Thomas Ankersmit - Figueroa Terrace

CD - 1 track - 36:49
2 free bonus tracks when you order this album (download on purchase here)

Track listing:

1. Figueroa Terrace


Thomas Ankersmit is a musician and installation artist based in Berlin and Amsterdam. He makes live electronic music with analogue and digital devices, as well as saxophone. Since 2006 his main instrument, both live and in the studio, has been the Serge analogue modular synthesizer.

In the winter of 2011-2012 Ankersmit was invited by the CalArts electronic music studios, Los Angeles, where the Serge was originally developed in the early 1970s, to record new music with their recently restored and heavily customized "Black Serge" system.

In addition to conventional analog synthesis techniques (FM, AM, ring modulation, filtering, enveloping and panning under voltage control), Ankersmit used various kinds of waveshaping, distortion and feedback (both internally as well as via a microphone and speaker setup in the studio); oscillator-generated frequencies at the upper and lower limits of auditory perception; a patch matrix to control quick transitions; a homemade circuit-bending type interface to create momentary interruptions to the signal flow, and the scraping of a contact microphone. Aside from recording, editing, and a few instances of reverb no digital technology was used.

The music is finely tuned and highly detailed, yet also visceral and raw. Marked by sharp perceptual contrasts, the piece shifts between dense formations of electric noise, to fields of micro-events moving with an intuitive logic, and feedback-drones of overwhelming intensity. The sounds have a real-world physicality, bringing to mind swarms of locusts, distant storms and creaking machinery rather than "synthesizer music".

The piece was premiered in North America at REDCAT in downtown Los Angeles and in Europe at Berghain, Berlin, for the MaerzMusik Festival.

The music is originally quadraphonic and mixed to stereo for this release.

Figueroa Terrace is Ankersmit's first full-length solo studio release.

Thomas Ankersmit: Serge analogue modular synthesizers, contact mic.
Recorded at CalArts, Valencia and in Los Angeles, December 2011-February 2012.
Thanks to Kye Potter, Kevin Drumm, Valerio Tricoli, Darrel Johansen, Kevin Fortune, and everyone at CalArts.

Reviews:

Dusted (USA):

The pulsing constellation that opens Figueroa Terrace is a bit of a red herring. It’s rare that the rest of the album is ever as crowded as those opening three minutes; in fact, for much of the disc, it’s more the quietude of the music that demands the listener’s attention.

Thomas Ankersmit’s 2010 Live in Utrecht was, to these ears, the best album released that year, a saxophone and synthesizer shape-shifter that combined heavy drones and featherweight tones across a gripping 39 minutes. Figueroa Terrace, recorded four years later, sheds the alto saxophone and focuses even more on the small stuff, playing more frequently at the borders of perceptability and working with more subtle means of achieving some of the same effects.

In late 2011, Ankersmit was awarded a residency at CalArts in Valencia, California, the birthplace of the Serge modular synthesizer, and the home of the “Black Serge,” a highly modified (and recently restored) descendant. Figueroa Terrace is the result of that residency, sourced largely from the sounds made on the “Black Serge.” The music plays out in a highly controlled environment, largely in the less populated valleys that lie between the peaks at its beginning and end.

Here, the higher frequencies are often the most prominent, with impossibly brittle tones wound tightly around one another like the double helix of a strand of DNA, and a cluster of rhythmic undulations sounding off like a choir of alarms. Each glitchy smear, disorienting pan and slowly rolling wave feels as though it’s been arranged with care, guided by some enigmatic logic on a well-planned and unpredictable trajectory.

I saw Ankersmit perform a quadrophonic variation on this piece in February 2012 and was struck by the fluidity and grace of his physical movements, at times reminded more of a conductor in front of an orchestra than a man seated before modular panels of jacks and knobs. Ankersmit’s music is as elegantly executed as the gestures that create it, and while Figueroa Terrace lacks the visceral punch that was so effective on Live in Utrecht, it is marked by the same meticulous arrangement and spellbinding results. [Adam Strohm]

The Quietus (UK):

Figueroa Terrace is the result of Dutch-born, Berlin-based artist Thomas Ankersmit being invited to CalArts electronic music studios in Los Angeles to record new music with their recently restored "Black Serge" modular synthesiser. This instrument was one of the original iterations of the modular system developed in the 1970s by Serge Tcherepnin, who was a professor at CalArts at the time, as an alternative to the prohibitively expensive Buchla synths. For the last decade or so, Ankersmit has been using a descendent of Serge system as his main instrument, both live and in the studio, testing the limits of rooms and sound-systems with controlled barrages of "infrasonic vibration, otoacoustic emissions and highly directional projections of sound".

The results of Ankersmit's engagement with his personal instrument's predecessor is captured in a single, 37-minute long track of shifting sonic landscapes. Density seems to be the primary concern, with passages of intense activity giving way to lone, whispery tones that hang ethereal in vacated space. The slow builds that come to fill this space are what makes the record so exciting, particularly for its last, ragged rush toward climax.

The opening section, a buzzing hive of micro-sound lasting about three minutes, drops away to be replaced by a pure tone not quite high enough in frequency to annoy loitering teenagers in public spaces, but close to it. That glistening tone, far from pleasurable, demanding in its extremity, fades to silence and the buzz begins again, this time with the sound of single insect moving about the place. Noise corrupts and then the high tone again, swinging madly from left to right. In these opening five minutes, Ankersmit makes full use of the stereo field to define the width of the work, the horizontal axis, while the extreme high and low frequencies mark the limits of the vertical.

