Thomas Ankersmit | Interview + photos - Design Bureau

Thomas Ankersmit | Interview + photos

Monday, March 5th, 2012

By Elizabeth Gilmore

Dutch artist/musician Thomas Ankersmit beautifully combines analog synthesizer sounds in digital electronic music compositions. Having played everywhere from abandoned plane hangars to multi-paneled domes, Ankersmit forms a relationship not only with the music he creates but the spaces in which he performs. Last month, Ankersmit teamed up with experimental and modern music promoter LAMPO for a performance at The Graham Foundation in Chicago—see our slide show at left. Design Bureau sat down with Ankersmit and LAMPO director Andrew Fenchel to talk about this unique pairing of music and architecture and what's up next for the artist.

What inspires you outside of digital world? Experiences, places?
Thomas: Well, sometimes other music, I don't listen to a lot of recorded music but I go to a lot of concerts. I do combinations with digital and analog mediums. Usually I work with this 1970s analog modular synthesizer, a saxophone and digital... a sort of triad. I also do concerts or recordings in spaces that have very unusual acoustic characteristics such as long reverb or strange echos that you only hear in certain spots. These are locations like dome spaces, tunnels or churches. I'd say that's more a spatial inspiration. It's like a duet with architecture. The architecture influences what I'm doing in a call-and-response relationship. You generate a sound and then the room will somehow respond. 

What's your favorite architectural space you've been able to interact with?
Thomas: One of my favorite spaces would be this complex of abandoned radar domes outside of Berlin. It was built in the '60s by German and British intelligence and is now empty. It has an incredibly long reverb of more than 20 seconds. There is sound reflections coming from every panel so psychologically it's extremely disorienting. It not only echos non-stop but also in different ways depending on where you are standing in the space. For instance, if you were to walk towards the wall and make a sound, it becomes this giant cloud of reverb. However, if you stand in the center and make a sound, you only hear yourself whispering in your own ear. It's very spooky.

So what are you working on now?
Thomas: I spent the last two months in LA working with a 1970s modular synthesizer that was invented at CalArts. The grand-daddies of my synthesizers are there, and I spent two months recording with the original instruments and the vintage prototypes. I'm working towards making those recordings into an album this year.

How did you the relationship with Andy Fenchel and LAMPO start? 
Andy: Well, a lot of things you get in the mail you don't want, but Thomas sent me this little 3-inch CD and once I listened to it, there was a sense of intrigue. There wasn't much out there of Thomas that was recorded so he was a bit enigmatic and interesting to me. 

Coming up in March, Lampo is doing an even with Keith Fullerton Whitman who also creates his work using historic instruments. A number of artists with LAMPO combine '60s and '70s electronic technology with current day digital technology. What's the attraction?
Thomas: It's something in the air right now. With the absolute omnipresence of computer and digital music, a lot of people are trying to access something more. Older electronic technology is somewhat unpredictable and thus experimental. It's rewarding to play around with these things. The experience is more physical when everything is with dials and knobs. 

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