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|˟˟|, pronounced ‘Gate’, was an experiment in improvised music by Lajos Ishibashi-Brons, a Dutch philosopher and musician living in Tokyo, Japan. The project started in 2009 and went into indefinite hiatus in 2013.

The name of the project, ‘Gate’, summarizes its intended nature: a gate is in between, in between inside and outside, between here and there, between now and then; and a gate is a passageway, both an entrance and an exit, and a point where paths cross. The symbol |˟˟| is a simplification of the ‘broken gate radical’ 鬥, which (on its own) is a Chinese character meaning ‘struggle’, representing another core theme of the project: dissonance, discomfort, distress.

Gate was an experiment in two senses: the project made heavy use of experimental instruments designed and built for just this purpose, and the project’s music extrapolated experiments with sound: it was always an experimental setting, technique, or process that set further musical developments into motion. The resulting soundscapes are somewhere in between noise, free jazz, drone, ambient, industrial, and East and Central-Asian traditional music. They are not necessarily ‘pleasant’ soundscapes, however, or were at least not intended to be, but rather expressions of the project’s themes: indeterminacy (‘in between’), confrontation (‘crossing paths’), dissonance. They are reflections of the world we live in, not attempts to embellish it.




The project Gate was based on two concepts or ideas from the start, one aesthetic, and one with regards to style and execution. The latter could be called the project's technical concept.


aesthetic concept

Gate's aesthetic concept was - to some extent - expressed in the project's name (see above): the notion of a gate as a crossing of paths (traditions, genres, influences, ideas, etc.), and the character 鬥 as representing dissonance, discomfort, distress. This aesthethic concept was summarized in the statement that the project's soundscapes "are reflections of the world we live in, not attempts to embellish it". This may sound like a rejection of beauty and of aesthethics, but that is not entirely accurate. Rather, the project is based on a somewhat non-traditional aesthetic of dissonance. This aesthetic was (perhaps) most clearly expressed in the following statement in the press release of Gate's last album Sekai (2013):

Bury your romantic proclivities for harmony, for order, for purpose. All of that is illusion, paint. Look at the world, listen. There is beauty in discord, dissonance, disorder, destruction, decay, corruption, contrast, arbitrariness. Life is discord, life is destruction, randomness, change. Look at the world, look at the power- lines, open-pit mines, rivers and lakes, factories and power plants, mountains and roads, buildings and forests, trash dumps and oceans. Look at them clash, interpenetrate, infest, defile. Look at the transformation of landscapes. Look at the haphazard collections of streets and buildings, and at the people living in them. Look at the dirt, the mess, the disharmony. Just look: it’s beautiful. And listen. Open your eyes and ears. Listen to the sounds of the world, to the crashing, grinding, and banging. Embrace the dissonance, the discomfort, the randomness. Those are our sounds, our world. Listen. And travel in sound.

The key point is that beauty does not necessarily need to be found in harmony and order, but can also be found in its polar opposites: in disharmony, in dissonance, and so forth. This is not an aesthetic of destruction, however; it does not glorify corruption or decay; it merely asks for a more open, explorative mind in looking at and listening to the world; to look for beauty everywhere rather than just in the traditional places. By implication, the project's aesthetic concept is not a variant of the more typical anti-aesthetic of noise music (often expressed in the claim that noise is not music). And by implication, if at times the project's music is loud or "harsh", it is never harsh for harshness sake, but for the sake of inviting the listener to listen closer to what is hidden in or beneath that harshness.


technical concept

Gate's techical concept was briefly introduced above as being an experiment in two senses: "the project made heavy use of experimental instruments designed and built for just this purpose, and the project’s music extrapolated experiments with sound: it was always an experimental setting, technique, or process that sets further musical developments into motion".

The use of experimental (self-designed and self-built) instruments and electronics - in addition to more standard instruments and electronic effects - is related to the project's aesthetic concept, i.e. to the search for beauty in different kinds of sounds, but is also related to its experimental nature in general: trying different combinations, different settings, different starting points, and so forth. The latter (i.e. extrapolating experimental starting points) was one of the 'rules' of the technical concept: every session started from its own concept, which can be purely technical in nature, but which can also be a musical influence, sentiment, abstract idea, or combination thereof.

The most important "rules" of the project, however, were the following two:

  • all music is the result of free improvisation; no phrase, melody, rhythm, and so forth may be (consciously) preconceived; everything must be created on the spot;
  • there are no second takes; no starting point or concept (etc.) is used twice.

To some extent the last two releases of the project violated the first of these two rules, however. Deconstructed was a remix album, and one of the layers of Sekai was 'composed' of (or constructed from) material recorded in improvisation sessions with that exact purpose. (See also "limitations" below.)

