Music

Aphex Twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2

Richard D. James isn't laying his best cards on the table with this EP, but at least he's staying active.


Aphex Twin

Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2

Label: Warp
US Release Date: 2015-01-23
UK Release Date: 2015-01-23
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

We were warned. Before Richard D. James resurfaced as Aphex Twin in 2014 with his delightfully colorful album Syro, he revealed in interviews that he had at least a dozen albums worth of material on deck and waiting. In that light, the sudden appearance of Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2 isn't such a big shock. On the other hand, the genetic makeup of this EP may take some getting used to for those who expect James to dabble purely in electronic sounds. This little work comes with all the blips and clangs you are accustomed to hear from Richard D. James as Aphex Twin, Caustic Window, Polygon Window, or AFX. How these sounds came about is the subtle twist.

The title is a case of truth in advertising (only I don't know where volume one is). The sounds on Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2 are built from acoustic piano, prepared piano and good old-fashioned percussion -- you know, where you take two things and smack them together. The only electronic manipulation involved is how they are all strung together. James doesn't take the gimmick very far. There are 13 tracks, but five of them are under a minute in length. Some of them amount to nothing more than a sample, like the nineteen-second snare drum roll named "snar2" or the looped drum beat "0035 1-Audio" which lasts for a whopping 26 seconds. Some early reviews of Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2 accuse James of making nothing more than a novelty release -- that technological know-how is a well and good, but it doesn't always make for fun listening. It's certainly true that Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2 isn't perfect. There are some tracks that go absolutely nowhere. But the ones that do actually move remind us of why Richard D. James continues to be held in such high esteem within electronic music's past, present, and, hopefully, its future.

The EP opens with one of its more accessible tracks, "diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13", which was also leaked on SoundCloud by James himself prior to release. The listener is introduced to the prepared piano right away with a sinister sounding single-note progression way down in the bass clef (prepared piano is when objects are placed against the piano's strings so that the notes can have a more percussive effect). As "diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13" rolls along, more sharply syncopated sounds are thrown into the mix. It grooves too, so much that you'll forget that you're listening only to acoustically-recorded sounds. The tracks shrink in size as the EP progresses and song ideas, for better or worse, are demoted to two-minute experiments where a nice established beat doesn't get the privilege to carry anything really cool. Remember how I said that some of these tracks go nowhere? "DISKPREPT1" and "disk prep calrec2 barn dance ( s l o )" are two such tracks. James establishes a mood but seems to stop there, not unlike constructing a room but not providing any furniture (cool room, though).

Because of that, "piano un10 it happened" appears out of nowhere in all its beauty. It's only 1:48, but it sounds unabashedly pure. It sounds like, for one afternoon, James chose not to be bothered by whether his new idea sounded too soft or syrupy and just recorded it. It's solo piano, a break in the clouds amid the homework assignment of making an acoustic dance album. "hat5c 0001 rec-4", the EP's concluding track, would be another one of those go-nowhere no-nothing tracks if it weren't for two saving factors. One is the disembodied noises that hang above the mix like spirits swimming in reverb. The other is the throat-slitting ending, the opposite of a grand exit.

No, Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt. 2 isn't going to go down in history as one of Richard D. James's crown jewels. It will go down as an odd little duck because James understand that sometimes you need to baffle your audience while engaging them. That's how you get the crown in the first place. If you want to stay on top, you can't bore people with predictability. Making your strange experiments very public not only keeps you fresh in everyone's minds, but it helps provide a context for what is your best work.

6

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image