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Richard David James (born 18 August 1971), aka Aphex Twin, is a British electronic musician described by The Guardian newspaper as "the most inventive and influential figure in contemporary electronic music." He founded the record label Rephlex Records in 1991 with his friend Grant Wilson-Claridge.

History

Early years

Richard David James was born to Welshmarker parents Lorna and Derek James in St. Munchins Limerick Regional Maternity Hospital, Irelandmarker. He grew up in Lanner, Cornwallmarker; he enjoyed (along with two older sisters) a "very happy" childhood during which they, according to James, "were pretty much left to do what [they] wanted." He "liked growing up there, being cut off from the city and the rest of the world". James attended Redruth Schoolmarker, located in Redruth, Cornwallmarker.

According to musician Benjamin Middleton, James started producing music at the age of 12. As a teenager he was a disc jockey at Shire Horse in St. Ives, with Tom Middleton at the Bowgie Inn in Crantockmarker, and also along the numerous beaches around Cornwall. James studied for a National Diploma in Engineering from 1988 to 1990 (aged 16 to 18) at Cornwall Collegemarker. When talking about his studies, James has said that "music and electronics went hand in hand." James graduated from college; according to an engineering lecturer, however, he often had his headphones on during practical lessons, "no doubt thinking through the mixes he'd be working on later".

Early career: early 1990s

In 1989 James met and befriended Grant Wilson-Claridge when working as a DJ on alternate weeks at the Bowgie pub, near Newquaymarker in Cornwall. Wilson-Claridge was intrigued by James's sets and was surprised to discover that James was playing tapes of his own music.

James' first release was the 12-inch EP Analogue Bubblebath on Mighty Force Records in 1991. It was first released under the moniker Aphex Twin, later changed to AFX. The track "En Trance to Exit" was made in collaboration with Tom Middleton, also known as Schizophrenia. The EP got on the playlist of Kiss FM, an influential Londonmarker radio station, which helped the release to become a success.

In 1991 James founded Rephlex Records with Wilson-Claridge to promote "innovation in the dynamics of Acid — a much-loved and -misunderstood genre of house music forgotten by some and indeed new to others, especially in Britainmarker."

Between 1991 and 1993, James released two Analogue Bubblebath EPs as AFX, and an EP under Bradley Strider, Bradley's Beat. James moved to London to take an electronics course at Kingston Polytechnicmarker, but at the time admitted to David Toop that his "electronics studies were already slipping away as a career in the techno business took precedence." After quitting his course, James remained in London and released a number of albums and EPs on Warp Records and other labels under many aliases including AFX, Polygon Window, and Power-Pill. A number of James' tracks (released under the aliases Blue Calx, The Dice Man, and others) appeared on various compilations. Local legend has it that James lived on the roundabout in Elephant and Castlemarker, South Londonmarker during his early years in the capital - in fact he lived in a nearby disused bank.

Gaining success: 1992–1995

The first full-length Aphex Twin album, Selected Ambient Works 85-92, was released in 1992 on R&S Records. It received high ratings and praise from critics. John Bush of Allmusic described it as a "watershed of ambient music". Rolling Stone wrote of the album: "Aphex Twin expanded way beyond the ambient music of Brian Eno by fusing lush soundscapes with oceanic beats and bass lines." Pitchfork's review called it, "among the most interesting music ever created with a keyboard and a computer." Critics also noted that the songs were recorded on cassette and that the sound quality was "relatively poor".

In 1992, he also released the EPs Xylem Tube EP and Digeridoo (first played by DJ Colin Faver on London's Kiss FM) as Aphex Twin, as Power-Pill the Pac-Man EP based on the arcade game Pac-Man, and two of his four Caustic Window EPs. The song "Digeridoo" reached #55 on the UK charts, and was later described as foreshadowing drum and bass by Rolling Stone. "Digeridoo" was recorded initially for the benefit of FIZZ-BOMB (at the Shire Horse, St Ives, Cornwall). These early releases came out on Rephlex Records, Mighty Force of Exeter, and R&S Records of Belgium.

