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

Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

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The Aphex Blimp Heard Round the World

And slowing a Drukqs track to 33 1/3 from 45


Yesterday word spread of an Aphex Twin blimp floating over London, following up a report on the We Are the Music Makers message board back in June that Richard D. James had said “New shit is imminent.” It was WAtMM that had Kickstarter’d that Joyrex (re)release earlier this year, and the blimp serves to support the “imminent” assertion. People celebrated in various ways, and Twitter was alive with commentary, among it this X-Files meme-ified version of the blimp, courtesy of Audio Damage’s Chris Randall, shown up top. I had some fun, too, joking “First ever hot air balloon inflated with a Ventolin inhaler,” among other things.

And over on SoundCloud, Vapor Lanes uploaded something that had been a favorite tweak of his for years: slowing down “Vordhosbn” off the Drukqs album from 45 rpm to 33 1/3. The track retains its flexible percussive action, but slowed down it’s more readily relaxed into by the listener:

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/vaporlanes. Found thanks to a soundcloud.com/leberger repost.

And, yes, speaking of “33 1/3,” I wrote the 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, released earlier this year to mark the album’s 20th anniversary.

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My Aphex Twin Talk at CCRMA/Stanford

Full video from February 19, 2014 — plus techno.stanford.edu

The first talk I gave on my book Selected Ambient Works Volume II, in the 33 1/3 series, on the Aphex Twin album of that name was back on February 19 of this year, a few days after the book’s official release date. This is full video of that talk. It took place at Stanford University’s CCRMA, the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics:

One cool thing that came out of the event was the reviving of a URL that played an indirect but influential role in the history of the album. My book is as much about the cultural afterlife of Selected Ambient Works Volume II as it is about the album itself. Part of that afterlife took place online, with particular vitality on email discussion groups. The ones housed at Hyperreal.org were frequented by Greg Eden, whom I interviewed in the book, and who is the individual bearing primary responsibility for the words associated as track titles for the album (on which with one exception, the tracks are officially untitled). As background for the book, I interviewed Hyperreal.org founder Brian Behlendorf, who among other things explained to me that before Hyperreal got that name, it was running on “a dedicated box at the Medical Information Systems Group.” The URL for the boards was techno.stanford.edu. This was on a Sun Sparcstation 1+. The Hyperreal lists IDM@ and Ambient@ started on techno.stanford.edu in early 1993.

Speaking to the hometown crowd, I mentioned the techno.stanford.edu URL in my talk. Shortly after the event, Carr Wilkerson at CCRMA managed to get the URL — which had long since gone 404-error dormant — to redirect to the CCRMA home page.

Oh, and two facts to correct:

1: Toward the beginning I mention Jonathan Lethem’s entry in the 33 1/3 series, about the Talking Heads album Fear of Music. It is #86, not #89, in the series.

2: And very close to the end, in response to a question from the audience, I can’t recall the name of a sculptor whom John Cage compares his compositions to in his book Silence. The sculptor of wire works is Richard Lippold.

The video is housed at youtube.com. Original event listing at ccrma.stanford.edu.

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Two Disquiet Nights in Portland: May 7 + 8

Wednesday Disquiet Junto show + Thursday Aphex Twin reading/concert


I’m excited to travel to one of my favorite cities later this week. I get in on May 7, Wednesday, in time for a Disquiet Junto concert we’re having at Townshend’s Tea (2223 NE Alberta St), and then on Thursday I’ll be reading from my recent 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II at Powell’s on Hawthorne (3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd). As at the City Lights reading I did back on March 20, local musicians will be joining me at Powell’s on Hawthorne for the Aphex Twin reading.

Here’s the lineup for the Townshend’s Tea concert of Disquiet Junto participants. They will play pieces inspired by past Junto projects, and talk about their compositional and performance process. The event will begin at 8pm on May 7. There’s a Facebook event page for the Junto show. Carlson, I should note, is the developer of the iOS app Borderlands, one of the most popular apps among Disquiet Junto members.

  • Chris Carlson
  • Ted Laderas – the OO-Ray
  • Bob Phillips – Rawore
  • Keith Spears

And here’s the lineup of musicians assisting me at my Aphex Twin reading. The event will begin at 7:30pm on May 8. There’s a Facebook event page for the Aphex Twin 33 1/3 date.

  • Brumes
  • Ted Laderas – the OO-Ray
  • Marcus Fischer

And I’ll be in town until late in the day on Friday, so if anything interesting is going on, please let me know.

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The Virtuous Circle of Aphex Twin Fandom

An interview with Joyrex, whose WATMM forum rescued a lost Richard D. James album from 20 years ago


Last month, March 2014, marked the 20th anniversary of the release of the landmark 1994 Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. I wrote a book, also out last month, about that album, as part of the 33 1/3 series. A main thesis of my book is that the Aphex Twin album’s extensive cultural afterlife has significantly shaped our understanding of its music, has changed the way it sounds, how it is appreciated. Much of that post-release change is the result, I argue, of the role played by fans of the music. This process has taken time, but it began almost immediately upon the release of the album, when a member of an email mailing list about electronic music took it upon himself to give names to the tracks on Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Those tracks on the record are, with one exception, essentially title-less. That is, they have no “word names” but are instead associated with cryptic photographs. The responsible fan on the mailing list, whom I tracked down and interviewed for the book, recognized the images in the photos and assigned names to each of the tracks based on those photos. Those fan-determined track names stuck, and in fact are to this day readily disseminated by such systems as Gracenote, which populates media services with record-album track metadata.

And now, just a month after the Selected Ambient Works Volume II anniversary, again Aphex Twin fans have not only played a significant role in an album by Richard D. James, the British electronic musician behind the Aphex Twin mask — they have quite literally taken an unreleased album and made it commercially available for the first time. And the album in question dates from the same year as Selected Ambient Works Volume II: 1994.

The story has been widely covered in the past 48 hours or so, following the April 8 report on factmag.com, and what follows is an interview I conducted via email earlier today, April 10, with the individual behind the effort to make the record widely available. That person goes by the name Joyrex and he is the founder of WATMM.com, which takes its initials from the track “We Are the Music Makers” off Aphex Twin’s 1992 album Selected Ambient Works 85–92. The track samples Gene Wilder uttering the words of 19th-century author Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy in Mel Stuart’s film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, adapted from the Roald Dahl book. Like Richard D. James, O’Shaughnessy was a British citizen of Irish extraction. The movie came out in 1971, the same year that Richard D. James was born. (Joyrex takes that avatar name — also the name of a website he founded prior to WATMM — from a handful of recordings that Richard D. James has released under the name Caustic Window. He gave me the option of employing his given name here, but I’ve decided to stick with Joyrex.)

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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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