RNBO 4 Max Teaser

Something new from Tom Hall and Cycling '74

Not sure what Tom Hall has planned for Cycling ’74, makers of the great visual programming tool Max, but it appears (per synthtopia.com) to be something called RNBO (twitter.com/rnbo74). I was pleased when Rupert Lally pointed out to me that my Aphex Twin book on the album Selected Ambient Works Volume II is featured in this teaser video.

Just as a side note, about 14 years ago I took a job on a side street — really more of an alley — in SoMa here in San Francisco, and one day I realized that the offices of Cycling ’74 were right across the way, though it turned out that was mostly for the sales team, as everyone else worked remotely. Cycling ’74 has always been ahead of the times.

twitter.com/disquiet: Aphex Notes, Emoji Fatigue, Gibson Cosplay

From the past week

I do this manually each Saturday, collating most of the tweets I made the past week at twitter.com/disquiet, which I think of as my public notebook. Some tweets pop up in expanded form or otherwise on Disquiet.com sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud. This isn’t a full accounting. Often there are, for example, conversations on Twitter that don’t really make as much sense out of the context of Twitter itself.

▰ This is the way.

▰ I use multiple communication systems and I have to translate between them based on system emoji vocabulary. Twitter: two options, heart or not. Slack: a broad range. Facebook: a range I rarely employ. Messages: usually just heart or thumb. The emotional translation can be tiring.

▰ Some of the best This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet) material originates with readers. Thanks to Mike Rhode, Alan Bland, and Anne Bell for some of the items in this past week’s issue.

▰ My computational devices all currently do William Gibson cosplay:

Laptop: Maas Biolabs
Kindle: Cyberdeck
Tablet: Peripheral Phone: Count Zero

▰ One could do worse than to have a reader like Łukasz Langa share their notes after reading your book, as he did with my 33 1/3 book on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol II. Here’s just one segment.

Also: chapter breakdowns, quotes, personal reminiscences: lukasz.langa.pl.

Marking the 30th Anniversary of Selected Ambient Works 85-92

It was a pleasure to have been interviewed my Ed Power for his independent.co.uk article about the 30th anniversary of Aphex Twin’s 1992 album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92:

“There was little that sounded like either record that came out much prior to them, especially Volume II. When we listen to them, not only do we hear them, but we hear an Ur-text for so much that followed,” says writer, critic and ambient music expert Marc Weidenbaum, who wrote about Selected Ambient Works Volume II for Bloomsbury’s 33⅓ series of short books about landmark records. “They resonate with listeners today because we sense so much of their impact on today’s music.”

Power also spoke with Paul Nicholson, the designer of Aphex Twin’s logo; Neil Mason, editor of Electronic Sound; and Aaron Kent, poet and founder of publisher Broken Sleep Books.

There was quite a bit more to our correspondence on the topic, so I thought I’d share my other thoughts here, responding to questions from Power. This is lightly edited from what I initially wrote in my email. We discussed both 85-92 and Volume II.

On whether Richard D. James’ rural upbringing had an influence on his music: I can’t imagine that it didn’t. I think being in a fairly remote place lends one to needing to entertain oneself and one’s peers. I’m a city mouse myself, so I’m prone to thinking that urban ghosts are no less interesting than are their country cousins, but perhaps part of the attraction for me to this music is its expression of a perspective alien to my own.

On the emotional content of these early recordings: For a long time, my emotional response to Selected Ambient Works Volume II was somewhat muted. The music was so beautiful, and when it first came out, so mysterious, so murky and confusing, that my appreciation of it was much more about admiring it than feeling something from it. Over time, I came to get senses of wistfulness, nostalgia, despair, and longing from it, and once in a while even joy and abandon. That came in time. When I was researching the book, one of the biggest surprises I found was how many people found the music to be scary, haunting. I understood that to a degree, but the sounds were so beautiful that the album’s beauty kept the sense of foreboding at bay for me. Apparently, though, not for everyone.

The challenges I faced when writing my book about the sequel album, Selected Ambient Works Volume II:

I only spoke with James once, when I interviewed him on the occasion of his self-titled album back in the mid-1990s. I was warned in advance, even by his record company, not to get my hopes up, that he was (and this is the word repeated by many) “difficult.” At the appointed time, the phone line connected, we confirmed we were each other, and … then the line went dead. I thought, “My god, it’s even worse than I’d been warned.” And then immediately he rang back and apologized. Turned out he’d accidentally dropped the phone or something. We went on to have a very nice call. He was totally clear-headed and plainspoken, and answered every question (very much as you describe in your question). There was no grandiose ego, no obfuscation, nothing cryptic. As for when I wrote the book, it wasn’t so much a challenge that I didn’t get to interview him specifically for the book so much as that I didn’t know if I’d get to interview him, so the whole time I wrote it, I had to keep in mind that at some point he might suddenly become available, which didn’t happen.

The year my book came out was an interesting one. It was 2014, the 20th anniversary of Selected Ambient Works Volume II. In the spring of that year, when the book came out, Aphex Twin was still largely spoken about in the past tense. That’s the world into which my book was released. It had been over a dozen years since his last album, Drukqs, and longer still since his last single, “Windowlicker.” But later that year, the blimp famously appeared over London right before his birthday, and then he came back. So I wrote the book toward the end of his extended quiet period, as it turned out.

