Aphex Twin SAW2 Countdown: Track 17 (“Z Twig”)

A track per day up through the February 13 release of my 33 1/3 book


cover-from-Bloomsbury-siteI am going to do this track-by-track countdown to the release, on February 13, 2014, the day prior to Valentine’s Day, of my book in the estimable 33 1/3 series. It is a love letter to Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which will mark its 20th anniversary this year, less than a month after my book’s publication. More on my Aphex Twin book at amazon.com and Bloomsbury.com. The plan is to do this countdown in the reverse order, from last track to first. For reference, an early draft of the introduction is online, as is the book’s seven-chapter table of contents. The book’s publisher posted an interview with me when I was midway through the writing process.

There is some irony to doing this countdown since the book is already shipping to folks who pre-ordered it via an online retailer such as Amazon, but the official date stands, and that’s the target — the end date — of this countdown, February 13. And for what it’s worth, while the physical copies are mailing now from retailers, the Kindle version won’t turn on until February 13. Still, the digital version costs less.

As I’ve noted on Twitter, this track-a-day approach is exactly the opposite of the book’s approach, which is a collection of interrelated, reporting-based essays.

At just over two minutes in length, the track “Z Twig” is the shortest on the album. Its brevity is balanced by good cheer. It is arguably the album’s most upbeat, quite far from the nervous-making ambiguousness that haunts much of the record.

There are undercurrents of tension, though. To begin with, there’s the very start of it: a blood-in-the-ear throb that quick subsides as the blippy grid of beats kicks in. There’s another round of dark tones that appears around three quarters of a minute in, when the beats — this is a track conceived almost entirely as a series of overlaid beats — momentarily play in harmonic dissonance with all those around them. This beat in question, lower and darker than the others, which tend between blissfully alert and vibrantly eager, moves a partial step away from the others, and the result is that sonic moiré that occurs when near likes come in close proximity. It’s the audio equivalent of an out-of-register print job, like when the Sunday comics are poorly reproduced and one or more of the layers of color evidence a small but noticeable shift.

Ultimately, “Z Twig” is a series of beats that intersect in two ways: there is the rhythm of the initial beats themselves, and the echo effect, borrowed from dub music, which sends out waves of vapor-trail rhythmic sequences that then all in turn interact with each other, ripples in a ghost pool where none of the expanding patterns actually affect each other directly, just are heard in context of each other.

Here is a reworked version by Wisp, who uploaded a handful of these to the Internet and was later signed to Rephlex, Aphex Twin’s own record label. More on Wisp in the book:

This is an extended version, edited together by a listener for the original wasn’t sufficient (“This has long been one of my favorite RDJ songs, but I always found myself wanting more. This is my attempt at fixing this problem. I am by no means a professional editor and this version is not perfect or seamless.”):

And here it is reversed:

More on my Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works Volume II book at amazon.com and Bloomsbury.com.

Thanks to boondesign.com for the sequential grid treatment of the album cover.

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