Aphex Twin @ 33 1/3 (2/5): The Wind Chime as Rhythm Machine

The second of five posts for the 33 1/3 website

The publisher of my Aphex Twin book, 33 1/3, an imprint of Bloomsbury, has invited me to write blog posts this week to note the book’s official publication on Thursday, February 13. The second of these five posts is up today: “The Wind Chime as Rhythm Machine.”

These are the first three paragraphs of the piece, a little less than half post’s total length:

If there is a single track that stands out to me as the core of my appreciation of Selected Ambient Works Volume II, it is arguably “White Blur 1,”around which much of the book’s first chapter is built. “White Blur 1” is a title attributed by fans, based on the photo associated with the specific track on the album’s inner sleeve. This is either track 11 or 12 of your copy, depending on your edition. Yes, Selected Ambient Works Volume II is, among many other things, a willful puzzle. Once puzzles are sorted out, though, they can get familiar quickly; once you figure out a Rubik’s Cube, it transforms magically from stress-inducer to a colorful stress-release ball with square edges: the inscrutable becomes comfortable.

This track in question often goes by an even more colloquial reference than even “White Blur I”: “The one with the wind chime.”You can hear it at the following YouTube post, in one of many uploaded versions, which tend to differ on what the accompanying imagery is (angry Aphex Twin face, pictures from nature, dark industrial equipment, etc.). In this case, the image is of actual wind chimes:

I won’t go into detail here about the intriguing quality of the wind chime as a rhythmic component. There’s plenty of detail in the book’s opening chapter (“There Is No Volume I,”which appears to be available in full at my book’s page on Google Books). In brief, the wind chime is a “generative”instrument. It is a system that is enacted, rather than a score that is followed linearly. For an ambient track to employ the wind chime is for it to do more than just use rhythm for texture; it’s to explore texture as rhythm, how something can feel like a rhythm yet not actually have a rhythm, at least not in the traditional sense of having a dependable, mappable beat.

Read the full piece at 333sound.com.

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