Thomas Ankersmit’s Perceptual Geography, Phil Julian’s Carrier Dynamics

Monday 3 May 2021

You don’t have to be smart or knowledgeable to enjoy stuff. I just got hold of Thomas Ankersmit’s new release Perceptual Geography and spent the weekend getting off to it, so much that I forgot to read the sleeve notes or remember what I liked about his last album, Homage to Dick Raaijmakers. Perceptual Geography is a piece Ankersmit has worked on over the past few years, built up from sounds made on the Serge Modular synthesizer; it sounds gorgeous. The wide range of sounds, from piercing bleeps to deep, organic rumbling, is a testament to Serge Tcherepnin’s instrument building and Ankersmit’s musical chops. Finely distinguished colourations in noise evoke natural forms, but the type of nature at work here is unformed and primal, testing its bounds for a structure that would contain it. It’s this protean quality, suggesting limitless possibilities in both material and composition, that seems to distinguish electronic music I love from the majority of pieces I find to be dull, safe and antiseptic.

In the latter half of the piece the phased beeps and pulses emerge from the fabric and I started congratulating myself for picking up on the hommage to Maryanne Amacher, until I remembered that I hadn’t read the sleeve notes yet and of course it was Amacher who introduced Ankersmit to the Serge synthesizer and he’s worked with both Amacher and Tcherepnin. The album comes with a substantial interview transcript between Ankersmit and Tcherepnin, which provides a lot of historical background. While apparently more ‘pure’ in its construction than Homage to Dick Raaijmakers, Perceptual Geography is no less complex in its sounds. It had been a while since I last listened to the earlier work and the psychoacoustic effects had slipped from my memory; this new piece makes itself less “about” those phenomena by inserting them as one more complicating factor in making music an immersive, all-engaging experience.

While I’m praising examples of this genre, I should mention Phil Julian’s Carrier Dynamics. Made at Ina-GRM Paris in 2019 and released last year, it’s a suite of eleven ‘intervals’ exploiting what appears to be a restricted set of tools based around pulse generation for maximum effect. Emphasising shape and texture over colour, each track could be misheard as a particularly forbidding moment from Stockhausen’s Kontakte, but Julian’s means of organising the material are very different. The lack of sleeve notes means I’m guessing all of this, but each section tends towards stasis or, occasionally, chaos, with slips and glitches in the surface suggesting an algorithm at work, if not an element of randomness. The short opening sections develop more complex textures before suddenly reverting to longer stretches with little discernible movement. Within a relatively tight timeframe the music alternates between favouring sound sculpture, patterning, and transformation, deftly avoiding a consistent overall form. If there’s a detectable plan at work here, then you’ll be kept listening right to the end in the hope of finding it. It’s all bracingly inscrutable.