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.

Monthly Archives: January 2014

Insects as Role Models

Feral, chitinous beats

Insectoid activity is a common source of raw material and inspiration for electronic music, notably in the form of cicada whirring. For Dave Keifer, who goes by Cagey House, it’s a particularly feral, anxious kind of pest motion that provides a role model. His “January Insects” sounds like a nature film in time-lapse, fast-forward mode, a cacophony on the order of Conlon Nancarrow’s most outlandish player-piano work, with the whiz-bang joy of a Carl Stalling invention.

Track posted for free download at soundcloud.com/acts-of-silence. Found via the always excellent actsofsilence.com. Get the full set for free download at archive.org. More from the releasing netlabel at mavrecords.webs.com.

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

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

SAWII16

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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Aphex Twin SAW2 Countdown: Track 18 (“Windowsill”)

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

SAWII17

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.

Apparently this “pre-ordering the book” thing means you get the book before it comes out (officially February 13, 2014), at least in physical form. I’m enjoying seeing these on Twitter and Instagram, and will continue to share them here on occasion:

As I mention in the book, the track sounds like nothing so much as how one might recall the theme song to the X-Files, by composer Mark Snow, if one had not heard it in a while. That TV show debuted less than a year before the album’s release, and was the leading pop-culture purveyor of alien life during its time, before science fiction gained the ubiquity it has in the entertainment industry today. That’s already quoting more from the book than I’ve intended to in these track rundowns, but this is a track I go into in more depth than some others in the book. Suffice to say, its dub minimalism brings to mind both colonial source material and the work of Steve Reich.

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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Pop Glitch Is No Glitch

And that isn't a bad thing — witness Ed Apollo

A pop electronica track built of stuttering glitchy goodness says much about the prevalence of glitch, the way the once disruptive musical approach has been subsumed into everyday, general-interest listening. It also says a lot about the whole idea of disruption in general. One day’s disruption is the next’s foundation. It is all less a matter of the revolution being televised as it is of the revolution become a television mini-series. Yesterday’s ruptures become today’s comfort — or, more to the point: today’s points of cultural-geographic reference. Ed Apollo’s “Breathing Lessons” is instrumental electronic pop in which the castanets are virtual things, forged from snippets of tossed aside older tunes; the vocals are fractured like a splintered mirror. True to glitch’s origins, it all still sounds like a broken CD player. The sense is reinforced by the occasional guitar, which sounds like it’s playing alongside the busted stereo. The difference may be that when glitch originated, it was finding errors inherent in then state-of-the-art audio technology. Now, the CD is itself antiquated: no one expects it to work particularly well; its failings have been well documented. (Perfect sound forever? Please.) There is no telegraphed tsuris over data loss, no commentary on the fracturing of media, no concern about the diminishing presence of physical activity in culture production. Apollo’s “Breathing Lessons” is never anything less than refreshing. So, what does one call glitch when there is no glitch, when glitching has become a norm? Or does one just adjust one’s definition of glitch, and accept that commentary has become flavor?

Track originally posted for free download from the SoundCloud account of the Bad Panda Records label. More from Ed Apollo, who is based in Briston, England, at twitter.com/edbidgood and soundcloud.com/edapollo. There’s a edapollo.bandcamp.com account, but for the time being the cupboard is bare.

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Aphex Twin SAW2 Countdown: Track 19 (“Stone in Focus”)

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

SAWII18

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.

A slow swell over a metronome click. This is “Stone in Focus,” one of two Selected Ambient Works Volume II that are less than widely available, the other being “Hankie.” The whole track-listing thing gets complicated enough that I include a chart in the book, designed by Boon Design, same designer who handled the splendid 5×5 cover grid that accompanies these countdown entries. The metronome comes and goes, with a second hovering tone-as-melody making itself heard once the track is well underway. And that’s about it. It’s threadbare stuff, and all the more beautiful for its simplicity. That said, it makes up for in length what it lacks in density. At just over 10 minutes, “Stone in Focus” is longer than is any other track on the album save one, the penultimate “White Blur 2.” More than ten minutes of some waveforms and a click track — “Stone in Focus” is almost a punk of a bonus track, except again that it is so pleasing. It’s hard to think that someone’s pranking you when they’re helping you get to sleep.

By the way, while the track isn’t on the CD edition of Selected Ambient Works Volume II, that isn’t to say it wasn’t available in CD form. It appeared on a release from the Astralwerks label’s double album Ambience—The Third Dimension, released the same year. More on this, and its contribution to the humorous, murky consequences of the album’s title schema, in the book.

This is a cover, in which the metronome is more hinted at than present, and a melodic element, in the form of chords of chimes, is less ethereal than in the original. Still, it’s quite lovely:

Here it is slowed down:

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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