THOMAS ANKERSMIT – Perceptual Geography

Shelter Press

More coincidences in the life of this writer. Just as I’m reading a rather indispensable book about Maryanne Amacher recently published by Blank Forms, which I’ll report on in the near future, here comes a new release by the well-deserving Thomas Ankersmit, a personal friend of Amacher’s whose challenging of regular perception has been, at various stages, influenced by the American’s quest. Perceptual Geography may last less than 40 minutes, but comprises a wealth of revivifying matters for the brain to repel the flatness of sonic formality. By following Ankersmit’s recommendation (listen loudly from the speakers, headphones be damned) one acknowledges the significance of mind-improving acoustics in contemporary research.

Everything we hear originates from a Serge Modular analog synthesizer, a machine of innumerable creative possibilities introduced to Ankersmit by the very Amacher. If the latter spent a lifetime trying to introduce the psychoacoustic potential of wide spaces to the unevolved hearing of average listeners (and institutions), on the other hand Ankersmit attempts to recreate alternative conditions of perception in more conventional concert settings, taking into account a room’s features to improve the qualities of its resonance, in order to use it as an out-and-out instrument. Ankersmit’s work on the diffusion of frequency-based multidimensionality implies noticeable consequences. As a matter of fact, even the slightest change of listening stance facilitates the detection of otoacoustic apparitions known as “ear tones”: pitches that do not actually exist, but get recognized “inside” by selected subjects according to the sensibility of their auditive equipment. 

Although we have lived this experience several times over the (y)ears, it never ceases to amaze. Whether it is a hypnotic drone, a rumble in the subsonic region, a short burst of white noise, a razor-sharp signal testing the environment, or what is simply too harmonically elusive to express in words, we find ourselves completely redefining the meaning of “audio landscape”. What is normally apprehended as relatively linear is augmented by additional dimensions, often surprising, in some instances almost frightening. The sounds morph right in front of our consciousness, logically modifying intensity and light, their pliable shapes affected by invisible oscillating constituents. Synthetic transformations (de)materialize from random spots; the back of the head feels strangely compressed; apparently garbled messages get decrypted by sheer instinct. We know we’re being part of practically unexplainable happenings; the will to remain silent as long as possible, exclusively nurtured by those awesome signals, ultimately prevails.

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