In 1993, James released Analogue Bubblebath 3. He also released a single titled "On"; his second Bradley Strider EP, Bradley's Robot; two more Caustic Window EPs; and his first releases on Warp Records, Surfing on Sine Waves and "Quoth" under the alias Polygon Window.

Warp Records pressed and released a follow-up to Selected Ambient Works 85-92, Selected Ambient Works Volume II in 1994. The sound was much less beat and melody-driven than the previous volume. All of the track names were described with pie chart symbols, each of which was meant to be paired with a corresponding image in the album jacket, with exception for one song, which was definitely named "Blue Calx". To decipher song titles, listeners had to pair each numbered symbol with the correct image (for example, the first title, which is often labeled cliffs, is realized by pairing the first symbol with the first image, which is that of a rocky cliffside). James claimed in The Wire magazine and other media that these songs were inspired by lucid dreams and synesthesia. Other releases are a fourth Analogue Bubblebath; GAK, derived from early demos sent to Warp Records; and Classics, a compilation album that includes "Digeridoo" and the Xylem Tube EP.

For his 1995 release, ...I Care Because You Do, James used an image of his face for the album cover, a motif that would continue on many of his later records. The album was a compilation of songs composed between 1990 and 1994 and represented a mish-mash of Aphex Twin's various music styles. This was James's last record of the 1990s to use mostly analogue synthesizers. He commissioned Western classical-music composer Philip Glass to create an orchestral version of one of the songs from this album, “Icct Hedral,” which appeared on the Donkey Rhubarb EP.

Jungle, DSP, and laptops: 1995–1999

In 1995 (primarily with Hangable Auto Bulb, a near anagram of Analogue Bubblebath), James began releasing more material composed on computers, combining a jungle sound with nostalgic childhood themes and computer-generated acid lines.

James's early adoption of software synthesizers predated the later popularity of using computers to make music. In late 1990s, his music became more popular and mainstream, as he released Richard D. James Album (which included the previously released Girl/Boy EP in its US release) and Expert Knob Twiddlers (a collaboration with fellow dance producer µ-ziq) in 1996, "Come to Daddy" in 1997 (#36 on UK charts) and "Windowlicker" in 1999 (#16 on UK charts). Two pop songs that heavily use Digital Signal Processing (DSP) techniques, "Come to Daddy" and "Windowlicker" were shown on MTV and became cover features for music magazines such as NME. The videos for both singles were directed by British artist Chris Cunningham and caused controversy on release because of their disturbing images and themes.

In 1998 Aphex Twin's track "[rhubarb]" (from Selected Ambient Works Volume II) appeared as part of the BBC's digital widescreen test transmission, which was on loop for many months as the service was introduced across the UK.

Prepared piano, laptops, and more DSP: 2000–2003

In 2001 Aphex Twin released drukqs, a two-CD album that featured prepared piano songs influenced by Erik Satie and John Cage. Many of the tracks' names are written in the Cornish language (e.g., 'jynweythek' translatable as 'machinemusic'). Also included were abrasive, fast, and meticulously programmed computer-made songs. Rolling Stone described the piano songs as "aimlessly pretty". Some reviewers concluded that drukqs was released as a contract breaker with Warp Records—a credible guess, as James's next big release was released on his own Rephlex label. James claimed to interviewers he had accidentally left an MP3 player labelled "Aphex Twin—unreleased tracks" on a plane, containing a large set of new songs, and rushed the album release to preempt an Internet leak. He also released a short EP titled 2 Remixes By AFX the same year as Drukqs. It featured two remixes, the originals being from 808 State and DJ Pierre. In addition, there is one untitled third track that consists mostly of high-pitched sounds.

Synthesizers and drum machines: 2004–2009

In late 2004, rumours of James's return to an acid techno-based sound were realised with the Analord series, an 11-part series of LPs with 42 total tracks, averaging 2–4 tracks per LP. The series was created by playing and sequencing analogue and digital electronic music equipment such as synthesizers and drum machines. The series was recorded on magnetic tape and then later pressed on vinyl.

