A Sit Down With DJ Aphex Twin
It's hard not to praise someone who's a pioneer and a star in techno/electronica- that's just Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin) for you. His music stretches from calmness and medatative sounds to jarring noise and jungle- a pretty fertile and (by his own admission) restless mind who busies himself with other projects under different names. His music is as well-known as his antics- owns and drives a tank around, played sandpaper and a food mixer at a gig, loves to throw out outrageous statements that keep people scratching their heads (you'll find some doozies below). And there he is leering at you with evil grins from the covers of his CD's. All of this would lead you to think the worst about him as a person but believe me, it ain't true. He's a really nice guy despite all of his efforts to appear otherwise.
In 2005, he released 11 EPs of gritty acid techno via his Analord series. A pair of 2007 releases by an artist named the Tuss, on James' own Rephlex label, were generally acknowledged to be his work. And he has continued to perform, including a string of live appearances in 2011 and 2012, along with a DJ set under his AFX alias at this year's Glastonbury. But as the years went on with no new proper Aphex Twin album, it became easy to wonder if Drukqs would turn out to be his last. Perhaps he preferred taunting his fans with all those alleged unreleased songs to actually releasing music.
"When I bought my first synthesizer I really didnt like it, l thought it was a piece of shit and I really didnt have any money to buy anything better so I had to go about tweaking it."
What was the first musical experience that really touched you?
Nature sounds have always been way more intense for me than music, especially when I was a little kid. I can remember as a kid, if you run up to a big wall, you get this flange effect. Its just a constant noise, it works like wind. I remember that one from when I was really young. I still hear it now, sometimes I see a wall and then I hear this sound from when I was kid.
Do you do a lot of clubbing?
Yeah, now and again. I've been doing a lot this year, going with my mates to see my mates playing. It's the same sort of thing again and again. I'm not really bored at all so I don't really need to look outside although I do. I'm at the maximum capacity of what I listen to I think. I'm not completely obsessed about listening to other peoples' music. I just deal with the gaps as much as possible.
In most of your compositions there is an interest in frustrated sounds and trembling, fragile, inter-harmony harmonies. Do you remember the moment when you first discovered these sounds?
I do not remember exactly, but I always liked these strange scales and construction. For quite some time I have been using my own scales, starting with "Selected Ambient Works Volume II". This album uses my own scales, I developed my own system and composed from it. I hear the same tone in each ear the same way, while most people hear it with a slight difference. Thus, the brain is oriented in space. In my case it is closed. I do not know what the problem is - apparently, it's at the level of physiology.
You said that you do not like to share your music and prefer to keep it for personal use. How much is the publication of the material for your nervous system?
Not at all, in truth, because when I start work on something new, I am motivated by the fact that I have not heard anything like that from the others. Usually this is the main inspiration. Therefore, if today I started working on new material and this first experiment, I feel great enthusiasm, because I have not heard anything like it before. But it's only the next day to put the release on the Internet, as my interest in continuing to dry up, because people will hear the material, start copying it, it will lose all the novelty and attractiveness. I will independently deal with the logical development of the project that has been started, and at the moment when it will take the completed form, I will present it in general access.
A lot of performers don't bother and they all use the same equipment though. You think that leads to a lot of monotony and sameness with music?
Yeah, sort of but then I'd reckon that I'd still be happy to work with shit equipment. I'd reckon that you'd still be able to squeeze out good things from it. A lot on today's equipment is wicked even though I wouldn't buy a lot of it. You can still give me any piece of equipment, any keyboard and I can do something nice with it. It's peoples' ideas and motivation behind it that makes it boring and monotonous. It just exaggerates it more if you do build your own stuff or write your own software. Then it's going to be even more personalized.
Is it true that you are equally a sound artist and musician?
Yes. It's about sound, people forget about it. They think "oh, I want to hear a pleasant melody". But you really want to hear a certain combination of frequencies that will lead you into a certain state. More exciting, our musical experience boils down to the search for new frequencies and oscillations. A lot of composers long before me wanted to change the world, having left from a uniformly tempered system - and I inherit their mission. Western culture has brainwashed all of us with this system - the people of the academic warehouse who like to adhere to the rules, it's difficult to go beyond this established harmony, to realize your true potential and challenges. But I like it when a person does not know the exact location of the notes, because then he goes to the intuitive level of music making. Develops a new language - in fact, the new rules. And when these new rules are applied in practice, the physiology of the brain changes. Thus, the brain itself has to change its configuration in order to adapt to new realities.
Are you ambitious? If so, towards what ends?
Im trying to do the best thing imaginable thats my ambition. And I try this by making music. When you make music and you listen to it, it changes you and then it gives you an idea of something new to do. Its a constantly evolving process. Everytime you make music, if youre on form, you should be imaging what you want to hear, which is basically how you want it to be.
Where does the inspiration for your work come from?
I don't know really. I never really worked that out. If I'm not in the mood to do something, I'm not going to do it. I'll just go and do something else. When I just get something new, I just want to get something out of my system. I know that when I'm feeling in that mood, it's going to be good and I'm going to enjoy it later. Then I can listen back to it and appreciate it afterwards.
Do you mostly make music just for yourself or do you make it for others?
Well, the people come into your mind when youre doing stuff. Sometimes people kind of flow past you. Sometimes you fixate on a person. Most of the time youre not thinking about it, it just comes in. People just come into your head. Because when youre making music its like meditating, when its good, when youre really good. Sometimes, if I like the taste of a person, I try to make music I imagine this person really likes. Which is quite interesting. I dont even think I want to play it to them.
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