If these mathematical elements give us two dimensions, then it's the sheer physicality of the sounds that give us a third and bring the whole affair to life. The warmth of the first sub-bass tone that appears, and upon which Ankersmit ushers in the gloriously soft second quarter of the piece, is stunning. That opening buzz, the lustrous drones, the slashes of barely-controlled noise; there are many moments here where even the most technologically agnostic listener couldn't but be awed by the presence and the weight of the sounds emitted by the Serge's hulking mass of knobs, circuitry and patch cables. For those already burdened with a modular fetish, Figueroa Terrace will serve as further proof that a system like this is less an instrument than an organism.

For most of the piece, Ankersmit's restraint is laudable. The patient movements between sections, the careful positioning of each element within the field, the expertly-crafted push towards the limits of audibility, these decisions define the work up to a certain point. For the last ten minutes however, it feels as if Ankersmit cuts loose, and the waves of increasingly intense sound repeatedly washing up against the ears become filled with a joyous energy. The final, long swell into density is as raucous as a work like this is ever going to get, with Ankersmit pulling the plug just as the whole piece is about to burst at the seams. It's an electric moment, a reminder that there can be a real, thrilling vitality in an area of music often seen as the sole preserve of chin-stroking academics and engineers.

In the moments of silence after the track finishes, I realise that it's the considered restraint of the first twenty-five minutes that gives the final flourish its dramatic power. Working at the edge of audibility, in terms of both frequency and dynamics, Ankersmit engenders a certain type of listening. It's an all or nothing situation; either engage fully or turn it off. Assuming you choose engagement, the piece drags you in and pushes you in different directions; opening you up, exposing, making you vulnerable. Then, with a surprising and almost violent swiftness, the ante is upped and the effect is overwhelming. Ankersmit makes this ancient beast of an instrument breathe, giving it life and, finally, teeth. [Ian Maleney]

Chain D.L.K. (USA):

I've seen and listened many good sound artists and musicians playing on the legendary Serge MMS, the analogue modular synthesizer system that its inventor, the brilliant French-born (from Russian composer Aleksandr Nikolayevich Tcherepnin as a father and Chinese pianist Lee Hsen Ming as a mother...what a wonderful blood and cultural mix!!!) composer and electronic-instrument builder Serge Alexandrovich Tcherepnin, developed almost for educational purposes in 1974 at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), but I rarely spotted the impressive versatility that Dutch electronic performer Thomas Ankersmit shows on this release. Mainly known for some collaborations with important musicians such as minimalist mastermind Phil Niblock, Chicago-based notorious improv musician Kevin Drumm or Irish-American producer Jim O'Rourke, Thomas seems to play hide-and-seek with Black Serge, a recently restored customized variation of Serge Modular, that CalArts made available to his skills in the winter between 2011 and 2012 as listeners could think that "Figueroa Terrace" is just an ostentation of the remarkably wide sonic power of synthesis of this machine while listening the first three minutes of this long-lasting suite, where Thomas moulds many different "real" sounds from a cloud of sonic particles. The quick succession of sonic rendering suddenly turns into leftovers of resounding electrons, which are just the starting line of a really adventurous journey towards a pure waveform by means of awesome oscillations, otoacoustic-like emissions, sudden decays and interruptions, otherworldly sonic entities, fast transitions, piercing frequencies which border on upper and lower thresholds of audibility and other hocus-pocuses. Without a doubt, this is one of the best electronic release that reached my headphones and loudspeakers this year! [Vito Camaretta[

ATTN:Magazine (UK):

Ankersmit’s circuitry is half-broken, covered in moss and sap. Figueroa Terrace does not seek completion and digital assurance within the electronic; rather, it fractures via the haphazard rustles and splinters of nature, taking sudden deviations away from its closed loops into the crackle of dehydrated leaves, gasps of gravel feedback and gentle leaks of white noise gas. Even when its motion feels as eternal and rigid as a newton’s cradle – as in the dark orbs of bass frequency that veer from left to right and back again – the wires feel ready to perish. Sure enough, Figueroa Terrace always seems to spill out of its cycle and into the canvas of infinite happening.

The synaesthesia is thick and dizzying. Those chiming strands of high frequency feel influenced by the diagonal drift of deep space lens flare, while the tilted formation of rapid fire beeps and ventilator drones makes me feel physically queasy, sending the blood rushing to the left side of my head and placing my brain at an uncomfortable angle. During the second half I feel as though I’m hurtling through hoops of light between rooms of drastically contrasting shape and colour, as reverse rushes of warm air punctuate sudden environmental shifts; I’m blacking out for hours at a time, knocked out by cyclonic uprisings of wind and warning siren only to awake in a room with just one dangling light bulb, or on a runway full of swooping bats. There’s a sense of being carried backward through Figueroa Terrace, tugged along a narrative that feels so expertly under Ankersmit’s control and so unnervingly beyond my own.

kindamuzik (Netherlands):

Thomas Ankersmit is al ruim een decennium bezig in de wereld van de elektroakoestische muziek, maar hij heeft slechts een paar releases op zijn naam staan. Het live spelen, tussen improvisatie en geplande actie met een duidelijke klemtoon op het eerste, is waar zijn hart ligt. Een en ander leidt ertoe dat Figueroa Terrace nu pas zijn studiodebuut markeert.

Ankersmit speelde eerder ook de saxofoon, die naast elektronica te horen is op zijn spectaculaire Live in Utrecht, maar al geruime tijd gebruikt hij alleen nog de modulaire Serge-synthesizer. Op CalArts werd dat apparaat ontwikkeld en daar staat nog een zwaar aangepaste en onlangs gerestaureerde versie; de 'Black Serge'. Ankersmit werd gevraagd om met dat systeem te werken en hij maakte een ruim halfuur aan quadrofonische compositie, voor release teruggebracht tot een stereo mix.

Voor Ankersmit begint het interessant te worden als de machine grensvlakgeluiden voortbrengt. Hij geeft niet om de mooi afgeronde klanken, maar zoekt afwijkingen in golfpatronen, distortion en feedback op. Daarnaast speelt hij graag met de grenzen van het menselijk gehoor. Het liefst bouwt hij zijn stukken trouwens op zonder editing; intuïtief dus en eerder opvolgend van aard dan gepland gelaagd.

