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Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin

Ambient music pioneer

Explosive Performances

The History of Ambient Music

Obsessed With Music From an Early Age

A Link to the Classics

Selected discography

Sources

Along with a handful of other musicians, Richard James, better known as Aphex Twin, has developed a new kind of music and a new kind of performance. Samples of this completely electronic, elegiac variety of rave and techno matched the sales of rock albums in Europe in 1994. In the United States, the music began gaining its first broad exposure and popularity that same year, when Aphex Twin released his second volume of ambient sound sculptures, Selected Ambient Works Volume II, to acclaim on the Sire/Warner Bros, label.

Considered descendants of 1970s progressive rock acts Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, Aphex Twin and fellow ambient musicians Brian Eno, Orb, and Orbital altered their performance and marketing approaches as well; emphasizing the music over their own celebrity stardom, they perform by mixing their music and others live as DJs in the shadows of their sequencers on stage. The dancers and the rest of the audiencerather than the artiststake the limelight.

Ambient music emerged from the underground rave scene in the early 1990s. James got his start in the music industry around the same time, having emerged from his parents garage in Cornwall, England, where legend has it he began fiddling with synthesizers and recreating the sounds in his head all nightevery nightsince age 12.

Explosive Performances

Richard James debuted as Aphex Twin in early 1992 at the Tressor Club in Berlin; since 1991 he could be found deejaying in London raves and recording for a number of small independent labels under a variety of pseudonyms. His floating melodies and dark, screeching soul-searches found their first audience in exhausted dancers in U.K. West Country raves. This crowd made his 1992 Didgeridoo albumreleased on the Belgium techno label R&Sa hit in Britain. The single Analogue Bubblebath led to a follow-up, U.K. Independent Top Ten double album of pure ambient music. Titled Selected Ambient Works 85-92, it was issued by the same label later in the year.

Aphex Twins fast rise to mainstream prominence has not been without its wrinkles, however. First there was the small explosion during one of his concerts in Germany. The only big problem Ive had was when I electrocuted myself in front of 17,000 mad Germans at the Mayday techno festival, he told Matt Bright of Melody Maker. I put my finger on a live terminal. My finger just started to sizzle when it blew. I was thrown off the keyboard and all the power for the rave went down.

For the Record

Born Richard James, August 18, 1971, in Cornwall, England. Education: Studied electronics at college in London, c. 1991.

Began sampling sounds and deejaying at raves in Cornwall, c. 1986; developed first hit, Didgeridoo, in Cornwall raves, c. 1990; moved to London, deejayed, and recorded singlesincluding ambient hit Analogue Bubblebathas Aphex Twin and AFX for Mighty Force Records, 1991; debuted as Aphex Twin at Tressor Club, Berlin, January 1992; recorded Didgeridoo for Belgium label, R&S, early 1992; as Caustic Window, started own label, Rephlex, and recorded Joyrex J4 and Joyrex J5, 1992; as Aphex Twin, recorded double-album Selected Ambient Works 85-92, late 1992; as Polygon Window, signed to British independent label, Warp Records, and recorded Surfing on Sine Waves and Quoth, both 1993; as Aphex Twin, recorded EP Phlegm, 1993; signed to Sire Records/Warner Bros., mid-1993; embarked on first U.S. tour, late 1993; released Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Sire, early 1994. Remixed songs for Curve, Jesus Jones, and others, c. 1991.

Addresses: Record company Sire Records/Warner Bros., 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

Aphex Twin usually does not involve himself so explosively in his concerts, though, and he has actually received criticism for his mediocre stage presence. Reviewing Jamess performance as lacklustre at the Midi Circus of underground dance acts in Britain in the summer of 1993, a Melody Maker contributor wrote, [For] all the talk of ambient swirls, quiet genius and off-kilter imagination, hes ultimately pretty dreary. The rock gig thing being what it is, everyone resolutely faces the stage, when theyd perhaps be better off with their backs to it. With dazzling high-tech and high-cost visuals, Melody Maker mused, Aphex Twin at Midi would be redefining the stadium experience. Without those visuals, however, his show appeared a dud.

Aphex Twin staunchly defended his mode of performance against such criticism. So?, he asked Melody Maker in response to the critique. I dont want people to stand there staring at me. I want them to dance. Whats so good about a guy bouncing around with a guitar? Im too busy to bounce around. I usually forget that Im doing a gig. Its as if Im at home.

