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.)