Furthermore, "free improvisation" is a rather problematic concept. Strictly speaking, the first rule of the two mentioned above demands the impossible. Gate's third album, Iterations, had by far the strongest jazz influence, wich was largely due to the project temporarily becoming a duo by the addition of multi-instrumentalist Taka (sax and other wind instruments mainly). For the occasion of the release of that album, some thoughts on 'free' improvisation (in relation with the project's broader concept) where elaborated as follows:

Freedom is an illusion. Spinoza pointed out that those who think that they are acting freely are usually just ‘carried away by impulse’. In practice, ‘freedom’ often means nothing but ignorance of the causes of one’s actions and desires, and ‘free choice’ is the unrestrained surrender to unconscious impulse. ‘Free improvisation’ is only ‘free’ in that rather limited sense. Music flows, and as soon as an improvising musician steps into the current, there is no (or little) time to consciously decide upon the next note or sound; rather, the musician allows him/herself to be ‘carried away by impulse’.

There is, however, a choice to start or end, or to step in or out of a current, to try to bend it into different directions, or to disrupt it. And by exploring one’s motivations and influences (the aforementioned causes of one’s actions and desires) and becoming aware of those, such choices can (to some extent) escape the grasp of unconscious impulse and be free. The ‘freedom’ of ‘free music’ (rather than just ‘free improvisation’) then, does not lie in the lack of written scores or predetermined musical constructions, but in the consciousness born from (self-) exploration, and the choice of currents and directions based thereupon. ‘Free music’ is the conscious manipulation of uncovered impulse.

‘Free music’ is the means of expression, but not the purpose, of the project |˟˟| ('gate'). Our music is the result of an exploration of and response to our influences and motivations. Some of these are musical (or aural at least) -- jazz, noise (urban, natural, musical), drone doom, Japanese traditional music, and various other sounds and genres are all reflected in our music -- but perhaps even more important is the exploration of non-musical influences -- life in modern society, discomfort and alienation, and the limits of freedom itself.

Human freedom is as illusory as the freedom of the improvising musician, but while ‘free music’ offers an opportunity to escape the grasp of impulse through exploration and conscious manipulation of impulse, the exploration of the causes of one’s actions and desires and the attempt to freely choose direction based on that exploration can only lead to the realization that there is little similar opportunity for freedom in human existence. Human freedom is an illusion, and paradoxically, the discomfort born from that realization is what we ('freely') choose to express in our ('free') music.


limitations

From the project's first birthday onwards, the limitations of the technical concept became increasingly clear. The prohibition of plans, composiition, and second takes slowly made making music impossible. The project's rules forbid doing what was done before, but if it turns out to become impossible to do something really new, then the consequence is not doing anything at all. It is for that reason that after an acoustic session on a windy hilltop in a park in August 2010, Gate went into a long hiatus. Furthermore, what has been released since, the albums Deconstructed and Sekai - as mentioned above - violate the rules of the project. Nevertheless, despite the violations, both stay relatively close to the spirit of the project. Whether further experiments within the rules, or at least within the spirit of the project are possible is doubtful, however. Sekai already violated the ban on composition by making use of a layer constructed (and thus composed) out of previously recorded improvisations. Further lifting that ban may seem the most obvious step forwards, but that would effectively imply an abandonement of the rules of the technical concept, and therefore, it would no longer be this project.


discography

iterations

no exit, 2009, CD, Fluttery Records. [info/listen] [buy]
discomfort, 2009, limited edition CDr (sold out), Pet Goat Records. [info/listen]
kaminaritaki, 2010, promotional CDr/download. [info/listen]
iterations, 2010, CD, Fluttery Records. [info/listen] [buy]

The first albums by Gate follow the technical concept strictly. No exit and Discomfort both contain selected recordings of solo improvisations (on multiple "instruments" simultaneously). Kaminaritaki was a free promotional CDr that was available on request for owners of the previous two albums. Iterations added Taka on wind instruments (sax, ryuuteki, and others) and percussion. It is a selection of recordings from improvisation sessions as a duo.


deconstructed, 2011, CD, Fluttery Records. [info/listen] [buy]
current, 2011, promotional CDr/download. [info/listen]
sekai, 2013, CD, Fluttery Records. [info/listen] [buy]
sekai - black edition, 2013, download, Fluttery Records. [info/listen] [buy]

The last albums by Gate all deviate from the technical concept in one or more respects. Deconstructed contains a number of radical "remixes" of duo session recordings (some of the originals appear on Iterations, some on Current). Current was again a free promotonial CDr (or download) available on request to owners of any two previously released albums. It contains some duo recordings, some remixes, and a long track by another solo improvisation project that focused more on drone and ambient. Sekai (white and black edition) has only one (long) track, which was recorded in four sessions.


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