Reviewing the largest techno concert in New York ever in late 1993, Village Voice music writer Frank Owen maligned Aphex Twins performance on similar grounds, and with a similar response from the musician. Asked whether he had intended an anti-performance, Aphex Twin answered, Yeah, if you mean I dont ponce about onstage like some dhead rock star. I leave that type of thing to Moby. A rising ambient-techno star from the United States, Moby embraces the rock-style celebrity performance, aiming for technos answer to [U2s] Bonoa rave version of the rock and roll messiah. The Voice considered Moby clearly the hit of the evening with the [New York] audience. Still, Aphex Twin finally represented for the newspaper the artistic future of techno.

The History of Ambient Music

The split in ambient-techno is only one of many that have afflicted techno since it grew in popularity. Aphex Twin has been at the center of a deeper shift in audience, while techno has splintered into two major factions. Rave, which first became a movement in the late 1980s in Britain, divided in much the same way as acid rock had in the late sixties and early seventies and as punk had earlier in the eighties. One strand of rave became hardcore ardkore in Britainwith a beat increasing to as high as 200 per minute. This strand appealed to working class young people who live for the weekend, according to the New York Times, and followed in the tradition of heavy metal devotees in the seventies, and skins and oi punk rockers earlier in the eighties.

Meanwhile, another strand slowed down the music and often dispensed with beat altogether. This variation was alternately called ambient, the dominant termas well as progressive, post-rave, chill-out, techno purism, the New Electrónica, intelligent techno, and electronic listening music. Aphex Twin and other ambient musicians have appealed largely to older ravers, characterized as more middle- than working-class, and non-ravers such as indie-rock fans, music theory connoisseurs, and so-called aging hippies.

Obsessed With Music From an Early Age

Richard James followed a circuitous route through early musical isolation and later rave deejaying before becoming the leading ambient musician Aphex Twin. James, who was born in 1971, came from the remote coastal region of Cornwall, England, where his father worked in the mining industry. His exposure was limited to his sisters records, including those of Echo & the Bunnymen, Kraftwerk, John Peel, and not much else. A few days after being introduced to the piano at age 12 by his parents, James decided he preferred playing the strings directly on the inside rather than through the keyboard on the outside. He then scavenged for other one-of-a-kind instruments, learned the rudiments of electronics in school, and began composing various sounds he imaginedsometimes even while asleep. It was then, so the story goes, that he began sleeping only two to three hours each night.

James also began deejaying in the Cornwall areas local raves when he was in his late teens. Recording his own tracks furiously as well, he left numerous tapes with friends, who would later cull many of these for his first collection. His first hit, the single Didgeridoo, was conceived as a piece that would help the listener wind down from a night of heavy rave dancing.

A Link to the Classics

In 1991 James moved to London and recorded a number of samples under a variety of names, including Aphex Twin, AFX, Caustic Window, and Polygon Window. With Selected Ambient Works 85-92, recorded as Aphex Twin for release by R&S in 1992, and Surfing on Sine Waves, recorded as Polygon Window for release by the fiercely independent British label Warp Records in January of 1993, James established his audience and his prominence. His 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Volume II, creates eerie sound-paintings, according to the New York Times; the tracks on the release have been described as spooky and textured by Rolling Stone and as deeply unsettling by the Metro Times.

Ambient music carries on a fairly new tradition within classical music, and Aphex Twin brings his own edge to this tradition. Billboard cited Brian Enos 1978 album Music for Airports, the theories of John Cage, and the minimalist composers Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Terry Riley as the predecessors of ambient. When two musiciansAlex Patterson of Orb and Jimmy Cauty, formerly of Orb and KLFcombined this environ-cen-tered classical music in 1988 and 1989 with the popular acid-house music of Detroit and Chicago, they invented the ambient house genre. While ambient house declined in popularity, Aphex Twin found a growing audience by pushing the bounds of the genre with his sometimes disturbing, sometimes funky compositions.

Perhaps because of ambients roots in contemporary classical music, Simon Reynolds of the New York Times deemed Aphex Twin a pioneer in the classical as well as the ambient-techno field. While a horde of Aphex imitators have reduced ambient to little more than a soothing soundbath for the stressed-out, Mr. James has opened up a new frontier for techno, Reynolds began. At times, hes making what sounds like classical music for the next millennium.