Figueroa Terrace heeft iets weg van een lappendeken; een what's-this-button-for-compilatie. Een beetje dus zoals Yoshio Machida deed op Music from the SYNTHI. Ankersmit echter heeft niks met synthesizermuziek of een fetisj voor het typische geluid van de Serge. Laat hem maar stoeien aan de randen van het apparaat. Daar vindt Ankersmit een nauwkeurig en gedetailleerd geluidsbeeld; een palet dat rauw en direct is, wappert tussen verdichte noise en nauwelijks hoorbare piepkleine geluidgebeurtenissen en bovenal: een werkstuk dat de machine verbazingwekkend genoeg uiterst natuurlijk doet klinken. Je zou zweren dat je een zwerm vogels in de verte hoort of dat je het letterlijk op kilometers afstand hoort stormen en donderen. [Sven Schlijper]

Fluid Radio (UK):

In what has come to seem somewhat of an exception in these days of home studios and Soundcloud works-in-progress, Dutch musician Thomas Ankersmit spent the first ten years of his career working almost exclusively in a live context. This fact is made all the more remarkable by the relative unwieldiness of his instrument of choice, the Serge analogue modular synthesizer; his decision to focus heavily on a single instrument, as musicians in other genres might commit to the violin or the bass guitar, also seems somewhat at odds with the established conventions of electronic music. Then again, Ankersmit is no typical synth-wielder, a fact underscored by his grounding in the saxophone. Though his beloved Serge may well remain silent without power sockets, once plugged in it is more likely to be heard tumbling through a composition by the likes of Phil Niblock than to be pumping out four-to-the-floor beats or cosmic ambient washes. Thinking of it as an organ with voltage regulation might get you closer than any associations normally conjured by the term ‘electronic’.

Until recently, Ankersmit’s solo Serge discography (Sergeography?) was limited to a single full-length live recording, but now UK label Touch has released a ‘studio’ album made on the original Serge synthesizers at CalArts. The single extended piece, entitled “Figueroa Terrace”, reveals the timbral versatility of the Serge, while audibly remaining the product of a single instrument. This is no mere tech demo, however: as one would expect from an artist whose deep engagement with the Serge dates back to 2006, Ankersmit has long moved on from merely showing off what the synthesizer can do and into the realm of fully developed and integrated composition. The piece moves from driving bleeps and clinks to almost-silent escaping air and back again, beating a measured but purposeful path towards an emphatic ending. While the timbral colours of the work definitely fall within the ‘analogue synth’ part of the spectrum, to my ears the CalArts gear sounds cleaner, drier, and less obviously ‘retro’ than most vintage equipment I’ve heard, and all the more pleasing for it.

The traditional analogue ‘quirks’ remain available for exploitation, however: at one point Ankersmit drives a rapid-fire pattern just a little bit faster than the vintage circuitry was designed to go, causing a range of timing and phase artefacts to emerge (or maybe some of this breakdown was in my ears rather than in the hardware?). For the most part, though, “Figueroa Terrace” remains quietly focused. I could imagine removing the sine waves from CalArts professor Michael Pisaro’s “Transparent City” recordings and playing the quieter moments of “Figueroa Terrace” over them instead, with little or no loss of serenity or poise — a flight of fancy that speaks much of the latter piece’s clarity and carefully consideration and integration of details. It’s not until the acceleration towards a final cacophonic conclusion that the work’s connection with a modern avant-garde tradition of electronic music finds its full deep-throated voice.

Just Outside (USA):

This is a truly fascinating disc, one of the strongest electronic pieces I've heard in a while. Ankersmit hasn't released so much in recent years (see in-depth interview here) so it's entirely possible that a work like "Figueroa Terrace" has been in the offing for a while, but it's still in some ways, in its structure particularly, as surprising as it is powerful.

Done with analog synths and contact mics (some technical details in the Touch link below), it opens with a far-more-complex-than-you-think-at-first, rapid fire line, like some mutant cousin of Radian. You initially think of the "medium" line, an intense (though icy-smooth) stream, but soon realize that there are all manner of adjacent sounds, low to high, buffeting it, propelling it forward. So ok, you think you have an idea where this is heading, perhaps an ever-expanding series of vectors, spanning out, overlapping, cresting, etc.; nice enough as is. But then.

A bit over three minutes in, the bottom drops out, absolutely falls. You're deposited in a place that, really, is just as active and even with its own sense of propulsion, but far thinner, the sounds all in the high/prickly range, individual grains, coalescing here and there like silt drifting toward a seabed. And the piece stays there for quite awhile, Ankersmit investigating the newfound abundance of lifeforms, generating remarkable variety using (seemingly) so little. A series of thunks and scratches, non-electronic sounding but probably so, pass through at one point, but the tidal shifts keep in character with the overall shimmering, glistening aspect. Slight, sandy rubbings beneath extraordinary high (and beautiful) glimmers (to take the underwater analogy perhaps too far, like phosphorescent plankton), soon underlined by a hyper-deep throb that passes by. Little by little, you get a sense of something developing and kind of a retrospective idea that this whole composition has had a destination all along, been more narrative than you thought. Layers of ringing tones are flitted through by wing flutters, gently herding things toward some end, heralded by a steady, hard pulse (I should pause and mention how entirely excellent virtually everything here sounds). There's another drastic shift at this point, a series of small static explosions and siren-like tones, several minutes of rich dronage, sparked with hiss and more static that ultimately locks into a kind of rhythm cycle, super dense with, a final surprise, a very plaintive "cry" atop. But this cry bears all sorts of connotations, from a lost animal to something of a blues feel, very surprising and extremely effective, strongly imparting the sense of having arrived somewhere and having a strangely emotional impact on the listener, at least this listener. More so, even, when it all gets cut off abruptly.

