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Concert Review/ Thomas Ankersmit & Valerio Tricoli

img  Tobias

Ausland is a venue for outstanding experimental or improvised music and occasional film screenings in Berlin. The space is tiny and can merely accommodate a few dozens of people. Tonight, loudspeakers are positioned along the walls, parallel to them (not oriented towards the audience), so you get the impression that the sound, coming not from one source, is running around you. Berlin-based artists Thomas Ankersmit and Valerio Tricoli are sitting at a large table bearing three analog synthesizers and one computer. On the side, Tricoli also uses a tape echo connected to a microphone. 

In the beginning, there is darkness. Into it, Tricoli throws some whispered phrases, mirrored in the room through the microphone and the tape echo as if they were spoken in a large, resonant, empty place. Tricoli's murmuring is disturbed as if his device has been tapped by someone else. Ankersmit creates interferences floating around, mashing words. You're getting a Cold War feeling here, and not without reason: the composition's title is ‘ECHELON Teufelsberg’ and these first sounds are reproducing the acoustics of the geodesic radar domes in Teufelsberg.

Teufelsberg (pictured) is an artificial hill in Berlin built by the Allies right after WW2  made from debris from the destroyed city. The hill itself actually covers another building that was too robust to be destroyed at the time: a Nazi military-technical college designed by architect Albert Speer. 115 meters high (377 ft), it is the highest point in Berlin. The US National Security Agency, eager to intercept Soviet and East Bloc transmissions, built a listening station on it which was used until the fall of the Wall, probably as part of the Echelon network. Tonight's composition is based on location recordings made inside the main radome of the espionage facility.

Tricoli gets back to his synth and computer, and little by little the radio jamming erases the words. Plugging and unplugging cables, both men are acting like two busy starship engineers tuning their control panels. The patterns of hissing noises, appearing, disappearing, are strangely beautiful, but you feel a threat rising and you must prepare for an eventual massive cosmic storm. One minute you find yourself in a tunnel of noise, the next  there is no tunnel anymore and you lose all sense of space. Indeed gravity has just been changed, every particle in the room begins to take off and swirl around loudly. You're snatched away to another dimension. It feels exactly (I guess) like Dave in his cabin, during the last part of 2001: A Space Odyssey, travelling through (but just passive watching) vast spaces, unknown landscapes, altered colours. The flow of sound illustrates an immense journey among star dust and buzzing drones. 

When the tornado fades away, you remain in a state of weightlessness for a while. Later a gigantic foghorn suddenly resonates, calm and loud, contrasting with the low waves of noise. Maybe we do reach some harbour. The signal probably comes from a sampled recording of Ankersmit's own saxophone: A rich, colourful and glorious sound coming again and again in the distance. At the end, Ankersmit takes his sax, turns his back to the audience and plays in a slow freejazz-style, with the emphasis on texture and a few harmonies, in a conversation with the foghorn's call. It brings lots of pictures to mind. These are pure moments of poetry, all happening in darkness. 

After such a stunning performance, I heard somebody wondering how much of the performance is improvised or composed. It hardly matters; there was pre-recorded, composed and improvised material, and knowing more of it would be uncovering the most prosaic of all secrets tonight.

By Antoine Richard

Antoine Richard is founder of „The V Sessions“, an online portal offering streaming video sessions by artists from the world of classical and contemporary composition as well as sound art.

Homepage: Ausland Berlin

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