6. Aphex Twin – ‘Selected Ambient Works 85-92′

Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Album Review, Ambient, Ambient Techno | Tags: | No Comments »

Aphex Twin - 'Selected Ambient Works 85-92'

Aphex Twin * Selected Ambient Works 85-92 * 1993 * R&S Records

Aphex Twin, aka Richard D. James, is the court jester of electronica. But he wasn’t always the king of cyber clowns. His career started first with the romantic trills and earnest dreams of his debut full-length, Selected Ambient Works 85-92. In it, he presented soft twilit songs seemingly composed with the grace of a divine hand. Clearly on the face of it, here was an artist with melody deep in his bones. Even more inspiring was the sense of joy and freedom James betrayed in allying his sweet lines to oceanic beats and lulling bass patterns.

Compositions like ‘Xtal’ and ‘Tha’ pulsed to lub-dub rhythms, their gentle notes floating like virtual moths in a perfect dream-zone between trance and polyphony. ‘Ptolemy’ bumped to a call and response between synth lines that sounded like they were deep in a playful conversation under swaying palm trees. ‘Heliosphan’ and ‘Pulsewidth’ dropped the listener into whirlpools of bliss. And ‘We Are the Music Makers’ took a Willy Wonka voice sample and scrubbed it over sub-bass grooves, shimmering keys dancing over the rumble like a fleet of fireflies.

The famed avant-garde composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, once heard some of Aphex Twin’s early music and commented to The Wire magazine that James should stop fiddling with post-African rhythms and exercise his gifts within changing time signatures. He found the percussive ‘repetitiveness’ beneath him. James responded, “I thought he should listen to a couple of tracks of mine: ‘Didgeridoo,’ then he’d stop making abstract, random patterns you can’t dance to.”

It was a typical retort of Aphex Twin humor: ‘Digeridoo’ is Aphex Twin’s most devastating dance floor track, a 160-bpm blaze of warped genius. Stockhausen would have vomited on hearing it. But James was making a point about form and function. Ironically though, in some ways he seemed to embrace Stockhausen’s Euro-centric bias in subsequent works. Most of James’ later career has been marked by a severe adherence to hiccup breakbeats and fractured temporal flows.

Despite Stockhausen’s dismissals and still only in his twenties at the time, Selected made James an instant superstar. No doubt it helped him gain the respect of disparate artists like Philip GlassBrian Eno and Thom Yorke. A Japanese poet was so touched by his music that she had her Aphex Twin collection buried with her when she died. Aphex Twin arrangements have also been played by orchestras, from the London Sinfonietta to the New York ensemble Fireworks, who covered ‘Analogue Bubblebath’ — his first classic piece, co-written with Global Communication‘s Tom Middleton.

Even with all his antics and artistic excesses, one still suspects the Aphex Twin could write tranquil beauties in his sleep. Like leaves shaken from a branch, like his wicked jokes. He has given us glimpses with ‘Next Heap With,’ ‘Alberto Balsalm’ and ‘XMD 5a,’ but never in the span of a whole act like Selected. Maybe someday he’ll grace us again with another post-African love letter. Until then, his jester’s tears will always shine brightest here, in his first hypnotic jest.

1. Xtal
2. Tha
3. Pulsewidth
4. Ageispolis
5. i
6. Green Calx
7. Heliosphan
8. We Are the Music Makers
9. Schottkey 7th Path
10. Ptolemy
11. Hedphelym
12. Delphium
13. Actium

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