A seriously impressive work, very glad to have heard it. Do check it out. [Brian Olewnick]

dMute (France):

Se sont-ils passés le message? Thomas Ankersmit et Valerio Tricoli, les auteurs du sublime Forma II en 2011, percutent de nouveau l'actualité dans un synchronisme parfait. Alors que la sortie de Miseri Lares chez Pan assoit un peu plus la réputation d'électro-acousticien de génie de l'italien, le néerlandais rejoint plus discrètement Touch records. Mais contrairement à ce que laisserait imaginer son rattachement à la maison britannique, son premier témoignage studio Figueroa Terrace fait tout autant oeuvre de radicalité que le nouvel album de son acolyte.

Les deux hommes n'ont pas simplement lié leurs destins discographiques, ils incarnent à eux deux un certain renouveau des musiques expérimentales, qu'ils propulsent vers un futur qui leur fait souvent défaut en les débarrassant de leurs oripeaux élitistes. Leur oeuvre commune Forma II demeure emblématique de cet élan de rénovation, sinon dans le fond du moins dans la forme: passe-muraille, grandiloquente, en un mot, extrême. De la musique non plus jouée en blouse blanche et pull à col roulé dans une chambre anéchoïque mais dans la moiteur de lieux interstitiels - clubs berlinois, stations de radio désaffectées, églises - en faisant la démonstration d'une nonchalance et paradoxalement d'une maîtrise sur-humaine du son.

Thomas Ankersmit joue du saxophone et manipule des dispositifs analogiques dont la complexité techrnique pourrait relever de la magie noire. C'est un musicien fondamentalement bricoleur et autodidacte qui s'est taillé dès le début des années 2000 une solide réputation dans le milieu des musiques improvisées en collaborant avec Kevin Drumm, Phill Niblock ou Jim O'Rourke. Mais aussi en multipliant les domaines d'intervention, que se soit en explorant les résonances acoustiques des lieux qu'ils traversent, ou en manipulant les dégénérescences des signaux analogiques qu'il pousse - sur son fameux synthétiseur modulaire Serge - jusqu'au seuil de la fracturation et de la perception auditive. Il faut néanmoins attendre 2011 pour voir son travail scénique enfin documenté, grâce à la parution de Live in Utrecht sur Ash International (une subdivision de Touch). Un témoignage, qui malgré sa troublante fluidité et sa puissance d'exécution, n'éclairait qu'une part infime de ses explorations. Ce que Figueroa Terrace vient en partie seulement réparer.

Figueroa Terrace a été enregistré entre décembre 2011 et février 2012 sur le synthétiseur Serge conservé dans les studios de l'école CalArts à Los Angeles, à l'endroit même où Serge Tcherepnin en conçut le premier modèle dans les années 70. Il ne faut toutefois pas s'y tromper, le retour au source n'est ici que spatial. Ankersmit pousse plus loin les expérimentations de Live in Utrecht en se polarisant plus encore sur les changements d'échelle sonore et les limites de son instrument. Sur Live In Utrecht, les interventions du néerlandais se concentraient sur une boucle générée depuis son saxophone. La faisant lentement enfler jusqu'au point d'implosion, il la faisait ensuite se désagréger, et sous les plis de ce macrocosme en plein délitement, en agitait la structure atomique pour orchestrer des ballets infinitésimaux et de longs mouvements de translation extrêmement ténus.

Tout au long des 36 minutes de Figueora Terrace, Ankersmit reproduit cette troublante mécanique mais en complexifie les occurrences. Et ce, en générant en discontinu un champs d'énergie statique à l'intérieur duquel se composent et se décomposent des évènements acoustiques extrêmes. Des entrailles de son synthétiseur Serge, il exhume la plupart du temps des aiguës aux sinuosités imprévues qu'il étire en de longues dérives proche du réductionnisme. A d'autres endroits, du plus profond des fissures qu'il effectue dans la matière immédiatement palpable, le néerlandais fait émerger des formes chaotiques, comme ces fréquences découpées à la perforeuse qui ouvrent le disque puis réapparaissent sans cesse dans des états altérés, en contrepoint de déchirements ou de craquements électriques, de nappes de sons translucides ou de vagues de distorsions au bord de la rupture.

Il y a quelque chose de fascinant chez Thomas Ankersmit, particulièrement dans sa manière d'intervenir toujours à la limite du chaos, de repousser les limites physiques du son comme les potentialités de son instrument. De nous faire toucher du doigt ce point précis, où au degrés maximal d'agitation du son, il manque de perdre le contrôle. Ce pari là, celui de risquer la musique au sens littéral, c'est aussi ce qui le distingue de beaucoup de ses semblables et qui fait de Figueroa Terrace une oeuvre remarkable. [Mickael B.]

Brainwashed (USA):

Over the last few years, Thomas Ankersmit has been shifting his primary instrument from a saxophone to modular analog synthesizer. Surprisingly, Figueroa Terrace is technically his first album proper, with previous releases consisting of collaborations and live performances. Unsurprisingly, however, is his use of the less immediate setting of the studio to his advantage, constructing a dizzyingly dynamic album length piece that showcases all of the strengths he has shown in previous releases, with an even higher level of polish.

Even within this studio setting, Ankersmit made a conscious decision to avoid digital sound sources as much as possible, and other than some reverb and recording/editing, this piece is entirely analog. That feel is apparent from the first minutes of Figueroa Terrace, with scattered ring modulated tones skittering along rapidly over a bed of low end drone. The piece never sits still for these initial minutes, and the hyperkinetic nature makes it stand out well without ever becoming dull.

