Mapp takes a Norwegian trip

Bassist and composer Chris Mapp has been an active member of Birmingham’s music scene for over a decade.

“I’m not from Birmingham originally but I’ve now lived here longer than anywhere else so it’s very much home,” he says. “I first came here to study in 2000 determined to escape the place ASAP and ended up staying and loving it.”

Among his current projects is Gonimoblast, a band who occupy territory somewhere between doom metal, electronica, and jazz improvisation.

Having released two album’s this year – The Depths (July 2015) and Always Darkest Before Dawn (April 2015) – the band perform two unique back-to-back concerts in November at The Crossing, Digbeth. The first with vocalist and composer Maja Ratkje (26 Nov 2015), and the second with famed trumpet player Arve Henriksen (27 Nov 2015) – both leading lights from Norway’s rich avant garde music scene.

It’s been over two years since Gonimoblast’s first performance at SOUNDkitchen, at The Bull’s Head in Moseley – how was the gig?

It was a great gig. I mentioned to Annie Mahtani (SOUNDkitchen head honcho) that I wanted to work with Leafcutter John and she was kind enough to facilitate it. I put the band together and it worked really well. It’s a fantastic band to play in as everyone is very supportive as well as giving so much to the music. It’s an ensemble sound rather than a collection of individuals, but that’s only possible because of the nature of the musicians involved.

How did the group come together? And was the gig conceived as a one-off? Or were there always plans for future performances?

As mentioned above I wanted to work with John and I had been exploring using effects and electronics in my own playing. It was an excuse to ask some of my other favourite musicians to be involved too. I suppose if that gig really hadn’t worked then we wouldn’t have done any more. It was clear after the gig that everyone wanted to do more, so I set about trying to make that happen. I was lucky enough to be awarded the Jazzlines Fellowship this year using Gonimoblst as the focus which laid the path for these performances.

Can you tell us a bit about Gonimoblast’s influences? Sunn0))) and Norwegian improv have been previously cited …

Everyone in the band brings their own thing, so I can only really speak about my influences. Metal is something I’ve always been into, before I came to jazz and improvised music. I’m quite new to Sunn O))) but I was drawn to it by the texture as much as anything. It crept into my solo performances first, but now also in ensemble playing. Seeing guitarist Stian Westerhus play was incredibly inspiring too as well as Supersilent, Humcrush and Sidsel Endresen.

I was lucky enough to attend Punkt festival in 2013 – the brainchild of Jan Bang and Erik Honore. That was very inspiring to see artists working together so generously as well as the obvious musical inspiration. That was when I first heard Maja S.K. Ratkje perform as well as giving a talk about her music and her approach. It was a real pleasure to be able to invite her to perform with us and an honour that she agreed to do it.

Were both Gonimoblast albums wholly improvised? Or were tracks, or frameworks, pre-prepared?

We get together in the studio and play. The only framework at that point is the players themselves, who have been slightly different each time we have recorded. We improvise together and record everything. I then revisit it afterwards and select the bits I’m drawn to. I try to edit and mix at the same time, to create something new from the raw recordings. I’ve been really pleased with the results so far

You’ve previously said that there would be “around five new albums” during 2015/2016 – how are plans for the others shaping up?

The third release should be ready before the November performances. I’m currently putting the finishing touches to it and it will be available from I invited saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings to come and record with us for this one. He’s a musician whose attitude I greatly admire, but more importantly he has strong musical connections with the individuals in the band.

We will then record the upcoming performances which will give me some more material to work with and then maybe one more early next year. We’ll see how the budget is at that point!

Maja Ratkje and Arve Henriksen are two very different artists …

I first met Arve in 2011 when he came over to perform as part of Harmonic festival to perform with Dreams of Tall Buildings. Myself and Percy Pursglove put the festival together so we spent some time hanging out with him. It was a pleasure to bring over someone who I think is one of the greatest living musicians and I can’t wait to work with him. Unlike Arve, I wasn’t aware of Maja’s music until I saw her live at Punkt festival. I was completely blown away by her performance, sound and attitude. I’d struggle to think of a more intriguing musician and I think we’ll make some very interesting music together.

Do you have any thoughts about the directions each show may take yet, or their musical settings? Will you meet with each guest pre-show to plan?

Much like the recording process, there is no set direction or written material. The only pre-determined thing is the performers. The joy of working with great improvisers is being part of the unfolding conversation and exploring the unknown. It’s unusual to have a conversation about the music before (or even after) we play. It will be interesting to see how changing only one musician can affect the performance of the others.

You’re presently Musician In Residence at the University Of Worcester – what have been some of the highlights so far?

As well as The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari [live soundtrack] performance with Mark Sanders, and a silent gig, I have been working with the staff and students to create performance opportunities and new projects, as well as developing links between preexisting music and arts activities and many other performances of my own. What has been great to see is people’s reaction to music in an environment where there is otherwise very little.

What are your plans for the coming months?

Immediately after these two performances (on the 28 Nov 2015) I am performing with Justin Wiggan at SOUNDkitchen alongside Annie Mahtani. Justin and I also have a record coming out soon on Static Caravan which is a reworking of some of saxophonists Noah Howard’s unreleased solo performances. Hopefully we will be able to realise this live soon too.

For Gonimoblast we will be continuing to record and release new material as often as we can. I would love to do some more playing with this group too, so I’ll be on the case arranging some gigs soon. I’m also starting to explore the possibilities offered by using multi-channel live sound and I’ll be doing some solo performances in this format as well as hopefully some ensemble work.

[Additionally] I have an album with another project (Gambol) coming out next year on the Stoney Lane label which is all music based around my experience of Birmingham.


Thursday 26 November 2015
Gonimoblast and Maja Ratkje
The Crossing, South and City College, High Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B5 5SU
Tickets £12 from

Friday 27 November 2015
Gonimoblast with Arve Henriksen
The Crossing, South and City College, High Street, Digbeth, Birmingham B5 5SU
Tickets £12 from

For more information on Chris Mapp, including Gonimoblast, see:

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