My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's 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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RIP, Other Music

Aphex Twin makes its top-100 sales chart.

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This white board shows the top 100 albums sold at the excellent record retailer Other Music in its 20 years of existence in downtown Manhattan. The store shuts this week, on June 25, and the board was posted commemoratively at the website brooklynvegan.com yesterday with some light annotation. I first saw the picture when Amon Tobin tweeted about it, saying, “Peace out Other Music. There will never be another store that can move over 1000 copies of an Amon Tobin record.” There’s only one Aphex Twin record on the board, and while the photo cuts off, it appears to be Selected Ambient Works Volume 2. All it says is “Ambient” with what looks like the “2” truncated mid-numeral (a reading confirmed by that Brooklyn Vegan post).

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When Bloomsbury published my 33 1/3 book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 in 2014, one bit of feedback that confused me was from people who couldn’t understand why I hadn’t written instead about the earlier Selected Ambient Works, or the album titled Richard D. James Album, or another of his releases. My response was usually along the lines of “I wrote about this record because it’s the record that captured my imagination.” What interested me about the Other Music board is that no other Aphex Twin record made the list — not only did Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 appear on the top 100, it was the only Aphex record to make that cutoff. As the discussion at Brooklyn Vegan makes clear, Other Music had its own take on culture (“OM was more DJ Shadow or … J. Dilla than the Beasties,” writes Bill Pearis). While consumers were free to buy what they wanted at the store, the store in various ways shaped the tastes of the people who shopped there.

The store was also, in turn, shaped by time. Other Music’s history closely parallels Disquiet.com’s. It launched in 1995, a year before Disquiet.com did, and it was right around the corner from Tower Records. I was still an editor at the Pulse! music magazines published by Tower in 1995 — I joined the company in 1989 and left in 1996, a decision that led me to start Disquiet.com, which turns 20 on December 13, 2016. Tower was based in West Sacramento, and I lived alternately in Davis and Sacramento during my tenure. I’d moved to California from Brooklyn in 1989 to take the job. Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 was released in 1994, a year before Other Music opened.

The culture of a record store, the way you learn about music, is something that online retailers (including streaming services) have failed so far to emulate particularly well. Rdio probably came closest among the streaming companies, and it still went out of business. When you are in a physical record store, you learn from the room, watching what others buy, conversing with clerks, reading short reviews, listening to what’s playing and asking about it. Other Music was a valuable one-room schoolhouse, as record-learning goes. Up until Tower Records closed down, whenever I went back to New York to attend a Bang on a Can festival or interview a musician, or meet with record labels, Other Music was always a stop. It felt a bit like cheating to walk across the street from Tower, but the cheating was always in service of the magazines’ coverage.

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Why We Listen

I talk with Marc Kate about surface noise, classical motifs, and the reversal of Aphex Twin

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Major thanks to Marc Kate of the Why We Listen podcast for having included me in its ever growing catalog of conversations. My entry, released a few days ago, is the 35th in Kate’s Why We Listen series. Previous participants include many folks I admire, including Morgan Packard, Richard Chartier, Cara Rose DeFabio, Erik Davis, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Holly Herndon, Leyland Kirby, Bob Ostertag, Geeta Dayal, and Keith Hennessy.

For each episode of Why We Listen, Kate asks the guest to bring three pieces of music, and then you sit in his studio and listen to them together and talk about them. I selected a piece of turntablism sound art by Maria Chavez, “Kids- TRIAL 18 (Unfinished),” a work of classical minimalism by Madeleine Cocolas, “I Can See You Whisper,” and an Aphex Twin rarity “Avril 14th reversed music not audio.”

A direct link to the MP3 file is here: whywelisten.marckate.com. The iTunes link is here: itunes.apple.com. More on the episode at whywelisten.wordpress.com.

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Aphex Twin Holiday Treat

The freely downloadable track “pianopkupt1 [norm]” appears via user18081971.

