Muzak for Spaceports

Aphex Twin is half of a symbiotic set of siblings consisting of Richard D. James and an invisible, robot-like musical machine revolving around him like an orbiting ghost. Sonic ideas and identities bounce back and forth between these schizophrenic antipodes like elastic sunshine as never-before-heard soundscapes are stretched, distorted, destroyed in the ears of surprised listeners. And in that vacuous abyss separating biological from mechanical, old sounds become new sounds, and new sounds become validated by vaporous spasms of beat and bombast.
Aphex Twin, a.k.a. Polygon Window or AFX—divine combination of a mechanical mind and a cerebral computer, fused together Siamese-style by pulsating sinews of synthetic love vibes collectively masturbates into an empty cosmos. Suddenly, many musicians and songwriters still mired in English lute music and b-boy slave anthems don't have a job anymore. You can just hear the dispossessed saying, "I really like all this new ambient and techno stuff," as they attempt to sell their collections of late-80s/early-90s tattoo-rock CDs. Is that punk rock all over again, or what?

Electronic trance music is both a reaction to the anti-intellectual pretensions of institutional ensemble rock and an extrapolation of the wilder forms of Muzak, exotica, easy listening, and space music—forms which are, unfortunately, often dismissed by rock consumers and by the trivia experts who pass themselves off as rock critics.

Trance-style ambient excursions like those of Aphex Twin/Polygon Window are the new Muzak. Just because you dance to it as well as relax to it doesn't make it any less valid as "easy listening." Just because you take acid rather than drink Pina Coladas while it plays doesn't make it any less valid as "exotica." When it comes to outright manipulation, overwhelming power, and subliminal propaganda potential, Muzak and related forms put rock, rap, and pop to shame. The idiots who soak up MTV and think that they're well-bred and well-fed would have their little minds blown wide open by a fraction of Muzak's brain-fuck potential. Therefore the question: "What could be a more perfect marriage than that of rock's unrelenting misinformation campaign and Muzak's subliminally captivating method of resistance-free delivery?"

The long-overdue popularity of techno marks the beginning of the end for the song form, and the initial step of a journey into endless, seamless, perfect musical moods accompanying us from the dance floor to the doctor's office, to the bedroom, and then to work.

Aphex "Polygon Window" Twin is both typical of the new musical form's practitioners and fashionably unique in the face of rave culture's faux utilitarianism. His pretentious pseudonymity defeats any contractual obligations imposed by a Scrooge-like music industry as with a million other rave acts that dazzle their fans with kaleidoscopic name changes and endlessly unfolding variations on a theme. James is signed to Sire as Aphex Twin, and to TVT as Polygon Window and AFX. Eventually he might sign to Exxon or Philip Morris.

Techno is often anonymous, so it's easier to believe techno musicians who claim to have no interest in their music's eventual use than it is to believe rock gods who'll smile and say that their music belongs to everyone. When Richard states his near-total disregard for any position in the commercial music spectrum. It's the same old story: there's an external wellspring of universal musical creativity, and poor Richie just happens to be the one whose head is a receiver for its cosmic vibrations.

The evolving audience for trance and ambient techno appreciates the form less for what memories it evokes. These days, familiarity is everything. Unlike hard techno and acid house and neo-disco, trance has that tone—that rock radio tonality—which allows the listener to be a part of rock culture while escaping from the ax-masters and the white bass players and the politically-correct junkies who haunt the mental jukeboxes of today. Keep listening, and keep liking it; after all, it could have been classical music, instead of improvisational jazz and easy listening, that influenced the new musical forms filling our world with joy.

Seconds: Do you think the rave/techno scene is analogous to what the punk scene was a decade ago?
RDJ: I'm a terrible person to talk to about scenes. I'm not really a scene person. The music I listen to, and the music I make, does get embraced into certain scenes, but it's not a conscious decision. I only make music for myself and I don't make it for anybody else. I don't play it when I DJ.

