CD in Jewel Case
Photography by Alexandra Leykauf
1. Live in Utrecht 38:50
Recorded on November 17th 2007 at Rumor, Utrecht, Netherlands.
Thomas Ankersmit: Serge analogue modular synthesizer, computer, alto saxophone
Pre-recorded saxophone and reel-to-reel parts composed by Valerio Tricoli, with source material by Ankersmit
Mastered by Denis Blackham at Skye
We are proud to announce the release by Thomas Ankersmit of his concert performed in Utrecht late in 2007. Here is some info about Thomas, who has no other solo CDs available at this time... in fact, Live in Utrecht is his first official CD album release.
Thomas Ankersmit is a 30 year old saxophonist, electronic musician and installation artist born and raised in the Netherlands and now primarily based in Berlin who combines abstract, intensely focused saxophone playing with hyper-kinetic analogue synth and computer improvisation. He also creates installation pieces that use sound, infrasound and "modifications to the acoustic characters of spaces" that disrupt the viewer/listener's perception of the exhibition space and their presence within it. He frequently works together with New York minimalist Phill Niblock and Sicilian electroacoustic improviser Valerio Tricoli, and other collaborators, mostly for live performances, have included Tony Conrad, Maryanne Amacher, Jim O'Rourke, Kevin Drumm and Borbetomagus.
“Live in Utrecht” is the first official release from Dutch artist Thomas Ankersmit, which is hard to believe when you listen to this 40-minute piece. Ankersmit’s main source of sound is saxophone, but he masterfully disguises the horn with the use of modular synths and a computer. The result is a captivating work that jockeys between sinus-clearing drone, minimalist glitch and swirling synth waves.
The piece starts off with layers of buzzing sax, each layer rising and falling upon the next, with a few shrill skrees and rusty valve clicks way off in the distance; it’s sinister and unsettling, but never corrosive – one of Ankersmit’s many strengths. Suddenly, the swarm stops, leaving only high-pitched frequencies and barely-there analog pops, almost similar to parts of Kevin Drumm’s “Imperial Distortion,” but not as monolithic. Juxtaposing this thick mass of drone and against such an austere dynamic shift has utterly captivating results. Ankersmit pulls you right into his world of charcoal greys and shades of white, displaying great patience as he gradually increases the intensity. High-register tones subtly oscillate against each other amidst bursts of synth static until Ankersmit’s penchant for abrupt sonic shifts emerges again, leaving behind only a faint whisper, then dead silence. Only after nearly ten minutes of minimal feedback work does the buzz introduced at the beginning of the piece make a mournful, beautiful but brief return.
The real strength on display here is Ankersmit’s attention to dynamics. He avoids losing the listeners attention by changing directions before the listener has the opportunity to feel tired. Yet each shift is executed so perfectly that this piece feels like one organic movement as opposed to a cut-and-paste job. Ankersmit side-steps the tendency to dwell at length in the perhaps more obvious sonic spectrum of loud, droning, buzzy sax, and instead uses it sparingly. The impact is considerable as the listener is left pining for those louder moments to return while lost in the gorgeous moments in-between. The restraint shown on this release is surely a sign of great things to come. [Curran Faris]
This "live" drone recording is the debut solo cd from Berlin-based installation artist Thomas Ankersmit, who has previously collaborated/played with the likes of Phill Niblock, Tony Conrad, and Kevin Drumm. One single 39 minute track, this is some dense, abstract, trance-inducing drone indeed, and certainly sounds like more than a mere one-man operation. Ankersmit's drones are like multiple trains running on more or less parallel tracks, diverging and then joining together again, racing ever onwards towards a self-generated brilliant white light at the end of the tunnel.
There's some squeal and squiggle to these sounds, that arise from their origin within Ankersmit's saxophone - that's right, he plays the sax, so these are saxophone drones - but there's really only a few places where you can tell for sure the source is a sax, thanks to all the electronics and processing involved. In addition to alto sax, Ankersmit makes use of a computer, analog synth, and pre-recorded reel-to-reel tape. So his sax is set amidst much mysterious glitch and crackle, and takes on an ominously distorted, grinding quality that's quite unlike what you might expect to hear from a saxophone. Although it makes sense that he's also had some sort of association with the notoriously noisy sax and guitar outfit Borbetomagus, the music here isn't assaultive, and far from free jazz, no, it's simply, or perhaps not so simply, a gorgeous and varied dronework, one that passes through some quieter stretches of eerie subsonic hum and hiss, while ultimately massing towards the end into full-bodied solid drone purity, blissful and glorious. Pretty darn satisfying, we think our fellow drone-heads will agree. Looking forward to hearing more from Mr. Ankersmit as well. Recommended!
