Guest Blogger Sim Bamford: Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92

24 Sep

Another recording means another opportunity for a guest blogger, and once more it’s  an old university cohort, Sim Bamford.


Why did I choose to review this?

I’m generally well-disposed towards electronic music, but why did I pick Aphex Twin from the list? I remember hearing that they were these really influential and seminal pioneers of electronic music who’d been blazing trails through the genre, rocking out with their Moogs from the late sixties onwards, so a great chance to fill a gaping hole in my cultural knowledge.

Turns out I was thinking of Tangerine Dream.

Aphex Twin is actually, according to himself, some “irritating lying ginger kid from Cornwall” who’s been making music from the mid 80’s onwards.

So just to be clear folks, Aphex Twin is NOT Tangerine Dream.

However he was also recommended to me, and he has his followers who consider him influential and seminal.

Having acquired the album, I then questioned how best to experience this music? Wasn’t I supposed to be dropping some benzo-fury and hugging people in a chill-out room through the early hours in order to get the most out of it? If I took this music into a different context, wouldn’t I strip it of its power? Actually, the only hugging I’ve done so far whilst “on” Aphex Twin is with my baby while he fell asleep. So positive point number one – this music has the power to send children to sleep (your mileage may vary).

I would definitely recommend this music, though I’m finding it hard to pin down why.

(As an aside, I once heard it said that “talking about music is like fishing about tennis”. How indeed does one describe music? Doesn’t it reside on an altogether different and non-verbal existential plane? I don’t think of myself as particularly synesthetic, so how can I start ascribing concepts like “big”, “chunky”, “cheesy” or “creamy”, to sounds and rhythms? Anyway now the ball is in my court and I find myself fishing for adjectives.)

Let’s continue:

The whole album has a calming, soporific quality about it, yet I’ve also enjoyed it whilst cycling and driving. This music is “ambient”, as the title suggests; what that means to me is that it induces pleasant sonic vibrations (or whatever) in my mind, without demanding my attention.

The album as a whole is unobtrusive – it arrives gently and goes away again without saying goodbye. Between these extremes one is guided effortlessly as if floating on a stream; there is always a beat, and frequently an echo-y quality, as if underground or perhaps underwater. Through the album, occasional distant verbal samples suggest daily activity without actually communicating anything.

That’s part of the beauty of this type of music – it’s not trying to put particular ideas in my head, leaving my mind free to wander.

One track that stands out for me is “Heliosphan”. It’s one of the more up-tempo tracks, and additionally there’s something about the chord sequence perhaps that hints of euphoria. By contrast “Green Calx” has scratching and grating effects of the kind that make plants wither, yet even this never loses contact with the aforementioned stream.

Hmmm, perhaps I am a bit synaesthetic after all?

Thanks very much to Avri for the invitation, I enjoyed it. Can I come back in 15 years to do Tangerine Dream?


About the author:

Sim Bamford studied Rock with Avri at the University of Sussex in the early nineties. Now he designs replacement brain parts for a living.

One Response to “Guest Blogger Sim Bamford: Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92”

  1. nycavri September 24, 2013 at 10:45 AM #

    Thanks for the guest post, Sim. Happy to have you back for Tangerine Dream, but perhaps you want to take a look at something in the “B”s first?

    For the record, “Fishing About Tennis” was a contender for the title of this blog . . .

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