I’ll post references to my Aphex Twin 33 1/3 Selected Ambient Works Volume II book on occasion. Here’s a batch that occurred during the book’s first week of publication. It came out on February 13, a week ago today.
The writer Ned Raggett at thequietus.com has written up an extended reflection on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. He says, while pondering the wonderful track that has come to be known as “Rhubarb”:
If the ghost of figures like Eno inevitably hangs over anything that could be called ambient – much less a term that at the time seemed to only be a bad joke of a hangover, new age – what James did here, like others elsewhere, was to translate the impulse and suggest other ways to work with it. Miles away from ‘Digideridoo’, a whole universe away from ‘Windowlicker’ or ‘Girl/Boy’, it’s as close to ambience as gentle balm as one could want, but even then it’s not really that, enveloping in its stripped down beauty but so stately, so focused, warm and cold at the same time.
He also, thoughtfully, mentions my work:
A new entry in the 33 ⅓ book series by Marc Weidenbaum does deeper delving into the album than I can even attempt here, so I encourage you to consider that if you want something more rigorous, as well as this 2012 interview preparatory to its release, where Weidenbaum notes something key I’ve turned over a few times as well: “I want to probe the one thing that is pervasively understood about this record, the “fact” that is synonymous with Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which is the idea that it has no beats. This is commonly asserted about it, that it has no rhythmic content. I think this is, simply, false. Much of the album has rhythmic content, even a consistent beat, if not two or more beats working against yet in concert with each other. I want to explore the perceived tension between ambient sound and rhythm.”
Weidenbaum hits this point that’s easy to forget, yet is terribly clear — there is rhythm throughout the album, actual beats at points as noted, but more often creating the kind of intertwined obsessive exploration that seemed – at least to me at the time – to be matched solely by the work Robert Hampson was doing more and more via Main. Where that duo, and eventually solo act, had as its sometime motto ‘drumless space’, there was never absence of rhythms, the space was disciplined, shaped and mutated constantly, an ever shifting nervousness. James had his own approach, and comparatively SAWII is more recognisably a world of ‘songs’, shorter in length, focused on key fragments or elements that never departed. But the further you went in, the further it wasn’t drumless space indeed – it was often just space. A black cold space, seemingly antithetical to the white cold space of the sleeves, but just as alien, and just as unnerving.
There was such a strong series of reader comments on the Quietus post and over on a thread at Facebook, that Ragett did a follow-up post on his Tumblr account.
Rob Sheffield (Rolling Stone) has written what I think may serve as the first proper blurb of the book:
Over at Sactown magazine, Stu VanAirsdale interviewed me about the book. I lived in Sacramento at the time of the release of the album, back when I was an editor at the music magazines at Tower Records. The article reads, in part:
“Half, if not more, of the book is about what happened after the record came out—how it’s been used in culture,” says Weidenbaum, speaking via phone from his home in San Francisco. “It’s about how fans were responsible for putting names to the tracks, which were originally untitled. It was about how filmmakers and choreographers and comedians have used his music in their work, and how classical composers have taken the music and done things with it.”
In his book, Weidenbaum describes SAW2’s sonic quality as “vaporous”—“hovering waves of sound” that float and rise and roil in a kind of haze or passing mist. But even in its relative shapelessness, Aphex Twin (the nom de plume of English musician Richard D. James) helped shaped a perspective on music that Weidenbaum seeks to refine for the audience of novice listeners and ardent fans alike.
And over at The Stranger, Dave Segal constructed a reflection — with the absolutely splendid title “A Rusty Obelisk Made Out of Angel Sighs” — on the album on its 20th anniversary with his own thoughts (“perhaps the most interesting, strange, and affecting advancement of Brian Eno’s mid-’70s ambient strategies to date”), extended quotes from various musicians and DJs from the Pacific Northwest (including Lusine, Solenoid, and Jeremy Moss, among others), and a reference to my study:
In his new book-length study of SAW2 for Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series, Marc Weidenbaum accurately observed that it “is a monolith of an album, but one in the manner of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, one that reflects back the viewer’s impression…. It is an intense album of fragile music.” And it is seemingly impossible to get sick of it. So many people have told me that they would play SAW2 every day for long stretches of time.