February 13, 2014, is the official release date for my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin's 1994 album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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Remembering Kurt Cobain (Feb. 20, 1967 – Apr. 5, 1994)

Grunge, drones, and fame

This is the last paragraph of the third chapter of my recently published 33 1/3 book Selected Ambient Works Volume II, about the Aphex Twin album by that name released by the labels Warp and Sire 20 years ago last month. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. The Morley in this part of the narrative is Risa Morley, the woman who signed Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) to Sire:

The month after the Aphex Twin album was released, Kurt Cobain of the grunge band Nirvana killed himself. Cobain’s death was in part read as a sign that music welcomed as a respite from the excesses of rock would perhaps inevitably itself succumb to those same excesses. Morley told me a story about Aphex Twin having been intended to appear on the cover of a major British music magazine and the slot being cancelled to make room for Cobain’s obituary. While Warp was demolished, in her words, Aphex Twin was if anything relieved to keep stardom at arm’s length: “I just remember him being very weirdly happy that he was not going to be on the cover, in a twisted weird way.”

I sometimes sense an inter-genre feud between grunge and electronic music, both of which were enjoying particular attention in the mid-1990s, so I think it’s worth listening back to Nirvana’s first full-length album, Bleach, and recognizing in it an adherence to repetition, a near-mechanical fury, that is of a piece with the slower of bands like Sunn O))), Godflesh, and most directly Earth, the doom rock outfit headed by Cobain’s friend Dylan Carlson.

More on Selected Ambient Works Volume II at disquiet.com/saw2for33third.

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Even Waveforms Have Terroir

Liner notes I wrote for Dave Seidel's new album, ~60 Hz


Dave Seidel has released an album composed of sine waves, those near and about the ~60 Hz range. That’s the title of his album, ~60 Hz, and I was honored to be asked by him to write a liner note for the record’s release. The digital version went live today at irritablehedgehog.com, and CDs are for sale as well. The label, run by David D. McIntire, has released music by William Duckworth, Jürg Frey, Eva-Maria Houben, and Dennis Johnson, among others.

This is the music, streaming in full:

This is the text I wrote:

“The Waveforms in Your Neighborhood”

The operative information in the title is the tilde. The tilde means “sort of” or “nearly” or “in the neighborhood of.” What follows the tilde in the title are two digits and a pair of consonants, which collectively symbolize the neighborhood in question. What the “60Hz” refers to is a sine wave, categorically perhaps the simplest sound imaginable, a constant of equally balanced ebb and flow. The 60Hz does not merely refer to a sine wave. The 60Hz describes the sine wave succinctly. The contours of the sine wave are beside the point, because they are immutable, an eternal skatepark up and down and up that seems to have begun before time and that will continue after the heat death of the universe. What the 60Hz describes, however, is the nature of this exact sine wave, specifically what might more colloquially be referred to as its pace. The Hz in the title stands for the measurement Hertz, which is the number of wave cycles that occur in a single second. Thus, a 60Hz waveform cycles through 60 times in one single second.

60 per second of anything may signal speediness, but 60Hz proves quite lulling. The wave veers up and down, weaving sonic wool, a thick blanket of hazy warm noise that the ear succumbs to, and then the mind, and then the body. If the wave resembles the distant hum of a power line, that is because 60Hz is the standard frequency of the power infrastructure in the United States. If it does not sound like the whir of municipal undercurrent, that may be because you live elsewhere. Even waveforms have terroir.

The tilde in the title is the operative information because the tilde means that the sounds heard will, in fact, not stick to the 60Hz frequency. They will, instead, hover around 60Hz. What the little tilde means is that the listener will witness the resulting shifts and hedges, veering and layering, collisions and parallels as waveforms are added and set in contrast to each other. These contrasts will yield all manner of aural patterning.

In lesser hands, the patterns would have all the gee-whiz lab-coat charm of a 1950s stereo system vinyl test album. But these waves are not in lesser hands. They are in Dave Seidel’s hands. What we hear is the simplest sound form yielding myriad, tantalizing moiré patterns. Some of these patterns suggest the fervid activity of insectoid communication, others the humble drone of a mumbled mantra. There are pointilist percussive effects, and tones like nothing so much as a masterful solo organ recital. There are phase shifts like a Steve Reich violin piece, and torquing structures like an industrial rock band playing its third encore on the last night of a tour.