Meanwhile, a number of diverse bands have invited him to remix their songs. The band Curve acknowledged seeking out his influence for their own work: What seems to be special is the way he hears sound, bandmember Dean Garcia was quoted as saying in Melody Maker. Have you heard what he did with our track Falling Free? Hes taken one little bit of itwe cant work out where he got it fromand made it into this kind of choral thing. Its really spaced-out and very, very sparse, very womb-like: its actually inspired us in the way we work, and sparked off other ideas. James has also made samples of sides by Curve, Jesus Jones, St. Etienne, PCP, and Meat Beat Manifesto, among others.

Despite his status as a leader of ambient, Aphex Twin creates a sound that remains difficult to classify. Richards music isnt easy to pigeonhole, Matt Bright wrote in Melody Maker. One minute hes crafting something which Eno or Philip Glass would be proud of, the next hes making enough racket to give Butthole Surfers a migraine. Aphex Twin is the Midi Circus trapeze artist. Bright concluded that the artists sound is best described as having a texture to it: He doesnt so much make tracks as sculptures. Its as if the melodies and the beats have a physical presence. Aphex Twin reportedly beamed in response: Thats exactly it! I mean, some of the tracks Ive recorded for Ambient Works 2 consist of just one sound. Im trying to make music which surrounds you, which fills the room.

Selected discography

Singles

(As Caustic Window) Joyrex J4, Rephlex (self-owned), 1992.

(As Caustic Window) Joyrex J5, Rephlex, 1992.

(As AFX and Aphex Twin) Analogue Bubblebath, Mighty Force Records, 1991.

Albums

Didgeridoo (includes Analogue Bubblebath), R&S, 1992.

Selected Ambient Works 85-92, R&S, 1992.

(As Polygon Window) Surfing on Sine Waves, Warp, 1993.

(As Polygon Window) Quoth, Warp, 1993.

Phlegm (EP), R&S, 1993.

Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Sire/Warner Bros., 1994.

Sources

Billboard, July 23, 1994.

Chicago Tribune, November 5, 1993.

Details, May 1994.

Melody Maker, January 30, 1993; June 19, 1993.

Metro Times (Detroit), May 11, 1994.

New York Times, March 13, 1994.

Rolling Stone, June 30, 1994.

Village Voice, November 9, 1993.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from biographical notes provided by Formula Artist Development & Public Relations, January 1994.

Nicholas Patti

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Aphex Twin

Aphex Twin

Producer, deejay

Richard James followed a circuitous route through early musical isolation and rave DJing before becoming the leading ambient musician Aphex Twin. James, who was born in 1971, came from the remote coastal region of Cornwall, England, where his father worked in the mining industry. His exposure to music was limited to his sister's records, including those of Echo & the Bunnymen, Kraftwerk, and whatever John Peel was playing on his legendary BBC broadcasts. A few days after being introduced to the piano at age 12 by his parents, James decided he preferred playing the strings directly on the inside rather than through the keyboard on the outside. He then scavenged for one-of-a-kind instruments, learned the rudiments of electronics in school, and began composing various sounds he imaginedsometimes even while asleep. It was then, so the story goes, that he began sleeping only two to three hours each night.

James also began DJing in the Cornwall area's local rave scene when he was in his late teens. He furiously recorded his own tracks as well, many of which would later be heard on his first collection. His first hit, the single "Didgeridoo," was conceived as a piece that would help the listener wind down from a night of heavy rave dancing.

James's style, generally known as ambient music, carried on a fairly new tradition within classical music, and James brought his own edge to this tradition. Along with a handful of other musicians, he took the ideas of Brian Eno's late-'70s synthesized soundscapes, John Cage and Steve Reich's theories of minimalism, combined them with mid-'80s rave music, and further developed the nebulous genre.

Considered descendants of 1970s progressive rock acts Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, James and fellow ambient musicians the Orb and Orbital had a much different approach to performance and marketing from the typical rock model; emphasizing the music over their own celebrity stardom, they performed by mixing their music and others' live as DJs in the shadows of their sequencers on stage. By not having any sort of spectacle to look at, the dancers and the rest of the audiencerather than the artistsbecame the center of the show as the music surrounded them.

