Tag Archives: Aphex Twin

[25] Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92

27 Sep

Electronica.

The very word evokes, for me, a genre I would happily dismiss out of hand.

And the opening back beat – the oh so generic “mmm chh, mmm chh” of so many club hits makes me roll my eyes initially. But before I know it the music has engaged me, surprised me, dared me to underestimate it.

Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Selected Ambient Works 85-92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am caught first by the non-distinct, language free vocals buried at the edge of conscious hearing, next by the purposeful and unexpected progressions that gradually occur throughout each track.

It’s just enough to prevent the music from slipping all the way into the background.

The drum loops are more deliberate, less static than I expected, just out of phase enough to avoid becoming hypnotic or even repetitive. And if the occasional synthesizer sound grates – such as the wet electronic twang up front in “Green Calx” – the complex rhythms keep me along for the ride.

The gradual development of the melodies, the shifting instrumentation adding additional note and themes to the repeated tunes, it all gives me something to focus on other than the bland individual pieces that make up what turns out to be a fascinating whole.

The liner notes provide more insight, allowing me to put a label on why I’m enjoying this so much more than expected. The notes describe Aphex Twin here as a next step from the work of Eno and Glass, and I can hear the connection in the layered, almost phase shifted elements of tracks such as “Tha”, building choherent and cohesive large pieces from lots of diverse little ones.

With apologies to Aaron Copeland, is this Minimalism for the masses?

The songs here are very close to the ubiquitous, disposable sounds that made me so very angry in their mediocrity on the rare occasions I let myself be talked into visiting the mainstream clubs of the early 90s. Listening carefully, I hear the difference, the thought and intent behind every decision.

But it appears that others do not agree – this is the recording that has had the most negative reaction when overheard casually, in passing, in my office or at the dinner table. That angry, almost violent reaction previously mentioned has been provoked more than once while Selected Ambient Works played.

At the end of the day, here is an album that has a place in my vocabulary and will be worth a very occasional revisit, if only for a serious change of pace. It is an easy, low brow entry point into the world of Minimalism – catchy enough on its own terms, complex enough to bear genuine scrutiny.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 25. 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 25. 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (20 of 25. 80%)

Next Week:  Fiona Apple – When The Pawn

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.

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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?

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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.

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