With the cheerful and characteristically gobbledygook sign off “spladgyklax,” Aphex Twin yesterday posted, as a holiday gift, a freely downloadable percussive little piece titled “pianopkupt1 [norm].” Accompanying it is this short message: “thanks for all your lush messages on here and the PM’s.” At least the track was there as of this typing, which I’ve set to post early on Friday, California time. Tracks have been coming and going on his slightly concealed, pseudonymous user18081971 account for months now. At one point there were more than 250 tracks, and then the cupboard was suddenly bare, and in recent weeks some older tracks have begun to reappear, along with some new ones, like “pianopkupt1 [norm].” (This past Monday, the 21st, I happened, around 4:30pm California time, to see all 269 tracks listed as available, and then a few minutes later they were gone, reduced to 9. As of today there are 10.) Of course, “new” is a qualified term, as much of the music Aphex Twin has been posting as user18081971 appears to be archival material, providing peeks into his process and alternate takes on familiar music, like “Avril 14th” and aspects of the Selected Ambient Works Volume II album. The newly arrived “pianopkupt1 [norm]” track has no year associated with it. It’s possible that the “pkupt” in the title refers to the use of pickups inside a piano, hence the exceptionally echoey sound of the keys. (Update 2015.12.27: pickup theory confirmed in comments below.) The continuum between the evident piano and the more neutral beats is a gentle reminder that the piano is, in essence, a well-tuned and mechanically complicated percussion instrument.

Track originally posted to soundcloud.com/user18081971.

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Hide and Seek with Aphex Twin

A trio of Selected Ambient Works Volume II–era tracks surface.

Richard D. James had, briefly, emptied out his alter-ego user18081971 SoundCloud account, but he’s been slowly turning tracks back on (their backdates remain, suggesting he isn’t deleting tracks, just turing them private, as part of an ongoing game of sonic hide and seek), and better yet uploading new ones. New old ones, that is, as the user18081971 account has consistently provided a peek into his archive — an archive long the subject of speculation and electronica myth.

What’s great about the recent haul is that much of it relates to his classic Selected Ambient Works Volume II album. The track “harmonium” is an alternate take of “Radiator,” or track 2 off SAW2, the see-saw melody augmented by an understated beat and some pneumatic, dubby white noise:

And “harmonicom 13” is another take on “Radiator,” even more beat-heavy than “harmonicom”:

The track “modal 10” is a variation — a fairly light one — on “Domino,” the bouncy penultimate track on side one of the two-sided version of the album.

It’s worth noting that all three tracks are the same length or within a couple seconds of the length of the originals. Tracks first posted at soundcloud.com/user18081971.

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New Silence from Aphex Twin

The account of user18081971 has become a void.

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At some point in the past 24 hours, the 260 some odd tracks in Aphex Twin’s soundcloud.com/user18081971 have gone missing. In the past he’s deleted and re-added them, so they may show up again.

Before he had the user18081971 account, whose seemingly generic numerals in fact represent his birthday, he used the account user48736353001. That account went blank in advance of the tracks appearing under the user name user18081971.

There’s a detailed spreadsheet of the tracks associated with the account, via a Reddit user. The spreadsheet includes the brief commentary that Aphex Twin posted in the bio field for the account. Among these were political references, shoutouts to listeners, and a brief notice about the recent death of visual artist Paul Laffoley.

For the time being this development means that the Selected Ambient Works Volume 3 beta playlist I have been developing is now blank. I may be able to recreate it based on YouTube re-postings of the audio.

There remain six tracks at soundcloud.com/richarddjames.

Update (November 26, 2015): One thing that does remain at the user18081971 account is a collection of likes, at this count 32, ranging from a µ-Ziq track dating back to 1993 to a recording of Nikola Bašić’s sea organ in Zadar, Croatia, the latter of which has achieved 2.7 million listens.

Update (November 28, 2015): And a few days later, the account is no longer empty. Back on the page is a track whose purpose is for him to ask people to post links to their own music. This track clearly isn’t new. It must have been made private and then brought back, because it has comments going back weeks.

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