I am going to do this track-by-track countdown to the release, on February 13, 2014, the day prior to Valentine’s Day, of my book in the estimable 33 1/3 series. It is a love letter to Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works Volume II, which will mark its 20th anniversary this year, less than a month after my book’s publication. More on my Aphex Twin book at amazon.com and Bloomsbury.com. The plan is to do this countdown in the reverse order, from last track to first. For reference, an early draft of the introduction is online, as is the book’s seven-chapter table of contents. The book’s publisher posted an interview with me when I was midway through the writing process.
There is some irony to doing this countdown since the book is already shipping to folks who pre-ordered it via an online retailer such as Amazon, but the official date stands, and that’s the target — the end date — of this countdown, February 13. And for what it’s worth, while the physical copies are mailing now from retailers, the Kindle version won’t turn on until February 13. Still, the digital version costs less.
As I’ve noted on Twitter, this track-a-day approach is exactly the opposite of the book’s approach, which is a collection of interrelated, reporting-based essays.
This is one of the first tracks I began to take extensive notes on, pages upon pages about just one song. Looking back at those notes today, I come upon this opening part of a sentence: “It’s around the second hour of listening that I come to recognize …”
The immersive experience I made of listening to a track a day, and to little else, for a year, rotating through them, comes backs to me as I work down this reverse countdown to this coming Thursday, February 13, when the book is officially released. That’s a somewhat less than meaningful date since: (1) physical copies in the U.S. are already shipping (and images are popping up on Twitter and Instagram), (2) it applies at this point to the digital version (which goes live that day, though in my experience of pre-ordering digital books that probably means that if you live on the West Coast of the United States you may have access to it on Tuesday night at 9:01pm, just as the East Coast enters the next day), and (3) the U.K. version isn’t officially on sale until April.
The track is built around two bars with a step-like melody, up and down and up and down. It comes to seem like the minute spaces between the notes in the theme alter, giving it a woozy, uncertain quality. The repetition has a parallel in the echo that allows the notes to repeat: they repeat in sequence, and also as suddering halos of themselves. This is the hall of mirrors, a languorous ambient techo rendition of the climactic scene in Lady in Shanghai. Ultimately, it isn’t an either/or distinction — it’s all about the merging, this place where all repetitions are themselves a form of note, a kind of instrument.
The track “Curtains” was used by satirist and comedian Chris Morris as a backing score to one of his sketches, “Man’s Bottom,” as heard below. Morris’ use of Aphex Twin makes an appearance in my book (in the chapter “Embedding Vapor”), but I focus on a different instance.
And here it is reversed:
Thanks to boondesign.com for the sequential grid treatment of the album cover.