The Selected Ambient works albums from Aphex Twin are some of my favorite records, with their distinctive lo-fi recordings that give the synths a unique otherworldly feel.
Track 13, also known as “blue calax,” from the album Selected Ambient works Volume 2, is a perfect example. Instrumentally, it is fairly simple, with just one polyphonic synth line and a drum machine. But the use of fx – especially chorus on the synth – create an iconic sound that transports you to another place. A place I love to return to again and again.
At the beginning of this month, pioneering electronic music practitioner Aphex Twin played in Berlin for the first time in 15 years. His DJ sets always mix his own music with the work of newer acts, highlighting them to a greater audience.
For those who didn’t get to attend the night, the internet has now become a great resource to find out the music he played and maybe introduce you to something new. Resident Adviser created a playlist of some of the tracks played across the night and that’s how i came across this track by AQXDM.
‘Ballad 002’ is hard hitting techno at its finest. Heavy compression on aggressive percussion drives this track with a laser guided focus. It’s so all consuming it doesn’t need much else. A powerful track that gets right to its emotive point:
Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is 26 years old and still holds its own as a classic of electronic music. It manages to carve its own path whilst also being a precursor to many other electronic music genre. Made with a limited collection of instruments and large chunks of it recorded to cassette tape, it has a lo-fi sound that really adds to the overall aesthetic by adding rough edges to the very straight sound of synthesis.
Although Ambient is in its title this doesn’t correlate to other artists in the genre with many percussion led tracks that fit more into a club sound than the sparse, slower evolving work of other acts. What it does demonstrate is Richard D James’s ability to do a lot with very little. A small handful of synthesizers and samplers are used to create the album and yet he always manages to make tracks that remain compelling. This shows a creative talent for composition and arranging at the very beginning of his career that has continued for the past quarter of a century.
Xtal opens the album with flair. The simple opening drum machine manages to take a 808 hi-hat sound that’s been used countless times and yet with processing and reverb turn it into something iconic. It provides a perfect summery to all the sounds on the track, which somehow manage to be both recognisable and yet unique. An understated piece that has stayed compelling this many years later.
The sad news of Gene Wilders death this week reminded me of this track on which his voice is sampled.
Selected Ambient works 85-92 is Aphex Twins earliest studio record and it sounds fairly lo-fi in today’s standards of digital production. A large amount of the production was recorded on cassette tape, which causes the synthesisers and drum machines to wow and flutter throughout. This slight wobble in pitch and speed really gives the work a sense of place and a character that is still really unique. Add exelent melodies, brilliant ambient sound design and the lofi production methods become a stylistic strengh rahter than a weakness.
Although this doesn’t show Richard James at his most technically competent the fourteen tracks show him in an era of youthful creativity. Tracks are diverse but exemplify the creativity of electronic music. Rooting themselves as one of the foundations to modern electronic music today. Selected Ambient works 85-92 is a great introduction to both Aphex Twin and electronic music as a whole and should be heard by anyone with an interest in modern music as we know it:
Aphex Twin Is a visionary artist whose ideas and style have had a profound effect on all forms of electronic music. During the decade window starting with selected ambient works 85-92 and ending in Drukqs. He created iconic music that was unlike anything outside of the Warp label. Although Richard James goes by many pseudonyms, the Aphex Twin name has always been associated as a stamp of quality for some of the most forward thinking electronic music around. It’s been 13 years since the release of the last album and it was worth the wait.
When speculation about a new release started I was exited but with no expectations over what he was going to create. His back catalogue spans many genres. From faster electronic music like Acid and Drum & Bass to Ambient and even solo piano works. So the announcement of Syro Could have been anything musically. Surprisingly it subverted my expectations by staying close to his work but making it more accessible. Syro at times feels like a greatest hits album made of entirely new content but as his style is so unique that’s no bad thing.
We get an exploration of large swathes of electronica with his unique chopped up drums, jittering synths, warbling pads and strange vocal samples. There’s so much going on within his tracks that on first listen it can feel a little daunting and hard to get to grips with but this only helps provide freshness on repeat listens.
Weather it’s the complex multi instrumental pieces or the striped down single piano on the closing track aisatsana  the one thing that makes the music work is melody. They can drift in and out of tune and rhythm and are often replaced before you fully get to grips with them but they are always strong and centralising. An eye in the storm of controlled chaos. Aphex twin may not be everyone’s cup of tea but the remnants of what he makes will be heard peppered across modern music for years to come.
It’s been a long time since Richard D. James released music under his most famous alias Aphex Twin, 14 years to be exact.
Now the time has come for the release of Syro later this month and to build up anticipation minipops 67 has been released to tease it.
It may have been 14 years but this track manages to show that he has been keeping up to date with the latest musical innovations interweaving them with the unique sound Aphex Twin is known for to create an evolution of his work that is still true to its roots.
I’ve only just noticed that I haven’t put Flim By Aphex Twin up as a TOTW before so I’ve amend this misgiving today.
Flim is one of my favourite tracks of all time. It manages to blend a couple of interweaving detuning synth lines and sampled strings with Aphex Twins trademark glitched drum sound. What astonishes me about the piece is I have never got tired of it on repeat listens. The track is expertly crafted, every note and drum hit was placed into the arrangement with purpose and were left with a track that reveals more to the listener every time they hear it:
I know Ambient music isn’t for everyone, all of it isn’t for me. But at it’s best with its simple structures and interesting soundcapes, it can become something that connects to us in a very tribal way. The simplicity can seep its way through our concious thought and deep into our raw emotions.
Personally I find this very interesting. How little can an artist do and still have the desired affect of a listener feeling something? Does complexity in music actually act as a barrier separating ourselves from what was felt in its creation? By adding to the fundamentals of a track do you loose something?
Ambient music does a great job of asking these questions to the listener. It doesn’t reach out and grab you but at the same time It never bores you, even on repeat listens. Behaving like a pallet cleanser for your eardrums.
There are many artists that do it well and I expect to add a few over the following months to Track Of The Week. This week it goes to Aphex twin who has created some fine examples in his Selected Ambiant works albums. Through listening to them on the train Rhubarb really stood out to me. It envelops you with its rich textures and I find it deeply comforting, like waking up in bed and knowing you can lie in for an hour.
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