James was meticulous about the whole process of recording, mastering, and pressing. James has said Rephlex Records was strict on quality control, trying out various pressing-plant companies until they felt it sounded perfect. To James's ears, vinyl or tape is better than digital, as no two copies are the same. However, label co-owner Grant Wilson-Claridge convinced James to release a digital CD, Chosen Lords, which included 10 selected songs from the Analord series, with some tracks slightly altered to improve the flow of the album. For the Analord records, James used his collection of Roland drum machines, bought when they were still at bargain prices. Some of the record labels display pictures of rare synthesizers like the Synton Fenix, and the notoriously difficult to program Roland MC-4 sequencer (a sequencer with a reputation for excellent timing), as well as the legendary Roland TB-303.

Media reports indicate Aphex Twin is now recording under The Tuss. Rephlex Records has denied that Aphex Twin is the Tuss, but Aphex Twin fans and the media have ignored Rephlex's denial and the Tuss is treated as yet another Aphex Twin project.

In March 2009 Steve Beckett of Warp Records announced a new album for a possible 2009 release.

Background details



The Aphex Twin name

The name Aphex Twin is derived from Aphex Systems Limited, a brand of audio signal processing equipment (itself derived from "analogue effects"). It is used with permission, as was recognized on the back sleeve of his Richard D. James and drukqs albums. He has explained in interviews that the Twin is in memory of his older brother, also named Richard James, who died at birth.

Artwork

James has done his own photography for some of his releases, Some artwork shows James's own face, grinning or slightly distorted in some way, as it can be seen in some of his video clips ("Come to Daddy," for example). Towards the end of the second track of the "Windowlicker" single (commonly referred to as "Equation") a photo of James's face is revealed when run through spectral analysis. The picture illustrates his famous toothy, evil grin (with a spiral also visible at the end of "Windowlicker"). In addition to this, the cover of "Two Remixes by AFX" is actually contained only on the CD, encoded in SSTV format.

Braindance

Richard's own Rephlex Records label, which he co-owns with Grant Wilson-Claridge, coined the term Braindance in 1991 to describe Aphex Twin's music. Rephlex Records' official definition of Aphex Twin and his followers' music is quoted as follows: "Braindance is the genre that encompasses the best elements of all genres, e.g traditional, classical, electronic music, popular, modern, industrial, ambient, hip-hop, electro, house, techno, breakbeat, hardcore, ragga, garage, drum and bass, etc."

Braindance applies to forward-thinking electronic music that can appeal to the mind as well as the desire to dance and party. Examples including Ed-DMX's Breakin' records label, µ-ziq's Planet-mu label, the Aphex Twin EP Come to Daddy and Astrobotnia Parts 1, 2 & 3.

Influences

At age 17, Richard D. James mentioned these influences: "Phonic Boy, Computer World, Mental Telepathy, Industrial Inc., Tomita, Tangerine Dream". Mixmaster Morris mentions on the "I Luv AFX" BBC Radio 1 Breezeblock session that James's preferred moniker while working as a DJ in Cornwall was Phonic Boy on Dope. More recently, he has said that he gets inspiration from "everyday sounds that can be emulated/reconstructed electronically, quality techno, especially from Europe, which overshadows the current hardcore pop crap." When asked about what is next for electronic music, he said "acid-techno, ambient-techno." Avant-garde music has been an influence on James, including artists such as Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Can, Neu!, Tangerine Dream, Conrad Schnitzler, Tod Dockstader, Xenakis, Piero Umiliani, Bernard Parmegiani, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, and the French composer Erik Satie for his piano works and his ideas for furniture music.

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop influenced Aphex Twin, and he released a compilation of music recorded by the pioneers of that studio, for example Delia Derbyshire, called Music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop on his own Rephlex Records label.

Many songs include sounds from and references to the ZX Spectrum. For instance, "Carn Marth" from Richard D. James Album includes the tape-loading noise of the game Sabre Wulf.

