and percussion, Dan Nicholls on keys and synth, and Leafcutter John playing electronics, a light interface and music box.
Sanders is one of London improv’s most versatile, but he’s also held the drum chair in Jah Wobble’s Deep Space band. Leafcutter John may be best known as a part of Polar Bear, but their most radical adventures in sound manipulation (cf. In Each And Every One) are closer to orthodox than Gonimoblast, which draws more deeply on John’s DIY electronics.
Gonimoblast was active throughout 2015. Always Darkest Before Dawnn was the first of three previous releases recorded and released that year, the last with saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings depping for Nicholls (all are available via the group’s Bandcamp).
The 2CD Live documents concerts on two consecutive November evenings, with guests Maja SK Ratkje (voice, electronics, oscillator “and things”) and Arve Henriksen (trumpet, pocket trumpet, vocals, electronics).
The set with Henriksen moves quickly from gameboy Leafcuttings into a glitched gloaming probed by deep bass surges and skittish percussion, a Supersilent-like setting for wordless vocals by Henriksen with a hint of Diamanda Galás archness.
There’s an abstract fusion quality to Mapp’s basswork, and Henriksen’s trademark trumpet makes explicit a connection to Scandinavian jazz, but Nicholl’s synths set the music on a more opaque drift into stillness, and Henriksen’s wordless soprano takes on a purer liturgical quality.
His sampled and looped trumpet on the long fifth index probes Jon Hassell’s Fourth World concept, then Sanders introduces bolder pan-cultural pulses with deep bass drum booms and Leafcutter John throws down wayward midi tweaks and twitches.
A slightly less coherent stand-alone sixth index, with its late injection of harp-like music box and fractured emotive vocals over minimalist loops, sounds like it might have been an encore/afterthought.
The previous night’s recording, featuring Ratkje, begins with theremin-like whistling amid a riffling, fluid soundscape as Ratkje’s vocals offset slithery strings.
Where Henriksen’s aesthetic predominates Ratkje seems keener to find new specificity in this new context, and her contributions are more ingrained.
After index 2 takes a darker turn, 3 becomes more playful, and as the first solid bass and percussion sounds emerge Ratkje’s vocals are sampled and (literally) spun. At length the group settle into a dirty-silent whirl of turntablist run-out bridging into index 4, where loops with a hint of tautly rhythmic west African guitar bleed into smears of electronic distortion and synth gloaming.
Index 5 locates more equilibrium and directionality. Ratkje conjures siren voices bedded with soft bleeps and skittering, then sets up a lazy keening over hazy electronics and bass throbbing. The set gets edgier, but retains an etherial, numinous quality pending a climactic accumulation of tension.
Each of these sets is a distinctive fusion, outlying any of the participants’ core catalogues, and it’s an excellent summation of Gonimoblast’s year of intensive woodshedding.
The physical edition, on Birmingham-based Stoney Lane Records, is limited to 408 copies, which come in handmade sleeves individually screen-printed and hand painted by artist Tom Tebby. Definitely worth an investment.
Gonimoblast – Always Darkest Before Dawnn.
Maja S. K. Ratkje – Crepuscular Hour.
Tigran Hamasyan, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarset, Jan Bang – Atmosphères.
Axel Dörner and Mark Sanders – Stonecipher.
Dan Nicholls – Ruins.
Buy Gonimoblast Live direct from the Stoney Lane Bandcamp.