Consumable Aphex TwinOn no noticeable cue or without the standard dimming of lights, Richard D. James walks casually to center stage at a mid-sized rock venue in Atlanta. Both his arrival and his demeanor are so subdued that when he bends over to poke at certain pieces of equipment, the audience assumes he's just another disheveled member of the road crew preparing for another rendition of the standard "check, one, two."
But in a moment, the club's sound system perks up and something that sounds like an assembly of toads rhythmically bleating is laid atop the audience. A massive drum beat ensues and a thin blonde kid done up in baggy skate gear next to me stops the conversation he's having and says, "Look, that's him. That's the fucking Twin!" The sound of the toads erupts further.
Yes, it was he—the Twin. The infamous tank wielding, sleep shunning asthmatic who figures high up in the fellowship of electronic music's knob twiddlers. The Aphex Twin, spinning vinyl more than a year or so ago so as to warm up the masses who came out to see Björk tour behind her mega Post LP. When she appears later, she will make the crowd surge and holler, but while James shuffles booming slices of jungle and techno between turntables, the capacity gathering hardly responds. A few bob emphatically, trying hard to rave properly, but most just shift restlessly while they await her elfin-ship.
"Yeah, I remember that," James says a release or two and some many months later over a low-fi transatlantic phone line. But with some more urging, he'll add that the reaction was more the exception than the norm as far as the rest of the tour went. While he makes that point when pressed a bit, you can tell that Richard probably only cares so much about incidents like an off night in Georgia. He abandoned appearances in general for a while, even though his gigs were fairly well received. ("Yeah, they were great," he now admits.) Instead he did some wood-shedding and took on the mammoth task of filling his laptop with the sum total of all his repertoire. ("It took about a year.") So the Twin can now basically recreate his psyche-shredding beats and soundscapes anywhere and all out of something smaller than a suitcase. To him, this seems massively liberating.
Which is part of the Aphex Twin work ethic. He insists on being at all times, totally capable and self-sufficient. He works at such a breakneck pace that while we're all set to muse over his new recording, Richard D. James, he's already hundreds of hours and probably one or two projects ahead of us. Since one record company can't sanely keep up with his output, James has gone the way of releasing material under multiple pseudonyms (Polygon Window, Analogue Bubblebath, etc.).
But what he's sent over stateside, for the moment, is a fairly compelling group of selections from the backlog. Richard D. James, with it's blurred drum beats and winsome synth tones, is not jungle (in a sense), but not purely ambient either. It strikes me at the moment, that I found it most engaging during an evening's drive home through the country with daylight fleeing fast over a horizon dotted with frost covered trees and a few roaming bovine characters settling in for the evening—the soundtrack coloring in a landscape during a moment of drastic shift in character or mood. Dance floor material this is not.
Richard, for his part, has not too much to add by way of explanation. He has no reason, for instance, why two key tracks on the new album which share an almost orchestral fraternity with one another differ in that one is solemn and simply beautiful ("Goon Gumpas") and the other ("Girl/Boy Song") is sprayed with frantic jungle rhythms and haywire percussion. Richard "reckons" it's completely arbitrary—two pieces of modern electronic music whose presentation is perfect as is but possibly completely whimsical. There's also the appearance of the Twin's vocal debut.
"I've used my voice a lot before on other tracks, but this time it was untreated," James recounts. Indeed, a shy, almost reticent Richard appears sonically naked on "Milkman." It's not really singing as such, but more like the Twin endlessly chanting a little two line bit of fancy that a child might more aptly recite in his head en route to school:
I wish the milkman would deliver my milk in the morning
I would like some milk from the milkman's wife's tits
But Richard is not particularly preoccupied with this bit of evolution either. Instead, he says he's more interested in a type of programming that he's recently taken to: "It's more like putting together pieces of sound than actual code." When he's mastered this, we shall see some dramatic things appear in his music apparently. He's almost ready to have a few classical musicians in to play a few parts and let him sample the complete range of their instruments for an idea that, while he doesn't discuss in much detail, should be quite revolutionary. Pictures will also be figured into the process eventually, but his compulsion to have a command over that aspect of his work before he unveils it to the planet, will keep this under wraps for a time as well.
Right now, however, I leave Richard with the minor dilemma of trying to return to composing without the hindrance of headphones. Since he left his native Cornwall for London, his neighbors have put down any of his efforts that involve volume. And what with Richard's near-legendary habit of avoiding sleep, this is fairly understandable local concern.
"Well, I sleep a lot more than I used to, but if I have ideas I want to get up right then and get them into my computer," James confesses. Further transmissions are apparently imminent.
Written by: Joe Silva, Feb 1997, Consumable Online