Eventually the composition drops into quiet ringing tones and what sounds like (but is obviously not) a series of rapid microscopic digital delays. It is during these quiet moments the sound of a scraping contact microphone cuts through, jagged and raw, acting as the only non-electronic sound on this entire record. At the same time, the quiet ringing becomes shrill and raw before withdrawing to leave a massive expanse of insect like noises and heavy low end rumble.

Spaciousness becomes the focus for awhile, with synthetic ambience occasionally met with a low end idling bass passage or high frequency radar pings. Chirping beeps and noisy interruptions keep the sense of movement happening before converting into sharp, violent high pitched bits with sweeping low end passages. The final minutes throw everything together to build to an appropriately dramatic climax. High and low frequency passages clash violently, reflecting off one another to build an appropriate sense of tension. At this point, while becoming the most dissonant, it also has the most traditionally composed feel to it, the structure helping guide the noise perfectly.

I have begun to wonder how long it will be before modular synthesizers becomes passé. While some artists, such as Thomas Ankersmit and Robert Piotrowicz use the confusing array of patch bays and adjustment knobs brilliantly, for many others it comes across as just random noise. I mean, damn, Billy Corrigan just did a performance with one, which simply served to emphasize my theory that it can be an instrument that is more about how many modules a person has instead of how well they use them. Figueroa Terrace, however, reassured me that the instrument still has relevance when being manipulated by a true artist and composer, and Ankersmit continues to demonstrate how much of an expert he is.

Touching Extremes (Italy):

Referring to the principal sonic informants hired by Ankersmit during his 2012 visit to CalArts, the word “synthesis” discloses what one should truly be looking for when deciding to subject him/herself to a fundamental cognitive process: the acquisition of frequencies that do not belong to day-to-day mundanity. If you approach Figueroa Terrace with the same informal attitude accompanying the picking of a darling album from your jazz/pop/rock archive, be ready to pay the price. This type of mistake excuses (so to speak) people’s trouble in accepting that they are nothing but conductors – more or less excitable – of vital waves influencing their temperament and consequent attitude towards fellow humans and, in general, life events. In essence, the same error explicates the significance of a single noun: “refusal”. Decide where to apply the last assertion for yourselves.

This means that sitting in front of the speakers with these sounds gradually invading the inner ear’s quarters is tantamount to what could be defined as “operational contemplation”. In this music we’re given a chance to choose the (commonplace alert) “point” to enforce progressive focusing, but also allowed to note the phylogeny of compelling acoustic designs, tracing paths through the individual perception of subsonic transference and piercing etherealness. Tactile substances replete with strident components are secerned as well, an integrative development typified by a preoperative exactitude never contradicting the Serge’s caustic irradiations.

As a cathartic terminal section (before an abrupt ending) introduces a quantity of humaneness via a “soloist” wail superimposed to a forbiddingly increasing aggregate of drones, bleeps and pulses, Ankersmit’s ability in eliciting antithetical states of mind and matter with an exclusive generator shines bright, as complex and varicolored as the palette may be. A mix of technological, organic and emotional traits, apparent discord revealing – at various points – the symptoms typical of a deeper connection with something which remains unutterable, barring threadbare descriptions oscillating between fatuous spirituality and the necessity of a straitjacket. There is no need of promised lands: what can be discerned in psychoacoustic terms works at signal-to-intuition levels, unreachable for the intellectual illusions of the great unwashed. [Massimo Ricci]

A Closer Listen (USA):

In our Spring Music Preview, we commented on the fact that Thomas Ankersmit and Valerio Tricoli followed up their Forma II collaboration by releasing albums on the same day. While both albums are experimental, Ankersmit concentrates on the electronic aspect of the production while Tricoli concentrates on the mood.

It’s surprising to hear that this is Ankersmit’s first studio album, but going back over his discography it becomes apparent that his previous albums have all been live. Figueroa Terrace is a single 37-minute piece performed on the newly renovated Black Serge synthesizer system at L.A.’s CalArts. It began as a quadrophonic piece and was edited for home enjoyment. Yet this does not mean that it is an easy piece; patience is required for long stretches, although the payoff is worth the wait.

The two bonus tracks (available only to purchasers) provide an indication of what to expect. “Black Serge 6″ is busy with bleeps, buzzes and other electronic tones, a robotic factory of dueling tones, offset by moments of sudden silence. Within its boundaries, Ankersmit experiments with sounds singular and layered. An entire album of tracks such as these would be welcome. In contrast, the second bonus track is an extended, high-pitched tone, not something to play at parties, even creative ones. Each of these tracks is met by segments of the album: the former in the opening three minutes and most of the second half, the latter in the long, piercing interlude. While the difference is not always clearcut – the end of “Black Serge 6″ contains its own high-pitched tone – the contrast is created by obvious v. implied activity.

The opening minutes of Figueroa Terrace alone are an apt companion for “Black Serge 6″: busy to the point of overlap. Distortion and feedback are both integral to the sound shaping. When the high pitch is introduced, it provides relief, then curiosity; how long will Ankersmit allow it to continue? While it is not the only sound, the light augmentations shine a spotlight on its length. Sub-tones (allegedly outside of human perception) become the focus. This reviewer is grateful that he can still hear the whole thing! At this point in the piece, the tones offer interest more than enjoyment.

