Often praised as a musical genius, though made obscure by the prickliness of his music, Aphex Twin, the sometimes alter ego of Richard D. James, holds a position high atop the mountain of electronica as an overlord whose prowess serves to validate the entire genre (and ultimately define the IDM subgenre) in the eyes and ears of fellow musicians. The complexity of his polyrhythms, ceaseless layering of sound, and alternately haunting and beautiful melodies have made him a critical darling, while the playfulness of the melodies and a seemingly endless bag of new sounds to play or sample make him ear candy to those who are ADD inclined in their listening habits.
Now with Acoustica, the 22-member group of serious-minded musicians known as Alarm Will Sound have taken James's music and brought it into the pantheon of modern composers, rubbing shoulders with such luminaries as Terry Riley, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich. In fact, Alarm Will Sound's first recording project centered on the playing of two of Reich's pieces, and ever since then the group has received praise for both that recording and their live performances of modern material. Living up to the hype, their interpretations of Aphex Twin material are quite simply stunning in their flawless execution and attention to detail.
The intention was to take digitally created music and arrange it for live musicians to play on exclusively acoustic instruments. Over half the pieces were culled from Aphex Twin's last official release, 2001's Drukqs, with the remaining five tracks coming from the earlier Richard D. James Album and various singles. While this may seem heavily weighted towards one album, the selections provide a great cross section of the variety that James has produced over his prolific career. There are hyper-intense juggernauts like "Cock/Ver 10" and "Mt. Saint Michel," which showcase the amazing talent of the AWS's four percussionists, but also included are a number of the more quietly meditative pieces, exemplified by the heart-achingly lovely piano piece "Avril 14th." Regardless of their tones, each track rewards multiple listens, as the rigorously arranged and pristinely recorded live instrumentation can be picked apart, illuminating James's dense soundscapes in a way that his dense electronic productions rarely allow.
This album will truly have the double appeal that such an effort should have. First, fans of Aphex Twin should appreciate the love that shines through in AWS's playing of these reconstructions of incredibly challenging compositions. Second, 'serious' music fans should find the music not only pleasurable but also sufficiently complex to satisfy more intellectually based standards. In fact, with any luck, it may actually spark interest for more exploration of popular electronic music in general, or at least Richard D. James's vast catalogue of music. For these reasons, AWS deserves high praise. In the future, may they continue to bring recognition to similarly obscure composers working in the less prestigious field of popular music.
1. Cock/Ver 10
2. Logon Rock Witch
3. Meltphace 6
4. Blue Calx
6. Gwely Mernans
8. Prep Gwarlek 38
9. Omgyjya Switch 7
11. Jynweythek Ylow
12. Mt. Saint Michel
13. Avril 14th
14. Prep Gwarlek 38 Remix (by Dennis DeSantis)
15. Cliffs Remix (by Dennis DeSantis)