Q&A at 33 1/3 on Aphex Twin

An update on my Selected Ambient Works Volume II book-in-progress

The book series 33 1/3, published by Bloomsbury, has become a remarkable repository of unique thinking on popular music, and I’m proud to be hard at work on my own entry. I’m currently writing a 33 1/3 book about the Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary in a little over a year. Mine was among 18 books recently announced as the next slate of releases, and the publisher has begun posting short interviews with the various authors about their projects.

First up was Pete Astor, member of such bands as the Loft and the Weather Prophets, who is writing his book about the Voidoids’ Blank Generation. Both his subject and mine were released on the same label in the United States: Sire Records. Blank Generation came out in 1977, and the Aphex twin in 1994.

My 33 1/3 interview, the second in this series, recently went live at the publisher’s blog, 33third.blogspot.com. Each interviewee is given a similar slate of questions, such as what drew them to their subject, what the application process entailed, what other books in the series we’ve read, and so forth. Here is one such back and forth:

33 1/3: Name a lyric from the album you’re writing about that encapsulates either a) the album itself, b) your experience in hearing the album for the first time, or c) your experience writing about the album, so far.

MW: This is difficult to answer because there isn’t much in the manner of a lyric on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. It’s almost entirely instrumental, and to the extent that a voice is heard, it’s one that is muffled, clipped, edited, echoed until it serves an instrumental function—the voice becomes a sonic element, textural rather than textual, as the saying goes. To that extent, any such appearance here, like the semblance of a woman’s voice on the album’s opening track, encapsulates all three things you mention: One of the great benefits of a record with no words is how it doesn’t respond directly to your writing about it—it doesn’t purport to explain itself in the way that records that consist of words, such as a traditional rock and rap records, explain themselves. This is very enticing to me.

In the interview, I was asked about how I listen to music:

How do you listen to your music at home: vinyl, CD, or MP3? And could you tell us why?

I answered in brief in the published version, but this is a more thorough response that’s been on my mind:

I listen to generative sound applications, like Brian Eno’s recent Scape and Reality Jockey’s recently discontinued RJDJ, because of my fascination with the concept of generative sound, both from a compositional standpoint and as a means to confront the divide between consumer and performer that I mentioned in response to the previous question. Considerations of the development of generative sound — both as a practice and as an aesthetic — will play a role in this Aphex Twin book.

I have a cassette player. I’ve had it forever, and took it out of storage when the cassette resurgence was getting underway. I have a turntable, and I use it maybe once every week or two at this point, tops. I’ve had it for almost 20 years, and I need to replace it. I had three turntables until two years ago: the beautiful rosewood one I still own, plus a pair of Technics 1200s. Then my first child was born and certain things just had to be let go, so my Technics and mixer went to a nice coder from San Jose whom I met through Craigslist. I thought I’d miss my equipment, but I was never really a beat-matcher, per se, just someone who layered things, and I can do that well enough on my laptop. On occasion I do miss laying down two copies of the same piece of vinyl and endlessly moving back and forth between them, like the break in the instrumental version of “Don’t Feel Right” by the Roots. I may get a pair again in the distant future. I love playing with music on my iPad — including these generative apps I mention — but nothing in my experience has come close to that tactile quality. The iPad has produced other participatory pleasures, but not this one.

Anyhow, it was a pleasure to participate in the interview. It really helped get my brain going, as was my experience during other interview opportunities this past year at freemusicarchive.org, hilobrow.com, and soundcloud.com. I often interview myself (rhetorically speaking) as part of my writing process, and one of the things at this early stage of working on the Aphex Twin project is figuring out just what questions it is that I plan on attempting to answer in the book.

Read the 33 1/3 interview with me about my Aphex Twin book-in-progress at 33third.blogspot.com. Next up in the series is Darran Anderson talking about Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson.

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