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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Remembering Kurt Cobain (Feb. 20, 1967 — Apr. 5, 1994)

Grunge, drones, and fame

This is the last paragraph of the third chapter of my recently published 33 1/3 book Selected Ambient Works Volume II, about the Aphex Twin album by that name released by the labels Warp and Sire 20 years ago last month. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain. The Morley in this part of the narrative is Risa Morley, the woman who signed Aphex Twin (Richard D. James) to Sire:

The month after the Aphex Twin album was released, Kurt Cobain of the grunge band Nirvana killed himself. Cobain’s death was in part read as a sign that music welcomed as a respite from the excesses of rock would perhaps inevitably itself succumb to those same excesses. Morley told me a story about Aphex Twin having been intended to appear on the cover of a major British music magazine and the slot being cancelled to make room for Cobain’s obituary. While Warp was demolished, in her words, Aphex Twin was if anything relieved to keep stardom at arm’s length: “I just remember him being very weirdly happy that he was not going to be on the cover, in a twisted weird way.”

I sometimes sense an inter-genre feud between grunge and electronic music, both of which were enjoying particular attention in the mid-1990s, so I think it’s worth listening back to Nirvana’s first full-length album, Bleach, and recognizing in it an adherence to repetition, a near-mechanical fury, that is of a piece with the slower of bands like Sunn O))), Godflesh, and most directly Earth, the doom rock outfit headed by Cobain’s friend Dylan Carlson.

More on Selected Ambient Works Volume II at disquiet.com/saw2for33third.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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