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.

tag: saw2for33third

Aphex Twin Details SAW2 Recordings

Anecdotes appear on the aphextwin.warp.net webstore

Aphex Twin recently debuted his own online shop, where he’s making available not only high-fidelity audio of past releases, but also candid insights into those recordings. The site is at aphextwin.warp.net. It’s been slowly accumulating his Warp releases, and even music from his own label, Rephlex. The store includes not only recordings released by Richard D. James under the name Aphex Twin, but also under such monikers as GAK, afx, Polygon Window, and the Tuss. And the releases aren’t merely archival. Included is an expanded version of the recent collection of experiments with the Korg Minilogue synth, on whose development James consulted.

In addition to the tracks themselves, streamable online and available for purchased download, there are occasional bits of information. Some of them are simply humorous (a demo for a Japanese extra on 1999’s Windowlicker is tagged “You should not drink and take Antibiotics”), and others more informative, or at least semi-informative (an extra track on 2014’s Syro is tagged “Missing track from Syro, didn’t make it for technical and personal reasons. Drums were made on FOUR customised mid-racked Pearl syncussions, thanks to Colin Fraser and Tony Allgood”).

The site has a mix of certitude and silliness that feels like Richard D. James’ hallmark. For individual tracks you don’t click on a “purchase” or “buy” link, for example; instead you click on a link that reads “Cherish.” On each page, there’s a different joke term for whether you buy the “lossless” or more standard 320 mbps version of an album (these include “No guilty conscience,” “Possess,” “Nab,” “Casket,” and “Part with money,” among others).

The audience for this information is often musicians more than just Aphex Twin listeners. A video was added for the Drukqs track “Vordhosbn,” showing its underlying software in action (the goings-on are detailed by David Abravanelat at cdm.link).

The site didn’t launch fully formed. There was initially a mention that Rephlex releases would show up, and eventually some began to. And it doesn’t appear simply to be a matter of accrual. Things are changing as well. When the site first launched there were little colorful tags next to the new tracks that were being added to various albums. Those extra tracks remain, but the icon callouts are gone.

And, fortunately, among the albums benefitting from liner notes is Selected Ambient Works Volume II, his landmark ambient album, about which I wrote a book in the 33 1/3 series, published in 2014. So far four of the tracks on the record have got little bits of additional info. The full 25 tracks are available for download, rather than the 23 or 24 that plagued discographies for years, but the discography confusion has also been added to, thanks to the appearance of a new, 26th track, an 11-minute-long piece titled “th1 [evnslower].”

Here are the Selected Ambient Works Volume II liner notes that have appeared thus far, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for additions as time passes:

Track 13: “Blue Calx”

Recorded in Linmiri [Lannerlog bedroom studio], probably the last track I ever recorded in that house, quite fitting really, end of that era. I made it when coming back to visit my parents in Cornwall after moving away to go to college to do a degree in microelectronic engineering, which I thankfully never finished, was so boring, always preferred teaching myself, so much more satisfying, letting your mind wander where it needs to go. I heard Derrick May pressed this up onto vinyl so he could DJ it, I wonder if that was true?

Track 19 (“side 5, track 2, omitted from CD’s”) — otherwise known as “Stone in Focus”:

This track has now thankfully been found and uploaded here, I was very worried it had been lost, very relieved*** It was not included on the original CD’s as there wasn’t enough room. I usually always give priority to the vinyl versions of all my releases as I never ever really liked CD’s much, think I would have liked CD’s a little bit more if you could put 90 mins on them, who decided they were to be 74 mins anyway? Thinking about this now I’d love to try and get Warp to do high quality chrome cassette versions of all my Warp musics, maybe even metal ones if possible. If I wait a year or so for this I could include all the extras on the cassettes as there would be plenty of room, would have to sign the tracks over to Warp first for a physical release, something I don’t have to do for this website but that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Track 22 — otherwise known as “Spots”

Someone I used to know, you know who you are, worked as a cleaner in a police station and kindly pinched me a police interview tape. It was with a woman who murdered her husband, it’s the background audio in this track.

Track 23 — otherwise known as “Tassels”

featuring an EMS synthi ‘a’, mk1, Studiomaster star mixer, recorded 184 Southgate road, 1st floor, London. Bought the synthi when I was about 19 from Robin wood at ems, Ladock, Cornwall. Saved all my money for it for a long time, one of the first synths I ever bought and I know that machine inside and out, magical piece of equipment, always felt like it was made specially for me.

Visit the Aphex Twin site at aphextwin.warp.net.