Seconds: Punk music was a reaction to the corporate rock scene. It was supposed to be easy and cheap to do. Is that true of techno?
RDJ: Definitely for electronic music. It's a lot easier to make it, because you don't need to phone five people up and get them out of bed and tell them to get into a studio to make a song. You can just wake up and go straight into your studio, which a lot of people have at home now, and do it. Yes, it makes it easier.

Seconds: You operate independently of the music establishment.
RDJ: Yes.

Seconds: Is that important?
RDJ: It's 100% important to me.

Seconds: Will ambient and trance music be joining the easy listening continuum?
RDJ: A lot of ambient stuff I suppose you could say is easy listening, but that's very roughly speaking.

Seconds: There's a type of easy listening that's unabashedly manipulative, in the sense that it's relaxing or soothing.
RDJ: Most of the ambient music I listen to usually tends to be disturbing, so I wouldn't really classify it as easy listening. But compared to a techno track, It's less offensive. My mom still wouldn't listen to half of my stuff.

Seconds: What will the eventual role of such music be?
RDJ: To be honest, I don't care because I only make music for myself and I just don't give a shit what anyone else does with it or how it's interpreted or where it's played or anything.

Seconds: Why aren't you protective of your work?
RDJ: I'm not protective about it at all. I mean, I am inasmuch that I don't take kindly to people listening to my stuff even. I don't like making records. I do it so that I don't have to get a job, so I have more time to make music. I'm totally obsessed with making music. I make it at every conceivable opportunity. It's not good for my health, but I can't stop doing it. Therefore, when I'm asked what I think of so and so, all those questions turn my ears off straight-away because I can't relate to that at all. I make it only for myself and therefore I don't care what comments people have about it or where it's played and all the other associative things.

Seconds: That's great but it doesn't seem to be in keeping with the idea that your music is marketed successfully. If you don't care, than how did I ever hear it?
RDJ: I care about the music. I don't care what people do with it.

Seconds: If nobody else cared either, then nobody would have ever heard your music.
RDJ: Correct.

Seconds: How would you feel about it then?
RDJ: Same as I do now.

Seconds: So the success that you've enjoyed from this means nothing to you?
RDJ: It does, because I don't have to get a job and I have more time to make music in the long term. But not in the short term because it means making records and doing press which takes up time. I'm doing it because obviously making records, doing press, and having my photo taken allows me to earn a living.

Seconds: Do you enjoy doing that?
RDJ: I don't mind talking to people like you because you seem nice enough, but I find it all quite embarrassing, to tell you the truth.

Seconds: So you're not an ideal rock star.
RDJ: Not at all. It is quite interesting. because if this trend keeps on growing, there'll be a lot more people like me, and even more scary, people who enjoy being like me. Some people who make music I love are totally introverted. If they are going to be the rock stars of tomorrow, it's going to be quite an interesting spectacle.

Seconds: Is making a record different than making music?
RDJ: Yeah, I don't know how many records I've made, but it's less than 1% of the music I made.

Seconds: Could you describe rave culture to us Americans?
RDJ: There was a rave culture in 1988, although I wasn't really much part of it. At the moment, there isn't a rave culture. If there is, someone can show me, but I didn't know it exists anymore.

Seconds: Is your music parallel to rave culture?
RDJ: The only parallel I can draw is people doing what they want to do, which is why governments don't like it so much.

Seconds: Is the music you do a reaction to the rave culture?
RDJ: I don't think so. I was about eleven when I started doing stuff, I didn't listen to any music at all. I've never had any inspiration for any music; it's just not the way I work. I'm not affected by what other people are doing. It really is an internal process. I wouldn't give a shit what anyone was doing anywhere else. The only thing that would affect me is when people start copying my sounds, which a lot of people have sampled, and it makes it a bit boring for me.

Written by: George Petros, Seconds Magazine (Issue 25)