Line works explore our relationship with space and location, translate visual art concepts into audio, question our relationship with sound and unsettle our preconceptions of live music performance. Many of these releases derive from sound installations, in which physical factors – location, setup, perhaps even time of day – are of equal importance to the sounds actually created by the composer. Arguably, Line’s most impressive trait is its ability to capture the installation experience on disc without it ever feeling like a poor substitute for actually “being there”. Care is taken to ensure that these recorded works can stand alone without being impaired by the lack of a visual element, and the end results often transcend comparison to their installation origins; in fact, there’s a certain element of mystery that arises from the installation itself being unseen, allowing the listener to place these works in their own imaginary context.
Line was started by Richard Chartier back in 2000 – himself an acclaimed sound artist – as an exploration of the “aesthetics of contemporary and digital minimalism”. Over 50 CDs (and a few DVDs and visual art prints) later, Line’s output boasts an unwavering level of consistency, with releases coming from some of the most reputable names in 21st Century minimalism and sound art: Stephan Mathieu, Yann Novak, Steve Roden, Janek Schaefer, Taylor Deupree and William Basinski being a mere handful. But what unites the works of these artists, which cover a vast plethora of places and concepts between them?
“I think there is a certain devotion to listening and a refinement that connects all of the works on Line,” Richard states. The richness of the concepts behind Line releases means that attentive listening is both a necessity and an absolute joy; complex though some of the contextual setups may be, each intricacy falls neatly into place during the listening experience. Recording spaces are often handpicked for their complimentary acoustics, and the depth of these locations are always conveyed with sparkling clarity – whether it’s the cavernous army barracks of Steve Roden’s Proximities, or the deathly silent concert hall of Seth Horvitz’s Eight Studies for Automatic Piano. Equally, the detail within the sounds themselves often arises from a laborious dedication on behalf of the composer. Fine examples include Asmus Tietchen’s Soiree, in which each piece is “recycled” numerous times until it takes on a completely new form, and Robert Curgenven’s Oltre, which tracks the slow decay of a dubplate over two months of frequent live performance.
One of the most compelling Line editions in recent years is the work of Richard himself. Transparency (Performance) centres on the sound of Rudolf Koenig’s Grand Tonometer: a set of 692 tuning forks spanning over four octaves, the full range of which was recorded by Richard during his Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution. Quite literally, it’s a one of a kind instrument. “I visited my friend and fellow artist Linn Meyers during her Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, and was able to go on private tour of the scientific instrument collection with Linn and curator Steven Turner,” Richard recalls. “I was fascinated by all of the instruments for visualizing sound. We got to a large metal cabinet and upon Steven’s opening of it, my jaw dropped. There was the Tonometer. When I asked how many of these there were in the world, he responded: ‘this is the only one.’ I knew at that point I had to do something with this device. It was an amazing opportunity.”
For Transparency, these tonometer resonances are beautifully arranged into a slow-moving narrative of sudden strikes of attack and gentle trails of dimming decay, dropping in and out of a thin veil of noise and drone that clings to the air in humid clouds. The gaping stretches of quiet between the tones not only toys with listener suspense and anticipation, but brings a real sense of significance to the sound, allowing for each tone to be absorbed and fully appreciated before another enters to replace it. Richard refers to the experience as a “sound séance for a digital age”, and the term is inspired by Koenig’s approach to his own work.
“’Sound séance’ was a term used by Koenig and his contemporaries to describe the presentations of these instruments, as sound was not yet considered physics yet; it was still considered a particle rather than a wave,” Richard explains. “I really liked the idea of a ‘sound séance’ – perhaps a presentation of listening in a new way for the audience.”
Indeed, there’s something unique about the way in which Line releases encourage an immersion in both the intricate details of the composer’s concepts and the personal escapism of the listener imagination. The atmosphere evoked is often as tangible as it is ethereal – placing the listener in the heart of the various venues that play host to these works, while simultaneously allowing the sounds to run free into imaginary patterns of the listener’s choosing. “There will always be an inherent difference between the experience of a sound installation in a specified space – a gallery or museum, for example – and the translation of that work into a new space, such as your ears at home,” Richard says. “There is a beauty that can come from that translation.”