Happy “Avril 14th”

One of the dependably best days of the year

Today is, hands down, one of the dependably best days of the year for electronic music fans. It’s up there with March 3 and August 8 when, respectively, the Roland TB-303 Bass Line and Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer get their annual shout-outs in the form of fan-friendly social media videos and producer-ready sample packs. 

The irony for music fans in the United States is that the hassle of filing one’s taxes each year aligns with a gift that keeps on giving: Aphex Twin’s song “Avril 14th.” The solo instrumental first appeared on the Aphex Twin album Drukqs, released back in 2001. Roughly on its 20th anniversary, back in 2021, Eric Ducker in the New York Times (gift link, no paywall) surveyed the track that had become a quiet phenomenon, noting recordings by Kelly Moran, Alarm Will Sound, and Martin Jacoby, among others, as well as sampling by Kanye West, and the track’s deployment by music supervisors for film. 

Each year, musicians of all stripes take stabs at “Avril 14th,” which sounds a bit like if Erik Satie were in an especially sweet mood. While it’s popular with pianists and acoustic guitarists, the instrumentation and arrangements of these covers vary widely. There are countless renditions out there, including Tamara Young on harp, Will Van Horn on pedal steel, and the vibraphone duo of Robby Bowen and Adam Holmes.

In recent weeks, as the eponymous date approached, more versions arrived, including one like an 8-bit video game; an expansive arrangement by Chamomile Crow for celeste, guitar, upright bass, and various synthesizers; Holger Lauritsen on concertina; and Remy van Kesteren on harp.

This activity isn’t unique to YouTube. There’s a Gameboy tracker cover on Instagram and a mbira/kalimba one on TikTok. One of my favorite variations was posted years ago on SoundCloud by Aphex Twin himself: “notes played backwards, not the audio.”

Not surprisingly, music equipment companies have sorted out a means to piggyback on this annual event. Ben Wilson, the prolific YouTube synthesizer personality who goes by the name DivKid, today released an overdubbed rendition of “Avril 14th” on the newly announced Cascadia synthesizer, made by the company Intellijel, which sponsored the video. (I own several pieces of Intellijel equipment, including a case. Good stuff.) That track is just two minutes long. If you have 12 more minutes, you can watch a detailed breakdown by DivKid of the synthesizer patch. 

And if that isn’t enough “Avril 14th” for you, you can read my 2021 interview with the classical guitarist Simon Farintosh about his efforts to commit a faithful transcription. As Farintosh noted, the original Drukqs version wasn’t (reportedly) played on a piano, per se: “Richard recorded this song on a Disklavier, a type of mechanised player piano, and there are moments which could challenge even the most competent pianist, if played note-for-note.”

Above I link to numerous different versions. I decided, in the interest of simplicity, to only embed one. This is Stephen Newhouse’s lovely arrangement for music box, which has accrued nearly a quarter of a million views on YouTube in the past dozen years. (Newhouse politely includes a link from his video to someone who had done the same two years prior.)

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