In 1991 James moved to London and recorded a number of songs under a variety of names, including Aphex Twin, AFX, Caustic Window, and Polygon Window. He debuted his live performance in early 1992 at the Tresor Club in Berlin and later that year released Selected Ambient Works 85-92. With Selected Ambient Works 85-92, recorded as Aphex Twin for release by R&S in 1992, and Surfing on Sine Waves, recorded as Polygon Window for the fiercely independent British label Warp Records in January of 1993, James established his audience and his prominence. His 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Volume II, created "eerie sound-paintings," according to the New York Times; the tracks on the release were described as "spooky" and "textured" by Rolling Stone and "deeply unsettling" by the Metro Times.

As the ambient style grew throughout the '90s, this completely electronic, elegiac variety of rave and techno began to match the sales of rock albums in Europe. In the United States, James's music gained its first broad exposure and popularity in 1994 when he released Selected Ambient Works Volume II, to acclaim on the Sire/Warner Bros. label.

Aphex Twin's fast rise to mainstream prominence was not without its wrinkles, however. First there was the small explosion during one of his concerts in Germany. "The only big problem I've had was when I electrocuted myself in front of 17,000 mad Germans at the Mayday techno festival," he told Matt Bright of Melody Maker. "I put my finger on a live terminal. My finger just started to sizzle when it blew. I was thrown off the keyboard and all the power for the rave went down."

James didn't usually involve himself so explosively in his concerts. In fact, he often received criticism for his mediocre stage presence. Reviewing James's performance at the 1993 Midi Circus of underground dance acts in Britain as "lackluster," a Melody Maker contributor wrote, "[For] all the talk of ambient swirls, quiet genius and off-kilter imagination, he's ultimately pretty dreary. The rock gig thing being what it is, everyone resolutely faces the stage, when they'd perhaps be better off with their backs to it." With dazzling high-tech and high-cost visuals, Melody Maker mused, Aphex Twin at Midi "would be redefining the stadium experience." Without those visuals, however, his show appeared a dud.

James staunchly defended his mode of performance against such criticism. "So?" he asked Melody Maker in response to the critique. "I don't want people to stand there staring at me. I want them to dance. What's so good about a guy bouncing around with a guitar? I'm too busy to bounce around. I usually forget that I'm doing a gig. It's as if I'm at home."

Reviewing the largest techno concert in New York ever in late 1993, Village Voice music writer Frank Owen maligned Aphex Twin's performance on similar grounds, eliciting a similar response from the musician. Asked whether he had intended an anti-performance, James answered, "Yeah, if you mean I don't ponce about onstage like some d***head rock star. I leave that type of thing to Moby." A rising ambient-techno star from the United States, Moby embraced the rock-style celebrity performance, aiming for "techno's answer to [U2's] Bonoa rave version of the rock and roll messiah." The Voice considered Moby "clearly the hit of the evening with the [New York] audience." Still, Aphex Twin ultimately represented "the artistic future of techno" for the newspaper.

The future also involved a splintering in rave music where much of it went the way of big beat trance anthems. Ambient, however, sided towards a slowed pace, often dispensing with beat altogether. This variation took on numerous names itself; post-rave, chill-out, intelligent dance music, electronic listening music.

While still performing the odd show, James became a bit of a studio recluse after the release of his 1995 record, I Care Because You Do. The album struck a fine balance between his signature ambient works and his newfound interest in experimental hardcore. His time in the studio paid off though, as it yielded the following year's Richard D. James Album, a further exploration into acid house, jungle and experimental music.

The late-'90s saw James turn harsher in his tastes as he released two fractured drum-n-bass EPsCome to Daddy and Windowlicker to much acclaim. As well, the Chris Cunningham-directed videos that accompanied tracks from these records received their share of airplay and were lauded for their inventive visual style.

2001's Drukqs came almost without warning as James had been spending so much time involved in remix projects of all sorts. Over the years, a number of diverse bands had invited him to remix their songs and the band Curve acknowledged seeking out his influence for their own work: "What seems to be special is the way he hears sound," band member Dean Garcia was quoted as saying in Melody Maker. "Have you heard what he did with our track 'Falling Free'? He's taken one little bit of itwe can't work out where he got it fromand made it into this kind of choral thing. It's really spaced-out and very, very sparse, very womb-like: it's actually inspired us in the way we work, and sparked off other ideas." James also reworked sides by Curve, Jesus Jones, Saint Etienne, PCP, and Meat Beat Manifesto, among others.

