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Thomas Ankersmit
Perceptual Geography Daryl Worthington , May 12th, 2021 08:59

Dedicated to Ankersmit's friend and collaborator Maryanne Amacher, Perceptual Geography is a wild trip into inner space, finds Daryl Worthington

“When the ‘events’ of May ’68 took place, suddenly everything went quiet. The masses had their fill of the ‘underground,’ and freedom had been expressed on the streets,” writes François Bayle in an essay in Spectres: Composing Listening. Tracing the history of experimental music in France, he recalls the French protests of 1968 “sweeping away any desire to come back into an auditorium to listen to a concert of electroacoustic music.”

It was a temporary blip. Thomas Ankersmit’s Perceptual Geography is acutely visceral, brilliantly dynamic electroacoustic music – it even had its live premiere on the Acousmonium, the diffusion system designed by Bayle. When more forces are competing for our attention and our time increasingly enclosed, the piece’s rendering to CD and mp3 also provides a conduit to a temporary, portable freedom.

Architecture and sound have deep historic foundations. Cities and buildings have long been designed to amplify or suppress crowds, music, and voices. The discovery of marine shell trumpets on the site of the ancient Chavín culture in what is now Peru suggests that thousands of years ago tunnels there functioned as resonance tubes to transmit sound. Perceptual Geography has a different relationship to structure and space. From gentle, barely perceptible beginnings, it sprawls out in a mass of interlaced vectors, becoming an environment in your environment. Or, as the name suggests, it jolts your perception of internal and external space, as disembodied tones split, fuse, and trick your brain.

Perceptual Geography is music as actor, not scenery. It moves, it interacts, it plays a role and shifts the listener. The album is dedicated to Maryanne Amacher, the late American composer who was a friend and influence on Ankersmit. In Lisa Rovner’s documentary Sisters With Transistors, Kim Gordon recalls meeting Amacher, “She said: ‘I’m gonna make this whole house vibrate and come alive.” That spirit of disrupting the domestic shines through in Ankersmit’s composition when taken as a home listening experience. He suggests the listener plays it in on speakers, a bold request when so few of us have access to either the time or the equipment, but it makes sense. Although it’s a fascinating listen on headphones, listen to it out loud and it becomes a different, all-encompassing beast.

Another side of Amacher is touched on in Sisters With Transistors, intense listening to the point she detects places’ underlying frequencies. New York haa a different pitched hum to Boston, for instance. This is where I think Ankersmit diverges from Amarcher. The sonic essence he interrogates and détourns is overload – only made louder by the more delicate, quiet moments. A recurring theme is what sounds like car alarms swaying, massing and detonating in a head spinning, radically panned free for all. Elsewhere, slabs of buzz and bass waves tug at each other into something approaching a melting groove. It’s as if the invisible waves flying through the ether were trapped in a net and forced through the speakers.

Bayle connected electro-acoustic music to freedom, and I think that connection resurfaces with Perceptual Geography, as the revolutionary potential of experimental music is released into the home. Play this loud and it starts to feel like a crack opening in reality. It’s music of serene disruption, slowly crawling out the speakers. Its intricacies and intensities fill the room to the point where every distraction becomes inaudible or invisible. Its sheer weight a counter-balance demanding concentration rather than passive attention. In that way, it lets you reclaim time, a moment of temporary liberation.