Perceivable movement is re-established midway with a slowly-growing, oscillating tone. Little by little, scrapings and other micro-sounds enter the sonic field like shy animals growing bold. By the end, all is in motion once again. The closing 12:28 offers interest and enjoyment, and again would work as its own track. While Ankersmit offers the work as a single piece and succeeds in sharing the sonic variety of the Black Serge, this is the part of the piece that listeners will likely revisit. As brief as it may be, the bass tone of the 27th minute exposes the gap between the listener’s expectation and the artist’s presentation; at that precise moment, both planets are aligned. [Richard Allen]

Radio France (France):

Thomas Ankersmit est un musicien d'origine néerlandaise, il s'est spécialisé dans l'étude des phénomènes physiques du son et dans la recherche psychoacoustique, une branche de la psychophysique qui (pour faire très simple) étudie les sensations que que nous ressentons à l'écoute des sons. Le label Touch vient d'éditer l'une de ses compositions, une pièce unique d'un peu plus de 30 minutes, enregistrée entre décembre 2011 et février 2012 dans les studios de l'école CalArts de Los Angeles. Il s'agit d'une pièce évidemment très étonnante puisqu'elle est constituée de phénomènes acoustiques. Rien de très mélodique évidement mais cet enregistrement confronte nos systèmes de perception à une série d'expériences sensorielles assez insolites que je vous propose de découvrir en un court extrait. Je dois également vous préciser que l'instrument principal de Thomas Ankersmit est un synthétiseur modulaire analogique de la marque Serge et que cet album comporte des fréquences qui vont parfois bien au delà de ce que nos oreilles peuvent entendre mais que nos corps peuvent percevoir et ressentir. Il n'y a donc, sur cette compositions, que de faux silences qui se réveillent toujours pour nous titiller l'oreille et jouer de nos capacités d'écoute et de compréhension. Ce n'est évidement pas l'album le plus facile à radiodiffuser mais une écoute sur un bon casque ou un système performant est réellement un moment d'extrémisme sonore tout à fait impressionnant. [Eric Serva]

Sound of Music (Sweden):

Thomas Ankersmit är en kändis på Europas konsert- och festivalscener, så det är lite förvånande att Figueroa Terrace är hans egentliga solodebut. Med åren har han växlat mellan saxofon och dator men alltmer fastnat för analoga modularsyntar, framför allt Serge-synten med sina unika ljud och tekniker. Serge är ett krävande liveinstrument, men just i det här fallet är det så lyckligt att den exceptionelle musikern också är en unik komponist.

För ett par år sedan fick Ankersmit en inbjudan till CalArts elektronmusikstudio i Los Angeles, där Sergesynten ursprungligen utvecklades i början av 70-talet. Ett nyrestaurerat och upphottat system, ”Black Serge”, ställdes till hans förfogande – och som han utnyttjat förmånen! Musiken som utgör den 37 minuter långa kompositionen är fjärran den våg av drånande eller bubblande modularmusik som vuxit fram på senare år, snarare kommer man att tänka på mikrotonal datormusik med komplexa signalflöden som skär som japanska köksknivar i öronen.

Det känns lite apart att tala om ”satser”, men stycket är utan tvivel komponerat med tanke på en stormforms förlopp. Den inledande delen är en tre minuter lång mikroskopisk svärm av höga frekvenser. Därefter en ensam, långsam ton som utvecklar sig från det skirt behagliga mot ett alltmer extremt frekvensomfång. I det statiska infogas brus och panorerade detaljer, element på djupet framträder som fascinerande förvränger känslan av det akustiska rummet. Stycket verkar inte vara komponerat för 4- eller 8-kanaligt system, men det vore definitivt en upplevelse att gå in i musiken med fler dimensioner än stereobildens.

Om Figueroa Terrace är kantig i detaljerna är satserna som helhet snarare dröjande, utan att alltför tydligt staka ut vägen. Med en knapp tredjedel kvar förebådar ett oroligt analogt fågelkvitter styckets enda riktiga baston – inte punkterad, inte långdragen, inte basen som golv och vägg utan snarare, får jag för mig, som ett – vafan, varför inte!

Det märkvärdiga med komplexa modularsystem som det Ankersmit spelat på är att arkitekturen är vidöppen, det finns ofantligt många in- och utgångar för kontrollspänningen att färdas och forma ljuden. Hans stycke är ambitiöst och precist, stramt och snyggt, levande och fullt av kontraster. Elektronisk musik med sällsam fysisk touch. [Sven Rånlund]

improv sphere (France):

synthèses modularise analogiques

Deux aspects des synthés analos, et plus particulièrement les modulaires, font de cet instrument un des plus riches que je connaisse. D'une part, comme l'ordinateur et dans la synthèse numérique, il y a la multitude de possibilités (proche de l'infini) qu'offre la synthèse. Additive ou soustractive, la synthèse permet de produire des sons toujours nouveaux en modifiant l'intensité ou le circuit de l'électricité. Mais surtout, du fait qu'ils soient analogiques, que l'électricité soit directement contrôlée par les potards et les patchs, les synthés modulaires n'ont pas le côté abstrait et médiatisé de l'ordinateur, le synthé modulaire c'est juste une infinité de possibilité sur un instrument en lien concret, immédiat et direct avec la production du son, il s'approche vraiment de la pratique instrumentale, et permet également de composer en direct avec des possibilités également infinies de mises en forme, qui vont des premières compositions d'Eliane Radigue à Thomas Lehn par exemple.

Un des nouveaux maîtres incontestés du synthétiseur modulaire est sans aucun l'ancien saxophoniste Thomas Ankersmit. En solo (avec son saxophone) ou en duo avec Valerio Tricoli, ce compositeur autrichien a déjà démontré son attention extrême au son et sa précision dans la composition. Sa production discographique est assez faible pour le moment, et c'est donc avec plaisir que je découvre un nouveau disque de cet excellent musicien, un CD publié par Touch et intitulé Figueroa Terrace.

Pour ce nouveau solo, Ankersmit est venu à CalArts aux Etats-Unis utiliser leur synthétiseur analogique modulaire Serge. Le Serge est typiquement le genre de machine énorme rêvée pour faire des drones massifs ou des murs de bruit tout aussi massifs. Mais ce n'est pas le but d'Ankersmit, qui s'intéresse autant à la forme qu'au son en lui-même. Ce dernier ne fait ni de la noise, ni du drone, il compose véritablement de la musique électronique. Bien sûr, il y a quelques éléments de noise, une utilisation abrasive des générateurs de bruit et des micro-contacts avec une lourde basse à la fin, mais ce n'est pas le propos du disque, c'est juste pour conclure en beauté avec une sorte de climax tendu et puissant.

