Yesterday’s analog technology is new again. Acclaimed for his innovative combinations of digital and analog sound technologies, experimental composer Thomas Ankersmit is in the middle of a two-month residency at California Institute of the Arts where he’s creating a new work for the institute’s vintage Serge analog modular synthesizer.
Ankersmit is the only contemporary artist touring and performing internationally with a Serge synthesizer, and his residency at the Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts brings one of Europe’s most active experimental musicians to the Los Angeles area.
The residency culminates with the premiere of a new work for Serge at the CEAIT Festival at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) on Feb. 11 2012.
Serge was developed at CalArts in the 1970s by former music composition faculty member Serge Tcherepnin. The first Serge Modular synthesizer was used to broadcast whale sounds in the Pacific on the first Greenpeace anti-whaling expedition.
In their day – before personal computers and digital synthesizers – Serge analog synthesizers were considered the most powerful and sophisticated electronic instruments available.
Ankersmit will be working with a rare model that has been restored to mint condition for the performance.
“Serge is a dinosaur of the electronic music age,” Ankersmit said. “Analog synthesizers such as Serge have a special sound, and people are now using this ‘70s technology in a contemporary way. Of all the types of early synthesizers, Serge synthesizers are designed for sonic experimentation—for creating music never heard before.”
Analog instruments from the pre-digital era have seen a renaissance over the last two decades because of their flexibility, their tactile way of playing, and their unique sound design capabilities. CalArts’ electronic music studios own several unique Serge systems including rare prototypes and customized instruments.
Photo by Scott Groller / CalArts
Ankersmit is a saxophonist, electronic musician and installation artist based in Berlin and Amsterdam, who combines abstract, intensely focused acoustic saxophone work with hyper-kinetic analogue synth and computer improvisation. He also creates installation pieces that use sound, infrasound and “modifications to the acoustic characters of spaces” that disrupt the viewer/listener’s perception of the exhibition space and their presence within it. He frequently works together with New York minimalist Phill Niblock. Other recent collaborators have included Kevin Drumm and Borbetomagus.
In performance, Ankersmit combines synthesizers with computers and custom-built hardware, bringing pre-digital technology into the present through a unique hybrid practice.