excite the ions


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.

Thomas Ankersmit
Figueroa Terrace
Touch | 2014

Previous writing on Ankersmit | 2010 | 2011

Maryanne Amacher interview

Thomas Ankersmit interview

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