Mais Ankersmit s'intéresse plus ici à des fréquences simples, sans enveloppe, sans bruit, des fréquences qui interagissent entre elles. Déjà quand il pratiquait le saxophone, il s'intéressait bien plus aux fréquences qu'il pouvait produire qu'aux notes elles-mêmes. Il ne s'agit pas de composer de manière tonale, mais de composer avec des fréquences et de fabriquer des amas de fréquences qui donnent vie à un univers sonore particulier. Ankersmit joue sur la microtonalité bien sûr, sur le frottement et les battements entre des fréquences proches, notamment dans les registres aigus. Les deux tiers du disque environ sont composés ainsi de quelques fréquences simples (sinusoïdales, carrés, en dents de scie, etc.) mais il y a peu voire pas d'enveloppes, d’échantillonneur et de séquenceur.

Ce n'est pas non plus une musique pour sinusoïdes pures comme on en entend de plus en plus. Thomas Ankersmit, d'accord', s'intéresse beaucoup aux phénomènes sonore liés aux frottements de plusieurs fréquences, mais il s'intéresse aussi beaucoup à la mise en forme du son, à son déroulement narratif et à la composition. Du coup, il joue aussi beaucoup sur les notions de dynamiques du son, il sculpte les masses sonores, il compose avec la densité du son ; bref il compose de la musique électronique. Et il la compose avec un sens du drame profond je trouve. Car la musique d'Ankersmit est d'un côté, très précise et sensible de manière sonique, mais aussi très intense et dramatique au niveau émotionnel. Il y a sorte de connaissance des phénomènes psychoacoustiques mise en jeu dans la composition. Telle densité, telle hauteur, tel volume sont utilisés pour générer des émotions précises chez l'auditeur. Peut-être pas précises, mais toujours pour que l'auditeur ressente quelque chose au niveau émotionnel. Et c'est certainement ce dernier point que j'apprécie le plus chez Ankersmit.

Même si au final, ce sens du drame, cette attention au son, et cette volonté de composer ne vont certainement pas l'un sans l'autre, c'est tout de même la maîtrise totale et l'addition de ces trois éléments qui font de Thomas Ankersmit l'un des compositeurs de musique électronique actuelle les plus intéressants. [Julien Héraud]

Whisperin' & Hollerin' (UK):

This is tense. It’s also simmeringly intense. Twitters of treble flit and flutter over dark sonorous drones, occasionally swelling to stormy rumbles of a brewing storm. Lengthy passages of near-silence, through which trace fine threads of high-frequency tone almost imperceptibly build into scrapes of feedback and notes that resonate and fade. Erratic rhythms bleep and stutter and penetrate the senses, scratch and burst. Chimes and high hums click and stab. It’s quite uncomfortable at times.

It’s also worth noting this was mastered by the legendary Denis Blackham, who officially retired in May of this year: during his 40-plus year career, having handled works by the likes of Merzbow and Whitehouse, Pan Sonic and Mika Vainio, as well as countless other Touch releases, he’s sensitive and adept when it comes to material like this.

The crackles and ops, the tweets and scrapes may be pure analogue, produced using Serge Analogue Modular Synthesisers and a contact mic, but they’re audible with clinical clarity. This sonic contrast contributes greatly to the effect of ‘Figueroa Terrace’.

Liability (France):

Serge. C'est le doux petit nom du synthétiseur analogique qui ne quitte jamais le néerlandais basé à Berlin Thomas Ankersmit. Un peu comme Yoshio Machida avec son EMS Synthi AKS. Ankersmit qui est de la génération montante de la musique expérimentale électronique n'a pas du hésiter très longtemps quand on lui a proposé d'enregistrer un disque avec le Black Serge System restauré, customisé et ce par le CalArts Electronic Music Studio de Los Angeles qui l'a développé dans les années 70. Il fallait être idiot pour refuser de manipuler ce genre de bestiole. Figueroa Terrace qui n'est qu'une seule et même pièce est la représentation des expériences menées par Ankersmit sur ce bel objet. Une création de trente six minutes qui fait la part belle aux distorsions les plus diverses qu'elles soient agressives ou plus légères, des glitchs vivaces, modulant les fréquences et se réfugiant la plupart du temps dans un minimalisme aiguisé. Visiblement, Thomas Ankersmit a une préférence assez prononcée pour les environnements hostiles et inquiétants. Du moins sur Figueroa Terrace, il tente une exploration risquée qui va au-delà de la simple expérience clinique et schizophrène qu'on a trop l'habitude d'entendre. Cette longue pièce développe différentes humeurs, différentes approches qui ne vous mettent pas dans une situation forcément idéale. Thomas Ankersmit n'est pas de ceux qui souhaitent vous installer dans un confort de circonstance. Ici, le néerlandais construit, déconstruit, concasse les sons tout en formant un ensemble cohérent et solide. C'est tout le sens de l'expérimentation telle que l'on peut le concevoir. Celle qui bouscule les a priori et les habitudes. En ce sens ce disque est une réussite. Pour autant, on devine aisément que Thomas Ankersmit n'a pu faire le tour du Black Serge et il lui faudrait certainement plus de temps pour un peu plus l'apprivoiser. Cependant, est-ce qu'on peut dire qu'on a exploité toutes les possibilités d'un instrument, quel qu'il soit ? Ce serait le limiter et limiter tout autant les capacités de création de l'homme. Tant que celle-ci ne se donnera aucune limite, il se trouvera toujours quelqu'un pour donner une dimension nouvelle à l'instrument et le pousser au-delà de ce que notre imagination prévoit. C'est sans doute pour cela que l'on voit resurgir de vieilles machines que l'on croyait obsolètes. En fait, il n'y a rien d'obsolète, il n'y aurait que des gens sans esprit créatif.

