Aphex Twin Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 [EP]

[Warp; 2015]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: prepared piano, gamelan
Others: John Cage

A post-Syro release from Aphex Twin relinquishes our anxiety of the thought of him retreating from publishing music again. Now we can relax. And here it is: an EP that picks up not where Syro left off, but where certain acoustic tracks on Drukqs left off.

Listen to the prepared piano of that album’s opener, “Jynweythek Ylow,” to get a quick tease. Now listen to Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2, released 14 years later. It’s an EP obsessed with the specific metallic-like timbres that the prepared piano can produce and how those timbres might inspire fear, might recall childhood, or might, momentarily, be all the that we need for a temporary release from our daily lives.

There’s a materialism to these songs. For a musician who’s gone from using rare models of bygone analog equipment, to DJing with a piece of sandpaper and a blender, and to manipulating the sounds of an entire orchestra playing an iteration of a Penderecki piece, honing in on one sound — as he does here — and programming it takes maturity and patience. Preparing a piano like John Cage is no quick thing. These songs feel like studies; they remind me of Ellsworth Kelly’s drawings of flowers or Le Corbusier’s notebooks. Besides making emotionally-charged, gamelan-like rhythmic experiments, I think the grand message from Aphex Twin with this release is that no matter the timbre, synthesizer preset, acoustic source, or patched-up modular rack, it’s all about what you do with the actual sound. It’s about being absorbed in its texture long enough to be invested in transforming it, giving it more meaning than it had before. It’s about being absorbed in the micro as much as the macro. So in a way, this is an EP of musical advice: don’t lose inspiration from everyday sounds, and see where they can go when you get soaked up in them.

Song titles here are typical of Aphex Twin: unkempt, with numbers, dates, and words strewn about. Despite the demo-like look of the titles, each of these pieces seems worked through, except the ones under a minute long. The source of these sounds might be the piano that James programmed on Drukqs. It might not be. These songs might be exhumed pieces on one of James’s 2TB external hard drives. The mystery is when they were made, and it remains so. But these speculations are like the weather arriving: deaf and gracious. Some tracks are stunning, others pass by unnoticed. The fact that we have them is beautiful enough. The chaos swallows you up.

Links: Aphex Twin - Warp

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