Intelligent Dance Music

The term 'intelligent dance music', or IDM, was coined in August 1993 by the (then popular) IDM mailing list based at hyperreal.org, as a convenient term to describe the emergent sound pioneered by the Warp Records 'Artificial Intelligence' series. The series prominently featured Aphex Twin tracks, as well as early productions from labelmates such as Autechre and LFO. The usage of this term spread, and although common now, the term is still a source of controversy and derision amongst many fans.

When Rephlex staple Mike Paradinas was asked "'No one says IDM in England?" he answered: "'No, only on message boards when they're talking to Americans!" "No one uses or used it in UK. Only Americans ever used the term. It was invented by Alan Parry who set up the IDM mailing list'."

In the UK, Aphex Twin's music is normally referred to as electronic music due to Aphex Twin's influence coming from electronic musicians such as Parmegiani and his study of electronic engineering in technical college. The official genre name from Rephlex Records is Braindance. Aphex Twin refers to his own breakbeat tracks as breakbeat, jungle, or drum and bass interchangeably. Other genres that he indulges in include acid, ambient, ambient techno, noise, and many more. Rephlex artist Luke Vibert who when presented with the suggestion that he invented a genre called drill 'n bass replied "What the fuck is drill n' bass?"

Influence on others

The London Sinfonietta has performed arrangements of Aphex Twin tracks. In 2005, the orchestra Alarm Will Sound released Acoustica: Alarm Will Sound Performs Aphex Twin. The album consists of acoustic arrangements of some of James's electronic tracks. Aphex Twin has said, "I don't really like rock & roll." Despite this, he has had an influence on rock bands like Radiohead. However, he has dismissed the idea of going on tour with them: "I wouldn't play with them since I don't like them.".

Advice from Aphex Twin
Future Music: What pisses you off about the current music scene?

Aphex Twin: Too many sheep and not enough shepherds. Let's all sit back and have a long hard think, then make something different! We can all do it, surely?

Aphex Twin's press

James described himself in The Guardian as follows: "I'm just some irritating, lying, ginger kid from Cornwall who should have been locked up in some youth detention centre. I just managed to escape and blag it into music."

James said he composed ambient techno music at the age of 13; he has "over 100 hours" of unreleased music; he made his own software to compose with, including algorithmic processes that automatically generate beats and melodies; he experiences synesthesia; and he is able to incorporate lucid dreaming into the process of making music.

He lives in southeast London in a converted bank, which was formerly the Bank of Cyprus and then HSBC. Contrary to popular opinion, however, he does not own the silver structure in the centre of the roundabout at Elephant and Castlemarker. This is, in fact, the Michael Faraday Memorialmarker, containing a power transformer for the Northern Line, which James jokingly claimed to be buying in an interview with The Face magazine in 2001. Some of these rumors are hard to confirm as he has been known to spread mistruths in the prankster tradition, making such claims as only sleeping two to three hours a night.

Stockhausen vs. The Technocrats

In November 1995, The Wire published an article titled "Advice to Clever Children." In the process of producing the interview, a package of tapes containing music from several artists, including Aphex Twin, was sent to Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Stockhausen commented:

Aphex Twin 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".

ZX81 Competition

Richard claims to have produced sound on a Sinclair ZX81 (a machine with no sound hardware) at the age of 11:
When I was 11, I won 50 pounds in a competition for writing this program that made sound on a ZX81.
You couldn't make sound on a ZX81, but I played around with machine code and found some codes that retuned the TV signal so that it made this really weird noise when you turned the volume up.


By displaying patterns that induced excessive sidebands in the video signal, the lower sideband was forced to spill over into the audio portion of the TV signal's spectrum. While the ZX81 was designed to filter the lower sideband of the video signal out, its simple circuitry did not remove all of it, and James' software was supposedly able to overcome the filtering.

Discography

See Richard D. James discography


References

  1. [1]
  2. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7570352384798773800
  3. http://www.bbc.co.uk/6music/news/20090313_aphex_twin.shtml
  4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2001/oct/05/artsfeatures3
  5. future music luke vibert


External links




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