For the Record

Born Richard James on August 18, 1971, in Cornwall, England. Education: Studied electronics at college in London, c. 1991.

Began sampling sounds and DJing at raves in Cornwall, c. 1986; developed first hit, "Didgeridoo," in Cornwall raves, c. 1990; moved to London, DJed, and recorded singlesincluding ambient hit "Analogue Bubblebath"as Aphex Twin and AFX for Mighty Force Records, 1991; debuted as Aphex Twin at Tresor Club, Berlin, 1992; recorded Didgeridoo for Belgium label, R&S, early 1992; as Caustic Window, started own label, Rephlex, and recorded "Joyrex J4" and "Joyrex J5," 1992; as Aphex Twin, recorded double-album Selected Ambient Works 85-92, 1992; as Polygon Window, signed to British independent label, Warp Records, and recorded Surfing on Sine Waves and Quoth, both 1993; as Aphex Twin, recorded EP Phlegm, 1993; signed to Sire Records/Warner Bros., mid-1993; em barked on first U.S. tour, late 1993; released Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Sire, early 1994; released I Care Because You Do, 1995; released the Richard D. James Album, 1996; released Drukqs on Warp, 2001; released remix collection, 26 Mixes for Cash, 2003.

Addresses: Record company Warp Records, P.O. Box 25378, London NW5 1GL, England, website: http://www.warprecords.com. Website Aphex Twin Official Website: http://www.drukqs.net/.

In 2003, he cheekily titled his remix collection 26 Mixes for Cash and it went on to receive favorable reviews from the music press, cementing his prowess as not only an ambient producer but as a gifted re-interpreter of electronic music.

Perhaps because of ambient's roots in contemporary classical music, Simon Reynolds of the New York Times deemed Aphex Twin a pioneer in the classical as well as the ambient-techno field. "While a horde of Aphex imitators have reduced ambient to little more than a soothing soundbath for the stressed-out, Mr. James has opened up a new frontier for techno," Reynolds began. "At times, he's making what sounds like classical music for the next millennium."

Despite his status as a leader of ambient, Aphex Twin created a sound that remains difficult to classify. "Richard's music isn't easy to pigeonhole," Matt Bright wrote in Melody Maker. "One minute he's crafting something which Eno or Philip Glass would be proud of, the next he's making enough racket to give Butthole Surfers a migraine. Aphex Twin is the Midi Circus' trapeze artist." Bright concluded that the artist's sound is best described as having a texture to it: "He doesn't so much make tracks as sculptures. It's as if the melodies and the beats have a physical presence." James reportedly beamed in response: "That's exactly it! I mean, some of the tracks I've recorded for Ambient Works 2 consist of just one sound. I'm trying to make music which surrounds you, which fills the room."

Selected discography

Singles

(As Caustic Window) "Joyrex J4," Rephlex, 1992.

(As Caustic Window) "Joyrex J5," Rephlex, 1992.

(As AFX and Aphex Twin) "Analogue Bubblebath," Mighty Force, 1991.

Albums

Didgeridoo, R&S, 1992.

Selected Ambient Works 85-92, R&S, 1992.

(As Polygon Window) Surfing on Sine Waves, Warp, 1993.

(As Polygon Window) Quoth, Warp, 1993.

Phlegm (EP), R&S, 1993.

Selected Ambient Works Volume II, Sire/Warner Bros., 1994.

I Care Because You Do, Elektra/Asylum, 1995.

Richard D. James Album, Elektra, 1996.

Come to Daddy EP, Warp, 1997.

Windowlicker EP, Sire, 1999.

Drukqs, Warp, 2001.

26 Mixes for Cash, Warp, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, July 23, 1994.

Chicago Tribune, November 5, 1993.

Details, May 1994.

Melody Maker, January 30, 1993; June 19, 1993.

Metro Times (Detroit, MI), May 11, 1994.

New York Times, March 13, 1994.

Rolling Stone, June 30, 1994.

Village Voice, November 9, 1993.

Online

"Aphex Twin," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 28, 2004).

Additional information was obtained from biographical notes provided by Formula Artist Development & Public Relations, January 1994.

Nicholas Patti and

Ken Taylor

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"Aphex Twin." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 27 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Aphex Twin." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/aphex-twin-0

"Aphex Twin." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved May 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/aphex-twin-0