A conversation appeared online this week between an esteemed Japanese engineer of musical equipment and a beloved British musician who exploits that equipment to its unanticipated ends. The engineer is Tatsuya “Tats” Takahashi, who recently stepped down from a senior role at Korg, the Japanese instrument manufacturer. The musician is Aphex Twin, born Richard D. James, who returned to active public duty in 2014 after a long quiet period. The discussion might have been between one person fading out and another person enjoying a highly mediagenic resurgence. But career matters play virtually no role in the lengthy discussion. Instead it is two men well into life geeking out in public. It reads more like something we’re eavesdropping on that it does like something initially intended for public consumption. They dive deep, quickly, into matters that are certainly esoteric to the general public: microtuning agency, hardware economics, aftermarket software, 440 Hz politics, and polyhedra synaesthesia, just to name a few of the subjects.
The full piece, published warp.net, the website of Aphex Twin’s record label, is very much worth a read. One major topic in the article is the Monologue, a monophonic synthesizer recently introduced by Korg. At the time of its release, about a year ago, news broke that Aphex Twin had consulted on its development. In this new conversation, Takahashi and James talk a lot about the microtuning that the latter inspired the former to add as a feature. Says Takahashi at one point:
“Well, my initial impression was that microtuning is a really niche thing that wouldn’t be needed for a mass market synth, especially a monophonic one, but if you try shifting the tuning while running a sequence, you can hear that it gives it another dimension even if it’s subtle. I’m not super-sensitive to pitch or anything, but you can still hear it change. To me, it feels like casting light on a rough surface and seeing different patterns as you move the light.”
Yep, on a monophonic instrument, what you just described will be more pronounced if you use a delay with plenty of feedback or reverb, so you can hear the differently tuned notes overlap each other.
As if the interview wasn’t enough of a treat, Korg uploaded to its SoundCloud account six tracks that Aphex Twin made with its equipment. Five of the tracks are deeply ambient, some of them quite reminiscent of the great Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 album, which Aphex Twin mentions briefly at one point in the discussion, again in reference to microtuning:
I was always interested in sound and how it affected me, especially the tuning. It wasn’t until my Selected Ambient Works Vol. II album that I actually made my own full custom tunings, although there were a few scattered things before that.
The sixth of the new tracks is something of a banger, so I excluded it when adding the five others, which are suitable for background listening, to my longstanding playlist, Selected Ambient Works 3 (beta). The list initially was comprised of a dozen or so tracks Aphex Twin uploaded to SoundCloud when he renewed his public activities back in 2014. Most of those tracks have since gone offline, but I add to the playlist occasionally, such as now, when new ambient Aphex Twin audio surfaces.
Read the full article at warp.net. Listen to Selected Ambient Works 3 (beta) at my SoundCloud account. And, of course, consider reading my 33 1/3 book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 (amazon.com, bloomsbury.com, pitchfork.com).