Gonzo Circus (Netherlands):

De analoge modulaire Serge-synthesizer was al een aantal jaren het belangrijkste instrument van Thomas Ankersmit, toen hij eind 2011 werd uitgenodigd door CalArts in het Californische Valencia (Los Angeles). In die studio voor elektronische muziek is in de vroege jaren 1970 de Serge ontwikkeld en nu had men er de Black Serge gerestaureerd en aangepast. De uitnodiging om met het gerestaureerde systeem te werken heeft Ankersmits eerste studio-album opgeleverd: ‘Figueroa Terrace’. De cd bevat een lang stuk van 37 minuten, waarvoor Ankersmit de analoge synthesizertechnieken heeft aangevuld met onder andere een oscillator voor frequenties aan de onder-en bovengrens van het hoorbare, zelfontwikkelde software en een contactmicrofoon. De basis is echter door de Black Serge geleverd. In de kleine veertig minuten – reken aan het eind nog een paar minuten erbij om in stilte de compositie te laten bezinken – bouwt Ankersmit een enkel en abstract geluidslandschap met een enorme variatie en rijkdom. ‘Figueroa Terrace’ opent met een voortdurend, trillend, rinkelend geluid. Daar doorheen en overheen brommen, razen, kraken en ruisen tal van andere klanken tot een grote dichtheid. Na een aantal minuten maakt de drukte plaats voor rust van enkele, soms hoge tonen. In die tweede, kalme passage ligt de spanning in de introductie van telkens andere klanken: het ene moment een bijna terughoudend gekraak, geritsel als een veld met krekels en subtiele andere micro-klanken, en op een ander moment vibrerende tonen van wisselende frequenties. In een laatste fase zwellen verschillende puls- en bromtonen aan tot een dichte noise. De rauwheid en intensiteit werkt, in het contrast met alle beheersing in het voorafgaande, als een loutering. ‘Figueroa Terrace’ is een knappe en meeslepende compositie, die wel eens tot mijn favoriete uitgaven van 2014 kan gaan behoren. [Robert Muis]

Le Son du Grisli (France):

On ne sait pas très bien où veulent nous attirer le Serge analogue modular synthesizers customisé et les micro-contacts de Thomas Ankersmit mais, pour connaître le Monsieur, on fait confiance et on écoute. DATA affolé, aigus multiformes (du clic, du larsen...) avant l’arrivée de grosses basses nous disent à chaque instant qu’on devra recommencer (et sans doute recommencer encore) le voyage avant de reconnaître les paysages vus de la Figueroa Terrace.

Mais le voyage surprend d’autant, et sa conclusion nous convainc qu’en effet on le refera… Après une demi-heure de projections sonores, c’est évident : Serge le synthé a de ces voix de sirènes auxquelles il est impossible de résister, allongées qu’elles sont sur un tapis de drones graves. Epatant! [Pierre Cecile]

crowwithnomouth (blog):

I always find it hard to make audible what I want to hear, so I’ll be playing and think, this is o.k., and this is kind of interesting. But it’s never what I had in mind. I’ve finally accepted that.
Thomas Ankersmit

I wish you could just spray it. Just get into the ions, excite the ions.
Maryanne Amacher, on projecting sound

The longer I listen to Thomas Ankersmit the clearer it becomes that he shares with the late composer Maryanne Amacher an essential creative urge, an imperative that drives his work, that clarifies for this listener a quality heard in the few documents of Ankermit’s work available to us – the corporeality possible in the most abstract music, the visceral wrangling with sounds conceived in the head, transferred to the hands, and plunged into the guts of sound characters with a life of their own. In a 2004 interview, Amacher said I just made my first work in this futurist projection, which is really just quite fun. I didn’t have anything else, so I put my blood on the CD, and of course I put some sound. That’s a pretty direct means of infusing abstract art with the visceral.

A second shared quality manifests in Ankersmit and Amacher’s ambivalence about releasing their work as CDs (Amacher with two entries in 40 years of making music, Ankersmit, active for 16 years now, with only three, Figueroa Terrace being his first solo studio release). Ankersmit seems much less interested in the idea of authorship than the practice and process of working with sounds in performance, the acoustic space, again as with Amacher, being crucial to the experience. Make the space your instrument, Amacher advised a student; Ankersmit, by all reports of his concert attendees, does just that. Privileging the interface of live sound and its environment makes sense of his appearance on Touch and its subsidiary, Ash International.

Alas, those of us outside of Ankersmit’s current concert circuit will settle with the absence of those distinct elements of the live experience, the visceral and the venue, and appreciate what is present, and occasionally bruising, in our own environment – a brilliant use of sound placement in a life-size stereo field; timbres that trigger the otoacoustic, third-ear response Amacher researched and sounded like the crazy tone-scientist she was; and Ankersmit’s wrangling with stuff like the Serge synth’s internal feedback in order to draw out, plait, and weave the noise locked within an instrument very few engage with in a similar fashion. To my point about his plunging into the viscera of sound, Ankersmit bypasses the keyboard, accessing directly, subcutaneously, the cracked, crossed-wires of his sound world. Figueroa Terrace lurches out of the gate in a fashion that reminded me of an interview in which Ankersmit said that in concert he likes to start in the middle of the sound event, establishing a tension and crackle on the sound-stage immediately – and so he does here. What is remarkable is where he travels from there, and unlike a few reviews I’ve read, I won’t spoil what that trajectory feels like – Ankersmit, whatever the limitations of the medium, excites the fucking ions.



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Thomas Ankersmit - Figueroa Terrace


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Track 1:  Figueroa Terrace (excerpt)






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