It’s that hot part of the year. That hazy wind down time and feeling on your knees as summer finally arrives in this profession of pace and progression. I’ve found myself turning to the sounds of nature to calm and revive me. I was listening to a youtube film of a thunderstorm yesterday – there was ten hours of it.
I mixed Satie and Eno in there too in some sort of attempt to create an ambient super group – or was that System 7?
I’ve always listened to these sounds. Melting brain and mind moments. Today it’s the Aphex Twin – seeking refreshment in layered tones and liquid rhythms. When radio was FM – actually when it was AM – you could scan the airwaves and happen across tones and sounds and tests and trials. I have a cassette tape somewhere of birdsong – just endlessly going on and on – channelled through the airwaves – saying that - I might just have taped the outside world rather than the sounds I thought were coming from my radio. You’re head gets like that when you’re young.
But laying restless in the night – all hot and bothered – I become ever more aware of those patterns and rhythms – screeches and squelches – distant engines and drifting conversations taking place in space. I’m enthralled to the sound of the city. And in the heat all that is solid melts into air. It may be the fact I work in a school – those drifting lessons – science lectures and shouts – open doors and the ever present gated reverb of corridors built in concrete.
It’s like a Joe Meek and Spector soundclash.It’s a sound I like.
I used to make ambient tapes – way back when I couldn’t (still can’t) mix. I’d use tones and stretches of sound to meld into something else. A tape loop or a found sound merging with a Beaumont Hannant track or Autechre (first album folks – on vinyl too) and make my super friend Daryl listen to it in post comedown revelry on drives from Venus (the club – not the planet) as we wound back to our communal town of shite and steel. Just listening as lights went out and the sun came up. Heady – easy days – my friend. That late eighties early nineties explosion of sound. It seems an age ago. Do you know what I mean?
It is – in fact twenty four years ago.
Nineteen ninety four was twenty four years after The Beatles – they seemed ancient then – so I guess me blethering on about The Orb and all sorts of sonic business – must sound like that old lag in the bar – harping on about the ‘real’ stuff. Richard (composer – one part Pale Blue Dot) and I once met a guy in a local public house reminiscing about the festival circuit – we named him ‘Tone Henge’ – we all know an ‘Anthony Henge’. I’m becoming one – except I’m talking about sequencers, samples and psychedelia.
I haven’t ever seen the Aphex Twin. I don’t want to really. I also don’t know that much about him. Every now again an interview will surface and revere the sounds and add to the status. Which is fine by me. They’ll be an allusion to his time in a bank vault – or when he played sandpaper at a concert – it’s all fine by me. Because Richard James has made some incredibly interesting – non conformist electronic music over the decades. I was listening to Daft Punk – at home – they hadn’t come to play at my house – it was just a CD. And I was lazily invoking Kraftwerk and Adonis and DJ Pierre and Master at Work. They have made something of this ‘electronic music’ lark and then suddenly – I’m switching from Daft Punk to the true pioneers and I’m mining the Richard James back catalogue – and here you see that uncompromising approach to electronica – there is no sympathy for the modern world. This is a Kraftwerk feeling that a future full of robots is actually quite a daunting prospect – Kafawerk – see what I did there?
Or on the other hand it might just be that the Aphex Twin likes a minor key. I dunno.
Caution: failed artist attempt sentence approaching. I once made a sound installation with a wonderful artist – it was just someone walking up the stairs – just walking around – played over a projection of a room – I hid the speakers in the ceiling. There were no stairs in the room. It was unnerving. In my mind anyway – Aphex seems to tap directly in to that feeling – Xtal wheezys and gasps for breathe and beats pound relentlessly as your chest tightens – ambient sounds for the asthma generation. Wave your inhalers in the air. It combines that Vicks loosening congestant with rave culture capital.
It suits that state of mind here at the start of summer.
Richard D James has released so much music under so many monikers it would be impossible to document the scale of electronic manipulation and creation that has come from his mind to yours (ours) but I often find myself returning to those early ambient works. Those moments of genuine freedom when he wasn’t necessarily thinking of careers - there’s that wonderful feeling of possibility when you’re young. You’ve yet to reference Stockhausen, you didn’t have immediate access to the back catalogue Kraftwerk or Transmat Records or Metroplex Records – you’re just trying to make sounds that exist in your mind a reality so you can play them to someone else – well even play them to yourself. You just let time disappear as you endlessly change an LFO modulation or move the VCO to change the frequency. Days ran into weeks when I became wrapped in the micro manipulation of wav forms that emitted squeaks and bleeps from my Roland Juno 6.
You just make music.
The Juno 6 sits in the garage now. Alongside sequencers and old drum machines, tape reverb systems and blown speakers. But it’s not me I’m concerned for - with the start of the holidays that Gove wants to snatch away from children – you worry for the future Aphex Twins – in bedrooms with time on their hands and sounds in their minds. You need to lose time as well as sleep to commit sounds to tape.
You need to have no other distractions. Let the summer begin.
And here is Xtal from Selected Ambient Works 82 - 95