For a moment at the beginning of Live in Utrecht, just a fleeting moment, one can hear what sounds like the untreated sound of a solitary saxophone. Very quickly, a few conspicuous glitches hint at what’s to come, and before the listener has time to settle in, the alto saxophone is afloat in a sea of clones and electronically augmented cousins. When Dutch-born Berliner Thomas Ankersmit is described in print, the saxophone often comes first, but on this, his official solo long-player, Ankersmit’s horn is just an ingredient in a much larger stew, and, for long stretches, it’s absent completely. Live in Utrecht, recorded in 2007, mixes Ankersmit’s saxophone with analog synth and electronics in a dynamic performance that comes at the listener from all sides, as unpredictable as it is self-assured. Saxophone drones bookend the proceedings, with all manner of action in between.
Live in Utrecht is an unsettling listen, though agreeably so: its disparate frequencies, quick cuts and hard pans can mess with the mind rather easily. What one may initially take in as a glitchy minimalism is soon weaving its way through the listener’s cortices, playing tricks on the ears as the sound bounces from one channel to another in an immersive and tightly crafted 40 minutes of unceasing activity. Live in Utrecht borders on overstimulation in rare moments, but Ankersmit’s relentlessness is an advantage. Even when the bottom drops out at the performance’s halfway mark, Ankersmit doesn’t simply use the quiet as contrast. Instead, he cultivates from it a new form of growth, building high-pitched tones that swoop and swirl like barely perceptible gnats into a robust spate of upper register inhabitants, not half as loud as the disc’s beginning, but equally intense. Ankersmit gently coaxes the music back into a sax-y squall, adept as ever at making transitions and staying one step ahead of himself with a keen ear for evolution and the patience to make it effective. There can be excitement in watching a musician grapple with sounds that threaten to escape his or her control, but precision can be equally arresting, and Ankersmit wrangles his material beautifully from beginning to end with a deft touch and a canny sense of timing.
Ankersmit’s discography is slim. He’s been performing for more than a decade, and has worked with some heavy hitters (Phill Niblock, Kevin Drumm and Jim O’Rourke, to name a few), but seems intent on only allowing his best work into the marketplace (how’s that for bucking the trend?). As such, Ankersmit remains largely unheard. If he managed a few more albums of this quality, it won’t remain that way. [Adam Strohm]
The Wire (UK):
If it is easy to layer sounds together to make music of a droning nature, then it is particularly difficult to do it well. To make interesting drone music in a live situation is an even more accomplished task, but one that Thomas Ankersmit overcomes on this 39 minute live set recorded in 2007. Originally a saxophonist, Ankersmit constructs the intense, prickly music here by adding analogue synthesizer, computer and prerecorded reel-to-reel tape parts composed by his close collaborator Valerio Tricoli to his acoustic alto sax. The end result is a quietly seething mass of constantly shifting, metallic sounding sheets of sound that form a laminal bed into which Ankersmit sprays shards of angular, abrupt matter. Like bits of broken glass spread across a beach, the music’s softer, floatier elements are constantly undercut by these more sinister intrusions. There is no sense of comfort here, on the occasions when the music’s more frenetic moments burn themselves out and the drifting underbelly is exposed there remains a feeling of uncertainty, an edginess that suggests a blast of rasping electronics or a shriek of alto sax might suddenly assault your ears.
Most if not all of the sounds we hear seem to have originated in the saxophone, but only in a few places are we left with much more than faint memories. The music evokes industrial sounds, whirring, churning manufacturing processes, the scream of an engine’s loose fan belt, even distressed bagpipes in places. From all of this, Ankersmit constructs a musical world that feels alive and capable of going anywhere, and yet also manages to give the music a strong sense of structured purpose, a degree of compositional control unusual in this area of live performance. It is the fine balance between the sense of chaos that threatens to pull everything apart and the controlled formation of the music into clearly defined sections of differing intensities that raises the work above that of so many of Ankersmit’s contemporaries and makes this such a captivating recording. [Richard Pinnell]
Recorded live, this 38 minute piece mixes live with pre-recorded elements, pairing Ankersmit’s saxophone playing with taped versions of himself, analog synthesizer, and some digital treatments as well. The recurring motif becomes the sound of his horn, sometimes in its pure, traditional format, such as towards the beginning of the performance where it is in tightly clipped bursts. Other times it is dissected and rebuilt into a different beast entirely, such as at the ending moments of the performance where pieces are looped and closely multi-tracked together to the point it resembles a mini-orchestra of sax players. The close, but slightly different pitches create unnatural harmonics as layers are snipped away, leaving only one singular loop at the end.
