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.

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25 Years of Selected Ambient Works Volume II

How the 1994 album prepared us for today

It’s now 25 years and a day since Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II came out. It was released on the Warp Records label following fast on a single, “On,” one that in no way laid the foundation in listeners’ ears — and, before that, two years earlier, had been Selected Ambient Works 85-92, which was far more foregrounded sonically.

There were other releases from Richard D. James in between — notably the full-length Surfing on Sine Waves, under another Aphex pseudonym, Polygon Window — that came closer, but SAWII was and remains its own quiet beast, with little precedent or subsequently in the works of Aphex Twin that approaches its emphasis on atmosphere and the subtle nuances of its rhythmic expression.

When RDJ resurfaced in 2014 after an extended quiet period, he uploaded hundreds of unreleased tracks to a variety of playful SoundCloud accounts, turning a new generation of listeners on to his deepest crates, and many of them into trainspotters. Still, few among those vast outtakes felt of a piece with Selected Ambient Works Volume II. The SoundCloud files confirmed a longstanding rumor of vast archives, and also further identified SAWII as a unique recording.

Another quarter-century gap from, say, 1955 to 1980 can be measured in various ways. From Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” to Queen’s “Queen Crazy Little Thing Called Love” it seems quite proximate — from the McGuire Sisters’ “Sincerely” to Kurtis Blow’s self-titled debut, considerably less so. The gap from 1994 to 2019 doesn’t feel as wide to me, but that no doubt has to do with me having been alive and a fully conscious adult for the duration. There may be less music by Aphex Twin that sounds akin to Selected Ambient Works Volume II, but there is considerably more music in general today that does than in 1994, not just music but more broadly a culture that reflects its rich interiority, its minimalist impetus, and its acoustic curiosity — from the sound design of filmed entertainment and video games, to the ubiquitous if rangy field come to be known as sound art, to the increasing personal attention we pay, individually, to our intimate sonic spaces.

In many ways Selected Ambient Works Volume II — building, of course, on its own decades-old influences — laid the groundwork for what sound sounds like in 2019. Here’s to another quarter century.

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Live Stream Aphex Twin Discussion March 11 (10am Pacific)

On Vivian Host's Peak Time show

Oh, yes, the 25th anniversary Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II is on March 7 — and on March 11, days later, at 10am Pacific time, I’ll be on Vivian Host’s Peak Time show (on Red Bull Radio) to extol its timeless virtues. You can bookmark this URL for the stream:

https://redbullradio.com/shows/peak-time/episodes/march-11-2019

Here’s Peak Time’s description of the episode:

Music critic and journalist Marc Weidenbaum calls up to discuss this quarter-century anniversary of this seminal release.

Richard D. James AKA Aphex Twin is undeniably one of the most important figures in modern electronic music. His IDM and ambient techno productions of the early 90’s helped shape a new era of music and he continues to influence sounds of today. This year, his sophomore album Selected Ambient Works, Vol II, a record that dazzled critics and fans with its indefinable aesthetic and was touted for reinvigorating ambient music, turns 25. On today’s show, Vivian will speak with a leading expert and the author the 33 1/3 on this album, the music critic Marc Weidenbaum.

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The Walls of Solomon’s Delicatessen

Memories of Tower Records

There’s now a Solomon’s Delicatessen in Davis, California, named in honor of Russ Solomon, the legendary founder of Tower Records. I was an editor on Tower’s magazines — Pulse!; Classical Pulse!, which I co-founded with the opera critic Robert Levine; and epulse, the email newsletter that I founded in the paleolithic days of 1994 and that ran for a decade — from 1989 to 1996, and then continued in a freelance capacity until 2004, when it all came to an end in the company’s bankruptcy. A friend texted me this afternoon from the deli with this photo (also on his Instagram account) of the wall, which is plastered with old Pulse! covers, many of which stories I wrote (White Zombie, among them), and many more of which I edited (that Ministry one, for example, written by the great science fiction novelist Richard Kadrey). I’m pretty sure the Aphex Twin story listed on the Pavement cover is the one I did that decades later led to my 33 1/3 book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, but I’ll have to look back, as I don’t recall which issue it was.

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Aphex Twin (in Japan)

What appears to be my book's Japanese translation

I do believe this may be the cover of the upcoming Japanese translation of my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin’s landmark album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Having spent much of the early 2000s working in manga, which is to say helping shepherd the translation into English of Japanese books, I’d say it’s nice to finally be sending a book back in the opposite direction.

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Stasis Report: Hecker ✚ Sprague ✚ Classic AFX

Four new tracks and one Aphex Twin favorite newly added to the ambient playlist on Spotify and Google Play Music as of September 30, 2018

The latest update to my Stasis Report ambient-music playlist, on Spotify and Google Play Music. The following five tracks were added on Sunday, September 30. Four of the tracks are new, and one is a classic from almost a quarter century ago:

✚ “Synth Two” off the new Emily A. Sprague album, Mount Vision: mlesprg.bandcamp.com. I wrote a bit about its title track during its prerelease. (This track wasn’t initially on the Google Play Music version of Stasis Report because the album wasn’t, but eventually it popped up.)

✚ “Mend,” the closing track from Care, the new album from Klara Lewis and Simon Fisher Turner on Editions Mego: editionsmego.com, soundcloud.com/editionsmego.

✚ “Through the City,” the track by Marcus Fischer on the new Field Works collaborative album, Pogue’s Run: fieldworks.bandcamp.com.

✚ “Is a Rose Petal of the Dying Crimson Light” off the new Tim Hecker album, Konoyo, on the Kranky label: timhecker.bandcamp.com.

✚ As of this installment of the Stasis Report, I’m going to start introducing one archival track most weeks, starting with “Tree,” the 10th track on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 from Aphex Twin. The album was originally released in 1994, and is the subject of my 2014 book in the 33 1/3 series: aphextwin.warp.net

Some previous Stasis Report tracks were removed to make room for these, keeping the playlist length to roughly two hours. Those retired tracks (by Anna Meredith, Robert Rich, Olafur Arnalds, Simon Stalenhag, Mary Lattimore, Ellen Arkbro, Mark Van Hoen) are now in the Stasis Archives playlist (currently only on Spotify).

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