Also tagged / / Comment: 1 ]

5 Cassette Players Walk into an Aphex Twin Cover

A very warbly "Rhubarb"

The past week or so have been big news in Aphex Twin land, from the opening of his own digital superstore, at aphextwin.warp.net, packed with extra tracks and candid bits of liner notes, to a headlining gig at a Japanese music festival, and the subsequent inevitable price spike for a commemorative tape of the concert. Lost in the tumult was this little video cover of “Rhubarb,” the third track from the Selected Ambient Works Volume 2 album. In the video it’s being performed on the Crudman — well, on a quintet of Crudmen. The Crudman is an ingenious hack of a Walkman. The aftermarket technology allows the speed of the tape to be controlled as if it were a synthesizer module. Because the tapes in this video all have simply a sine wave tuned to C on them, the speed adjustment alters the note value of the audio emitted from the player. There are more details on the recording process at the Crudlabs YouTube channel, and at the crudlabs.org website, including (for the more gadget-literate audience) this breakdown of the device’s controls:

Also tagged , , / / Leave a comment ]

When Tats Met RDJ

A Korg leader and Aphex Twin talk synths, and share some new ambient recordings

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.”

Replies James:

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).

Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]

IDM and Its Discontents

Participating in Pitchfork's "top 50 IDM" poll

Pitchfork has published a list of “The 50 Best IDM Albums of All Time.” I participated in the voting, and wrote up three of the albums: Mira Calix’s One on One, which came it at 47; Plaid’s Not for Threes, 36; and Aphex Twin’s … I Care Because You Do, 13. Aphex Twin also topped the list, with Selected Ambient Works 85-92 coming in at number 1. These are my first Pitchfork bylines, though I’ve been written about on the site twice: Mark Richardson generously interviewed me about my Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works Volume II book, and my book was included in the site’s list of the 33 best books in the 33 1/3 series, as compiled by Stephen M. Deusner. I can’t link directly to the individual “IDM 50” reviews, but the Calix is on the first page, the Plaid on the second page, and the Aphex Twin on the penultimate page.

IDM is shorthand for “intelligent dance music,” and it played an influential role in my life. It’s on the IDM discussion boards that I made friends and participated during the early, proto-Internet 1990s in discussion of music that the music press often was unaware of, and I say that as someone who was at the time a full-time employee of the music press, working as an editor at Pulse! magazine, published by Tower Records. (It’s on an IDM discussion board that Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II’s tracks got their titles, as I recount in my book.)

I was delighted to be asked by Pitchfork to participate, and I should also note that I was conflicted. For one thing, I don’t give much credence to genre. Genre was a somewhat useful tool in the age of brick and mortar record stores, back when someone had to decide where to put Nina Simone (pop, jazz, jazz vocals, oldies). In our hypertextual present, genre is at best a flavor, one among many. A recording today can and should be tagged: situated at the nexus of an associative Venn diagram, not stuck in a genre box. Boxhead Ensemble’s Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks Its Back is country and it is ambient; Mason Bates’ The B-Sides is classical and it is electronic. I can count on one hand the number of musicians outside of hip-hop I’ve interviewed who expressed firm alignment with any specific genre. We should follow the musicians’ lead. I’m also not a big list-maker. I know people who make lists of everything, favorite films and favorite books and so forth, but that’s just not how my brain works. All of which said, it’s not a coincidence that after several years of not feeling inclined to produce top 10 lists at the end of the year I suddenly this past December made several such lists. It was, indeed, my participation in the email discussion for the Pitchfork IDM list that convinced me that, in essence, if you don’t make lists, someone else will.

The way the Pitchfork process worked was that a bunch of invited critics were asked to help flesh out a sizable collection IDM albums for consideration. We discussed these via email. Then we filled out our own ballots, selecting a subset of the complete set (we were allowed to list up to 50 albums, and mine felt complete at 33). Math and the Pitchfork editors’ inclinations produced the final 50.

I think my ballot was probably among the more conservative submitted. One wise participant described IDM as more of a period than a genre. After I flirted with a far wider aesthetic net, certain constraints got me to 33 entries. I stuck in the end to a working definition I posted to the discussion list: IDM: A genre of electronic music that foregrounds beats in the exploration of the arrhythmic, abstract potential of hardware and software, often but not exclusively tools originally designed with dance music in mind. Touchstones include chaos, entropy, digital decay, and technological intentionality.

As I thought through the material, I kept coming back around to the distinction between “bebop” and “hard bop,” between music that was explicitly challenging to its audience, and music that built on the codified understanding of bebop and then layered in something more soulful, more r&b, more, for lack of a better word, “pop.” A “best bebop” list isn’t going to include hard bop, even hard bop by people who earlier on recorded bebop, and my “best IDM” list didn’t include whatever the equivalent of “IDM hard bop” is, or “IDM pop” for that matter. That explains in part the absence of more contemporary acts.

