It’s the final day of Aphex Twin Week, in celebration of our new 33 1/3 title, Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, by Marc Weidenbaum (revisit Marc’s author Q&A, here). In his second video vault entry, Marc visits the visual world of Richard D. James after SAW2 came out.
Richard D. James has more pseudonyms than Jason Bourne and Fernando Pessoa combined. So, it isn’t quite right to say he didn’t release anything after Selected Ambient Works Volume II for a full year. Quite the contrary, there was a steady flow of material, much from the close-proximate moniker AFX. However, the next official Aphex Twin album came almost exactly a year later: an EP of remixes of a track titled “Ventolin.”
The EP announced itself immediately as being as intentionally far from Selected Ambient Works Volume II as one might get. The opening whine of the first track is an intense, painful, irritating sound — deliciously irritating — and it doesn’t let up for the length of the song, or for the length of the release, which is a series of reworkings of the same material. Alongside that whine is a powerful rhythmic crunch.
In the video, the machine whine is initiated by the simple push of a button, an elevator button. It’s pushed by a businesswoman. Her plight — she’s stuck in the elevator for the length of the video — initially alternates with shots of the asthma inhaler from which the track takes its name. It is seen emerging from a box, the steady ascent reminiscent of space-rocket launches, a correlation strengthened by the slow-motion docking of the inhaler and mouthpiece later in the video.
There’s a lengthy series of short clips of ventilation shafts that look like what one might find these days on the Instagram account of an urban-studies flaneur. The steam of the inhaler gets confused with the steam from those ventilation shafts, which begs the question: is the inhaler providing relief, or is medicinal dependence serving up its own form of anxiety? The claustrophobia within the elevator matches the experience of having difficulty breathing, though the elevator patron’s deepest fears seem not to be claustrophobia or abandonment, but of the elevator plummeting to the ground. Then again, no one asks music videos to make sense, only that they last the length of the song.
I asked Aphex Twin about his own asthma and the subject of “Ventolin” when I interviewed him in 1996. This is the related bit of that interview:
Weidenbaum: Luke Vibert mentioned that you do suffer from asthma. Your Ventolin remix collection is named for asthma medication, and the cover features asthma images.
James: Yeah, but it’s never really bothered me, never stopped me from doing anything.
Weidenbaum: I wondered if the claustrophobic nature of that music was derived from personal experience.
James: With “Ventolin” I tried to get it really claustrophobic. I tried to get it like, sort of, similar to — similar sort of feeling to having an asthma attack, which is like claustrophobic, basically. But it’s not something that — I’ve got it, like, quite bad but it’s — I’m not sort of personally, let things like that scare me away.
This highlighting of “Ventolin,” one of my all-time favorite Aphex Twin records, perhaps second only to Selected Ambient Works Volume II, bookends my week-long guest spree at the great 33 1/3 blog. There is whole new round of 33 1/3 proposals now underway, for a new cohort of authors, and I wish all of those applicants the best of luck. I really appreciate all the support and the interest I’ve received as my Selected Ambient Works Volume II book’s official release date has neared. And in the future, you can find me at my website, Disquiet.com.
Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II is available now at Bloomsbury.com, on Amazon, or wherever 33 1/3s are sold.