“Live in Utrecht” is the first official release from Dutch artist Thomas Ankersmit, which is hard to believe when you listen to this 40-minute piece. Ankersmit’s main source of sound is saxophone, but he masterfully disguises the horn with the use of modular synths and a computer. The result is a captivating work that jockeys between sinus-clearing drone, minimalist glitch and swirling synth waves.
The piece starts off with layers of buzzing sax, each layer rising and falling upon the next, with a few shrill skrees and rusty valve clicks way off in the distance; it’s sinister and unsettling, but never corrosive – one of Ankersmit’s many strengths. Suddenly, the swarm stops, leaving only high-pitched frequencies and barely-there analog pops, almost similar to parts of Kevin Drumm’s “Imperial Distortion,” but not as monolithic. Juxtaposing this thick mass of drone and against such an austere dynamic shift has utterly captivating results. Ankersmit pulls you right into his world of charcoal greys and shades of white, displaying great patience as he gradually increases the intensity. High-register tones subtly oscillate against each other amidst bursts of synth static until Ankersmit’s penchant for abrupt sonic shifts emerges again, leaving behind only a faint whisper, then dead silence. Only after nearly ten minutes of minimal feedback work does the buzz introduced at the beginning of the piece make a mournful, beautiful but brief return.
The real strength on display here is Ankersmit’s attention to dynamics. He avoids losing the listeners attention by changing directions before the listener has the opportunity to feel tired. Yet each shift is executed so perfectly that this piece feels like one organic movement as opposed to a cut-and-paste job. Ankersmit side-steps the tendency to dwell at length in the perhaps more obvious sonic spectrum of loud, droning, buzzy sax, and instead uses it sparingly. The impact is considerable as the listener is left pining for those louder moments to return while lost in the gorgeous moments in-between. The restraint shown on this release is surely a sign of great things to come.