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)