The Grid ProfileSo, you're fourteen and don't know how to become one of the disciples of electronic music? Follow the lead of Richard James, best known as Aphex Twin, who at fourteen ripped apart that cheesy beginner's keyboard and rewired the thing to make all sorts of utterly unnatural sounds. Next, start pressing buttons and eleven years later you'll be pressing buttons for a living.
With the 1991 release of Analogue Bubblebath, Aphex Twin led electronic music in a new direction. As the sunny heyday of rave's first romance waned, Sheffield, England's Warp Records began pumping out "intelligent techno": computer-generated dancer-friendly tunes designed to conjure up aural landscapes powerful enough to jar the completely sober. Aphex Twin's work was the nexus of this phenomenon, provocatively sensual at one moment, utterly unbearable at the next. That's what happens when you record the sound of sandpaper on a cheese grater, loop it endlessly, and add a digitally altered hammer and anvil chorus for a bit of texture. It's little wonder he's been hailed by many on both sides of the Atlantic as the next Mozart, especially considering his much-lauded collaboration with avant-garde composer Philip Glass.
His fifth full-length, Richard D. James, finds Aphex Twin experimenting with the current drum-pattern-of-the-week, Drum & Bass (albeit with a noticeable twist his beats go faster than most mid-size booster rockets used by NASA). James claims he's not even following the trend. "It's just what you get into like I go through these stages that change all the time," he says. "At the moment I'm trying to cram loads of stuff into really short tracks in three minutes, four minutes long and trying to make it so that there are different levels going on at the same time."
There's no doubt about that; "Girl/Boy Song" begins with the most pleasant pizzicato strings, but quickly rips into TR-606-on-crack mode, break-beating between speakers so fast you have to listen to it a dozen times to get it all. And this isn't good enough for James. "I want to make it more complicated and more accessible at the same time."
"I mean that it's something that's easy to follow through," he explains. "It could be like a melody, or some other sort of rule of music you're familiar with, but then there's this other level, it's like more complexity going on."
This added complexity apparently takes its toll on his normal composition time of a few hours to one day: "Girl/Boy was difficult to do, it took me a couple days to get it right, to mix down the strings."
And there are those who doubt his claim to Mozart-ness.
Because of his prolific output, some Aphex Twin material is a few years old by the time it's released. Some of the critically acclaimed 1995 album ...I Care Because You Do was originally recorded in 1990. For Richard D. James, James wrote 150 songs in a year, picked fifteen, and is sort of sitting on the rest. There are still entire albums just waiting to come out. "Yeah, there was another album of Polygon Window stuff, sort of a second Surfing on Sinewaves," James admits. "But, uh, I haven't gotten around to it. Probably when I'm dead, they'll find it."
Polygon Window, by the way, is only one of his many alter egos. James has released material under AFX, The Dice Man, Blue Calx, GAK, Power Pill, Universal Indicator, and Caustic Window, each project possessing its own unique qualities. How does he choose a name?
"Well, it all came before I got into the music business," James remembers. "I used to make up these little names for my tapes, it was sort of a game when I was younger. Then it came in handy in the business, you know, handy getting work to different labels. But I've stopped doing that now, it's all Aphex Twin, AFX, and Caustic Window. Unless, of course I'm releasing old material."
Happily enough, Twinheads can expect to hear from James' library pretty soon. "Yeah, I'm doing another Caustic Window album," he says. "I did one but wanted to change a lot of the tracks on it, and basically it's on my computer now I'm just trying to find the time to finish it now. Mostly older tracks, loads of old ones."
And that's not all that's coming out of the Twin's dusty vaults. In 1991, James joined up with friend Grant Wilson-Claridge to start Rephlex Records, in the hopes of providing other electronic artists with easier access into the public arena. The aesthetically inclined label, known for packaging records in bubble sleeves with Pop Rocks candy, has done well enough to catch the eye of James' American connection. "Well, we're hopefully going to do a deal through Elektra soon," he says. "They want to do all of it I think, including the old stuff as well, which is really, really good."
But what about those Pop Rocks? "It's like a licensing sort of deal," James assures. "So we'd retain all the artistic control over everything."
When James isn't re-working old material or touring (expect his first extensive American tour before year's end), he's hard at work on what he refers to as research. "The new thing I've been working on has been writing songs with my own software, my algorithmic software, just generating lots of weird shit. Like for infinity basically more and more complicated.
"It's pretty random but it's got this weird sort of pattern to it, and I'm working on that overall pattern, trying to give it some sort of intelligence so that it stops repeating in a certain random way and actually progresses. It sounds pretty bizarre. I'm not sure that I'd commit it to vinyl or CD because as soon as you do that, you freeze it. Whereas every time I press stop and execute, it comes out different."
Too bad, Aphex Twin is known for that kind of eclecticism, but not to worry. Between Richard D. James Album, another album of oldies, and a proper tour before the end of the year, America will be seeing a lot more of that eclecticism in the near future.
Written by: Unknown