In addition, there were a lot of albums tossed around that sound like techno or dub (or dub techno, or minimal techno) or microsound to me. If it sounded prominently and consistently like those, all I could think was, “Well if there’s going to be a best techno or best dub or best microsound list someday, why include this here?” Same for trip-hop, and for (instrumental) hip-hop. I’d love to have included early Kit Clayton, but in the end it sounds like great dub techno to me, as does so much Monolake, and even a lot of Sun Electric for that matter. I love Prefuse 73, but he’s somewhere in the post-trip-hop/proto-EDM realm, like Flying Lotus, with a lot of instrumental hip-hop in there. Even Prefuse’s One Word Extinguisher doesn’t strike me as IDM. (Note that I was considerably outvoted: Both One Word Extinguisher and Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles made the final top 50.)

As the discussion proceeded, we all added records to the pool. Among others I added Mouse on Mars’ Iaora Tahiti, Bedouin Ascent’s Science, Art, and Ritual, Matmos’ Matmos, Blectum from Blechdom’s’ De Snaunted Haus, Bogdan Raczynski’s Boku Mo Wakaran, and Greg Davis’ Arbor. I’m disappointed in particular that Arbor didn’t make the final top 50.

There was a lot of music on the collective list — some of which made the final list — that I love, including records that effectively shaped the course of my life, in particular Wagon Christ’s Throbbing Pouch (truly a landmark recording), but that I didn’t include in my ballot because they lack the chaos and entropy that I see as inherent in IDM (the slurry quality of Throbbing Pouch has the entropy, but there’s zero chaos). I mean, if I included Throbbing Pouch, then why not Kid Koala, and Funki Porcini, and DJ Krush, and Pierre Bastien? They’re all of a piece, along with Prefuse 73 and Flying Lotus: politely swaggery, introspectively soulful, hip-hop-informed, cautiously dramatic. They’re funky wallflower music. But they’re not, to my narrow mind, IDM.

Instrumental hip-hop was a subject of discussion. Why not include the more experimental realms of that beatcraft, the logic went. I was thinking about the production of some earlier Destiny’s Child singles, the scattershot (in a good way) beats in particular of “Say My Name” and, syncopation heaven, “Bills Bills Bills.” I wasn’t sure how to fold into the IDM list-making the producers largely associated with hip-hop and r&b whom I’ve followed (er, collected) for their rhythmic invention (the 45 King, Just Blaze, Alchemist, Kev Brown, and of course Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Neptunes, DJ Muggs, and so forth). Various realms of more dance-oriented electronic music also popped up, and when someone mentioned Larry Heard’s Alien I responded that it feels more Tangerine Dreamy when it ventures out. I was also not enticed to include Björk’s Vespertine because of the remarkable scope of the album. There’s a lot of non-IDM on Vespertine, like “Undo” and “Sun in My Mouth,” among others. (And I declined as a guy who had an e.e. cummings quote in the high school yearbook.) I was disinclined to include Photek in the mix, as to me it’s simply great drum’n’bass — and in fact to think of it as IDM is to, in essence, accept drum’n’bass as being not particularly explorative. Likewise, I was utterly flummoxed on how to characterize Amon Tobin, very much to his credit, though tellingly he didn’t make the final 50.

While doing research for the project, I looked back on my recent employment of the term and recognized that I often say “IDM-ish,”seeing it as a flavor, not a constraint, or use it to characterize an earlier period in music production. In any case, the discussion ended, the ballots have been cast, and the full list is at pitchfork.com. The process was highly enjoyable, and I hope people enjoy the result.

This first appeared, in slightly different form (e.g., no streaming videos), in the January 24, 2017, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound”email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

Also tagged / / Leave a comment ]

“Avril 14th” from Above

A rendition by Josh Cohen

Back on January 14 I wrote about the Australian pianist Josh Cohen’s fantastic cover of Aphex Twin’s “Aisatasana,” the quiet closing track from the 2014 album Syro. Cohen captured not only the understated melody, but the way distinct silences frame and bisect that melody. Now he has put his nimble hands to a far more famous Aphex Twin piano work, “Avril 14th.” It’s a beautiful rendition, paced appropriately, to neither bliss it out nor rev it up. Cohen’s version hints at Erik Satie’s proto-minimalism as much as it does at mid-century (that is, mid-1900s) popular music. It’s parlor music: nostalgic, personal, touching. The real pleasure of the performance is the presentation. Like all of Cohen’s videos, it’s shot from above, his hands in full view, each of them playing its distinct part, the left doing its routinized duty while the right edges at various roles.

Video originally posted at Cohen’s YouTube page. More from him at joshcohenmusic.com. Cohen lives in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.

Also tagged , / / Leave a comment ]