Line Gate – Den (2017)
My initial attempt to review Mappa Editions’ latest release – Line Gate’s Den, got out of control – ultimately evolving into the article Why Tapes Matter. This should offer a clue. The label caught my eye when they issued Jeph Jerman’s 34°111’3″N 111°95’4″W early in 2016, but it was a recent release – Sarah Hennies’ stunning Orienting Response – composed for the guitarist Cristián Alvear, which planted a deep love. I vowed not to miss anything they touched.
Mappa stands tall within the context of incredible young cassette labels – displaying nearly everything that makes the format so remarkable and distinct – pushing the idea of DIY to radical new highs. They make beautiful objects, crafted with a profound sense of care – usually resembling art editions more than simply musical works. They single-handedly remind us of the countless rewards that come with bringing physical releases into our lives. A label founded on risk, which strives to continuously offer their listeners more. For artists – both the obscure and well know, they put quality first – giving voice to works that would likely find no other home – singular ambitious efforts, or those which stand slightly outside a larger body of work.
Reemerging from the shadows of Prague – nearly four years after the project’s last release, Line Gate’s Den is an effort dedicated to the sublime realms of drone. Issued in a beautifully crafted hand made box, recalling the days when Fluxus did it best, Den is shimmering 42 minute work built largely from sustained hurdy-gurdy, voice and violin. It’s stunning, and within am idiom largely focused on electronics, reminds you of the difference that the presence of a hand makes.
Most contemporary conversations regarding drone focus on endurance and sustain – on an enveloping sensory experience, or how the constancy of tone evolves in the ear over time. Though the use of drones was developed as harmonic or monophonic accompaniment, is ancient in origin, and spans countless cultures, during the early 1960’s Minimalist composers began to focus on it as a singular compositional method. La Monte Young dominates the narrative – his ideas sculpting much of the contemporary paradigm, but even in its earliest days composers like Tony Conrad and Henry Flynt embraced drone to a different end. It was a means to shift the standard markers of structure – to hear and conceptualize the organization of sound according to a new set of terms. The constraint of Conrad and Flynt – with others who shared their concerns (Charlemagne Palestine, etc), pushed the ear toward discrete and subtle shifts of movement and tone – a celebration of the towering beauty and meaning found in imperfection – what comes when the body fails the spirit. Though their compositions feel consistent with the larger body of Minimalism – enveloping and ecstatic sheets of sound, their work pushed subtle shifts to a totemic scale – the tremor of a tired arm, hand, or finger – the bow’s shifting direction and speed – celebrated, infusing their work with humanity, offering a new concept of structure and relational tone. Their efforts were less focused on what happens when you stretch a note or a pattern over a long period of time, but rather what occurs when you can’t.
This is the world of Line Gate’s Den. Its bedrock is a grinding hurdy-gurdy drone – so beautiful, that left on its own, it would have been nearly enough. As tones drench the ear, the impossibility of perfection becomes a primary theme – the flutters and stalls of the instrument’s gears, presenting an image of the arm and humanity that makes them turn – accident and loss of control, elevated and giving form. Subtly modulating tones are met and doubled by shimmering passages of violin and vocal drones – sorrowful moans – flirting with melodies just out of view. A total immersion – sheets of sound, celebrating the beauty and meaning found within those dreams of what can never be.
Den, though feeling entirely of its moment, returns to the history of its idiom to sculpt an alternate path – forging connections to drone’s origins in folk music, as much as the experimental world. It’s stunning beauty and humanity is not to be missed – for fans of Tony Conrad as much as those of Pelt. Another triumph in Mappa’s small but growing world. You can check it below and pick it up from the label direct.