When I set out to propose the book, which was for the 33 1/3 series published by Bloomsbury, I knew I’d need to write about a record that I could listen to endlessly. I’m not a historian. I’m not a writer about celebrities. I think in terms of critical essays, musical analysis, culture. This meant I wouldn’t be writing about him so much as I’d be writing from about the record: culturally, aesthetically. Whatever record I proposed to 33 1/3 was something I had to be able to listen to on repeat for a year, which is what I did. I’d once previously proposed a different book to the 33 1/3 series, the debut album from Latin Playboys, years earlier, but that wasn’t accepted by the publisher. This time around, I chose another inventive, experimental, intimate album. I think the main thing I took away from the whole process of researching and writing the book was how different people’s appreciation of the album can be, and how much cultural activity occurred in its wake (appropriation for movie scoring, discussion in then nascent online discussion forums, dissection by classical composers). When I started writing the book, a lot of people asked if I could write that much about a record that “didn’t even have any lyrics.” The book, as it turned out, could easily have been twice as long, if not longer.

Disquiet.com 25th Anniversary Countdown (8 of 13): Aphex Twin Interview

An archival ambient advent calendar from December 1st – 13th, 2021

It’s day 8 of the 13-day countdown to Disquiet.com’s 25th anniversary (that’s 25 as in years). Who am I kidding, like I’m gonna do this and not include an interview with Richard D. James, aka Caustic Window, aka Aphex Twin? We spoke in 1996 in advance of his eponymous(ish) LP, The Richard D. James Album. The purpose was an article I was writing for Pulse! magazine, the Tower Records publication. I had recently left Tower employment to move to San Francisco for a new job, living in “corporate housing” (aka: shared room in a vacated home) while trying to find my own apartment.

Just as a side note, finding an apartment in SF in 1996 was difficult. The only reason it worked out was a realtor happened, per chance, to have been part of a classical ensemble I liked. We got to talking, and the realtor tipped me off to a Richmond District opening coming up. There was a long line for that apartment but I knew enough about the it to make a decision without seeing it in its entirety. I still remember someone shouldering past me in a rush down the narrow hallway. Lived there until 1999, when I moved to New Orleans. Back to SF in 2003.

But I digress. RDJ already had a bit of a reputation in 1996, so much so that even the publicist (the person working for the album) warned me, in an “Are you sure you wanna do this?” sorta way. At the appointed time, the call came. I remember sitting on the floor of this vacant corporate housing, notebook and tape recorder at the ready. We spoke for a second. Then he hung up.

Except he hadn’t hung up. We were just disconnected. But in very long minute between the hang-up and the reconnection, I briefly thought, “Wow, it’s actually worse than I was warned.” Except he hadn’t, and it wasn’t, and in fact we had a really fun conversation.

The point of which is: with Disquiet.com, which I launched soon after doing the phone interview, I was able to have a place to post the full (lightly edited) interview transcript, rather than just the limited number of words the print publication could manage.

This probably seems ordinary in 2021, but it was a daily revelation in 1996/97. Heck, “blog” didn’t come around until 1999, the Internet Archive was founded the same year I started Disquiet (and is located, physically, in a former church about a block from that first apartment I mention above), and Wikipedia five years later.

In the past quarter century, everything’s changed about music, releases, technology. Everything except, for me, how much I enjoy speaking (and, since 2006, working) with musicians. Sharing the transcripts has always been about tapping into that central (to me) activity.

Read the full interview, along with the original Tower Records Pulse! article: “Eponymous Rex.” And while we’re at it, there’s an article about the virtuous circle of Aphex Twin online fandom and an interview with classical guitarist Simon Farintosh about transcribing and arranging Aphex Twin’s music. And of course, there is my 33 1/3 book on is album Selected Ambient Works Volume II.

David Wingo’s New Mayans M.C. Theme

New season, new era, new drone rock

I’ve been enjoying the new season of Mayans M.C., the first following the exit of co-creator Kurt Sutter. The fourth episode aired last night. The show continues under the stewardship of Elgin James, its other co-creator. Part of the new tone is due to the arrival of composer David Wingo, replacing Bob Thiele Jr. That new tone is set from the start by the new opening credits, which have gotten attention for their political imagery, not just the real-world source material, but the historic scope.

Wingo’s theme music is just as big a shift from the earlier seasons. Gone is the song co-written by Thiele and Sutter, sung initially by Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, and then the second season by Diana Gameros. In its place, Wingo has crafted a compact, moody instrumental track that lingers just below 70BPM. It’s all atmosphere, built from layered guitar parts, moaning group background vocals, and plenty of percussive elements, all rendered as slow-burn drone rock. While not quite as diffuse as, say, the ambient folk and country of groups like Boxhead Ensemble or SUSS (the latter of whose Gary Leib died last week), it sits well alongside them.

Wingo’s name wasn’t immediately familiar to me, but as it turns out, I’ve heard a lot of his music in the past. He composed material for Soundtracker, the excellent documentary on field recording artist and acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, co-author of the book One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet. We discuss material from Soundtracker most semesters I teach my “Sounds of Brands / Brands of Sounds” course. He also wrote music for Manic, the (pre-500 Days of Summer) pairing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel that made excellent use of some Aphex Twin music, as I wrote about in my book on Selected Ambient Works Volume 2, for which I interviewed its director, Jordan Melamed. Wingo has worked on the scores for Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults, Barry, Mud, The Report, and numerous other productions, dating back to David Gordon Green’s 2000 debut feature film, George Washington. He also led the Austin, Texas, band Ola Podrida.

More from Wingo at david-wingo.com.