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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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: The iTunes link is here: More on the episode at

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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

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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

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New Silence from Aphex Twin

The account of user18081971 has become a void.


At some point in the past 24 hours, the 260 some odd tracks in Aphex Twin’s 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

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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Slurred and Unscrewed: Aphex Twin Reworks Himself

Two self-revisions surface on his user18081971 account.


The “spotlight” feature on SoundCloud is how a given individual account can highlight tracks, raising up to five of them to the top of the account page. The spotlight feature can also hide new tracks in plain sight. If you pay attention regularly to a given account, you’ll often peek below the spotlight to see what is new. However, new tracks don’t appear at the top of the regular feed if they’re — well — already spotlighted.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying several new Aphex Twin tracks popped up recently on his account, in addition to the revised “Avril 14th” I mentioned earlier this month. In fact, perhaps my single favorite post-seclusion track is among the recent uploads. The track was part of the original Aphex Twin SoundCloud mother(up)load, back when he was disguised as user48736353001, before becoming user18081971. And then for awhile it disappeared, as his tracks are wont to do. Here it is:

What it is is Richard D. James playing his much loved, oft-sampled, movie-accompanying “Avril 14th” — originally on his 2001 album Drukqs — backwards. Now, there are backwards versions of many of James’ tracks, including all of Selected Ambient Works Volume II, floating around, especially on YouTube. Backward listening provides lots of insight, and not all of it Satanic. It gives the listener a sense of structure and tonality apart from the original. But this version isn’t simply “Avril 14th” reversed by a fan in Audacity. What it is is all the notes of “Avril 14th” played backwards in sequence, by Aphex Twin himself. The brief accompanying track note states:

[[tapedel] played & programmed customised Yamaha Disklavier Pro, Recorded To Nagra IVS 5″]

What’s funny about this distinction is that he goes so far as to make that the title of the track: “avril 14th, notes played backwards, not the audio.” And what results is unmistakably reminiscent of the original, but as if played with gloves on, the melody half-remembered. And it is absolutely beautiful. Music can be over-heard all too easily, and it’s remarkable how simply hearing the notes in reverse order provides comfortable proximity and yet the freshness of something somehow new.

Another recent Aphex/user18081971 highlight is “Th1 [evnslower].” It is just that, the track “Th1 [slo],” which appeared about nine months ago on the account, slurred and unscrewed: the original 6.5-minute drone stretched to nearly twice its length:

The original “Th1 [slo]” was part of the Selected Ambient Works Volume 3 beta playlist’s starter set that I first put together, and the “[evnslower]” edit has, of course, been added to the playlist, bringing the set to 14 tracks total:

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