And there are echoes, of course, of science fiction. This is electronic music in the purest sense, electricity revealing itself as sound — science transmuted into art. One hears Bebe Barron and Louis Barron’s work on the Forbidden Planet soundtrack. One hears the note accrual inherent in the opening of the original Star Trek theme. One hears the hum of a lonesome space station while its inhabitants are deep in a timeless, cryogenic state.

For all the associative mind games, what is heard is simply a handful of notes taking the concept of minimalism at its word. The operative information in the title is the tilde, the tilde that itself rightfully resembles a tiny typographic sine wave.

Get the release at irritablehedgehog.com. More at Seidel’s website, mysterybear.net.

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Past Week at Twitter.com/Disquiet

  • These Divergent movie posters were designed to remind me what a role Robert Heinlein played in young-adult sci fi. ->
  • 5 years ago this week Max Neuhaus died and I first wrote about Diego Bernal's music: http://t.co/zCD4N5tyKQ. 15 years ago I wrote on "NP." ->
  • Arvo Pärt cover ("Fratres") attributed to A Winged Victory for the Sullen and ACME Ensemble: http://t.co/ff7kAZMk4v. ->
  • RT @hecanjog: First listen to SAWII after reading the first half of Marc Weidenbaum's SAWII book! #nowplaying ->
  • Fun is writing about a live event only to have someone who attended chime in in the comments: http://t.co/yZYl2PwJV1 ->
  • Hopeful that Alexandre Desplat's Godzilla score is more Syriana and less Monuments Men. ->
  • We should read JG Ballard's High Rise as San Francisco's One City One Book 2014. (Last year it was @doctorow's Little Brother.) ->
  • Yes, I paused the Guardians of the Galaxy trailer for the trailer in order to get a glimpse of the raccoon. ->
  • RIP, Bob Casale (61) of Devo: http://t.co/onRDD0Plgj ->
  • Tuesday noon siren in San Francisco: http://t.co/FrVmKgO1Mx ->
  • "A Rusty Obelisk Made Out of Angel Sighs": @editaurus has folks praise Aphex Twin SAW2 on its 20th: http://t.co/l3FEcCrkwh ->
  • Meant it more as a joke yesterday, but today just mean it: the 2014 One City One Book in San Francisco should be JG Ballard's High Rise. ->
  • My early experience of Devo was on tapes dubbed from vinyl by a friend. Years later I discovered the tapes were faster than the originals. ->
  • Read more »
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Aphex Twin SAWII Book in The Quietus, The Stranger, and More

Some recent coverage of my new book

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.

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Track by Track: Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II

All 25 posts in one handy place


What follows are links to 25 distinct posts, each about a different track from the album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which Aphex Twin released in 1994, and which I published a book about, two decades later in 2014, as part of the 33 1/3 series. I posted theses pieces in reverse order, from track 25 to track 1, in the 25 days leading up to the February 13, 2014, release of my book. This post serves to put them all in one place. Each entry includes streaming audio, alternate takes, and some initial track analysis drawn from my substantially more detailed research notes. With the exception of “Blue Calx,” the tracks are all untitled on the official release, but as in the book I employ the “fan” titles, derived from the album artwork, here:

1 “Cliffs”
2 “Radiator”
3 “Rhubarb”
4 “Hankie”
5 “Grass”
6 “Mould”
7 “Curtains”
8 “Blur”
9 “Weathered Stone”
10 “Tree”
11 “Domino”
12 “White Blur 1″
13 “Blue Calx”
14 “Parallel Stripes”
15 “Shiny Metal Rods”
16 “Grey Stripe”
17 “Z Twig”
18 “Window Sill”
19 “Stone in Focus”
20 “Hexagon”
21 “Lichen”
22 “Spots”
23 “Tassels”
24 “White Blur 2″
25 “Match Sticks”

Get the book at amazon.com (paperback and Kindle) or wherever 33 1/3 books are sold.

Thanks to boondesign.com for the sequential grid treatment of the album cover.

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