Between these natural reference points, there is a slew of digital and analog treated sounds that are placed together to create an idiosyncratic electro-acoustic sound that stands on its own. The snipped and looped horns at the beginning are eventually digitally deconstructed, leaving processed sound fragments that are far from identifiable to become the focus, with the most subtle of underlying melody to be perceived.
For a single live performance, it is a varied one, with a great deal of diversity in dynamics and structure. Clanging, raw high speed sounds and feedback-like swells clash to create an abrasive, gratingly harsh noises that will just as quickly retreat, leaving only a bass drone and high frequency textures. Some segments resemble a CD being decoded in the wrong order, with blobs of sound coming out seemingly at random. Mixing the high and low pitched elements does occur more than once, at one point there’s subwoofer rattling bass frequencies with ultrasonic, tweeter shredding treated horn noises that pulls a page from the early noise scene. Other moments sit more nicely in the middle, more comfortable frequency range, with what sounds like a duet between a broken AM radio and a laptop-based didgeridoo forming one of the closing segments of the performance.
While he uses familiar building blocks, the results on this album sound like no other artist, and considering his connections with Niblock and Conrad, Ankersmit takes a more maximalist approach to sound than would be expected. It isn’t an easy listen, with its frequently abrasive frequencies and erratic, jumpy structure. However, there are so many nuances and subtlety contained within that the more difficult moments are worth enduring, even for those who aren’t as fond of raw and harsh sounds as I. [Creaig Dunton]
'Live In Utrecht' is Thomas Ankersmit's first official release, appearing on Touch sister label, Ash International. It documents a live performance in late 2007, featuring Ankersmit manipulating Serge analogue modular synthesizer, computer, and his favoured instrument, the alto saxophone, together with reel-to-reel parts composed by long standing collaborator Valerio Tricoli. Over the duration Ankersmit investigates vivid electro-acoustic spaces with a deft appreciation of minute detail and spatial awareness resulting in a sequence of intriguing improvised tonal textures. Ankersmit has also worked with Maryanne Amacher, Tony Conrad, Jim O'Rourke, Kevin Drumm and Phill Niblock.
These days, between official releases, CDRs, cassettes, and download-only specials, it seems like even the newest and most obscure musicians can border on over-exposure. Yet after a decade of making music, this is only the fourth recording by Berlin-based Thomas Ankersmit and the only one currently in print – if only all musicians were as sagacious. Using alto sax, analog modular synthesizer, real-time computer processing, and pre-recorded tapes, Ankersmit has constructed a startlingly rich and complex piece. Starting out with a stutter of recognizable saxophone notes, it quickly builds density and momentum out of striations of drones, pulsating tones, shuddering washes of sine waves, scribbles of analog synth, and sputters of static, with reed harmonics and overtones peeking through. Ankersmit has always focused as much on sound installations as on real-time improvisation, and that notion of exploring the acoustic character of a specific space comes through here. Though it's a live performance, the piece is carefully structured: Ankersmit builds up layers, then lets them drop out mid-way through in order to start building them up again, culminating in a passage of long, buzzing tones. It's easy to sit back and float along with the music, but don't be fooled: this deserves a careful listen. [MRo]
Experimental Albums of the Year 2010, #4.
Thomas Ankersmit’s debut release, Live in Utrecht, originated with a performance given in 2007 and was released this year as an album by Ash International. Live in Utrecht consists of a solo performance from Ankersmit, who utilizes a Serge analogue modular synthesizer, computer, and an alto saxophone, while also incorporating reel-to-reel segments composed by collaborator Valerio Tricoli.
This single-track set finds Ankersmit delicately integrating competing tonal components to create a structure that might appear static or slow moving at first, but reveals itself to be highly dynamic and full of life. Over the course of its 38 minutes, Ankersmit guides this structure along in a graceful but urgent manner. The listener is part enthralled, part ensnared by the distantly squealing saxophone as it pushes against a sonic bedrock that pulsates with distorted textures and disorienting wavelengths. Ankersmit’s aching, distorted tones shudder like barren trees attempting to withstand the battering from a vicious digital wind stream that howls like a tea kettle going off in the next room while you are fast asleep.
Ankersmit’s pace displays the patience and reserve that only a steady hand can produce. Yet, he is not afraid to let his sounds grow out of control only to then dissipate into abrupt silence. Ankermsit is not afraid of the silence that comes when sounds exhaust themselves and die. He even brings this post-withering into his piece in a pivotal way. This Dutch-born Berliner has produced a recording that perhaps sets a new bar for live electronic performance. While many drone or noise acts might fail to stimulate the non-converted, Live in Utrecht is intriguing enough as an artistic statement to attract those uninitiated to this kind of music.
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Track 1: Live in Utrecht