Aphex Twin Week: Cultural Afterlife Is a Form of Change

It’s 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 this third entry, Marc talks about an album’s “cultural afterlife.”

repetition-oblique-strategiesMuch of my book about the Aphex Twin album Selected Ambient Works Volume II is about what I’ve come to think of as the album’s “cultural afterlife.”

All art, once released into the world, gains as many co-authors as it has recipients, viewers, consumers, listeners, readers, what have you. That is to say, every album — every book, every painting, every movie — has a cultural afterlife, by which I mean the extended period long after its initial appearance. In pop music, songs often end up in movies, or covered by other musicians, or parodied, or licensed for advertisements, or employed as theme songs for TV shows. Each of these employments and deployments shifts the album’s meaning.

What makes such shifts over time of particular interest for an ambient album, such as this one by Aphex Twin, is that ambient music is an inherently static form — something to which change is seemingly anathema. Yet as the famed koan by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt — from their Oblique Strategies cards — goes, “Repetition is form of change.” If ambient music in its repetitive, often droning, state can be said to change over time, then what does that change constitute?

Well, for one thing, this Aphex Twin record seems much louder than it did upon its release. That’s a subject that I explore in some length in the book, mostly in chapter two (“Background Beats”) and also a bit in chapter three (“A Chill-out Room of One’s Own”).

The primary way I explore the record’s change over time is by speaking with people who have used the music themselves. In the book we hear from a choreographer, a sound designer, two filmmakers, a composer, and others who have used Aphex Twin’s work as part of their own. These following videos display some examples of that reuse.

This is an excerpt of “Bill,” by choreographer Sharon Eyal, working with her colleague Gai Behar and sound designer Ori Lichtik. When I approached Eyal for an interview, she directed me to Lichtik, whom I spoke with at length. The piece features the track “Shiny Metal Rods”:

This is an excerpt of a work by choreographer Cori Marquis that employs “Blue Calx,” albeit in the version by Alarm Will Sound. I interviewed Marquis, and also the composer who transcribed this version, Caleb Burhans:


Burhans transcribed not only “Blue Calx” but also “Cliffs,” the album’s first track, seen and heard here in a brief segment of a “flash mob” version performed by Alarm Will Sound at the Metropolitan Museum Of Art in November 2013. That was right around the time I was working into the prepress version of the book some material from a 2003 interview I did with the group’s music director, Alan Pierson:


Those are just a few examples mentioned in the book. As I say in the introduction, Selected Ambient Works Volume II has just the slightest vestige of a human voice present on it. This book, however, is flush with different voices. Those different voices are the literal comments by and artistic work of numerous individuals and ensembles.
Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II will be available this Thursday, Feb. 13 at, on Amazon, or wherever 33 1/3s are sold.


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