Aphex Twin’s new outing is exactly what the title suggests, contributing another experimental, minimalist step into an earlier Drukqs-style play on dark prepared piano and sporadic song structure. Aphex Twin’s music as a whole is both jarring and beautiful, and since breaking into the electronic scene in the early 90’s, only few have matched the intricacy and unique blend of ambient soundscapes and inventive drum patterns. Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 takes this signature sound to a much more simple, but striking sound of thumping beats and percussive melodies.
Despite the extremely un-mainstream approach Aphex Twin provides, he is still a heavily prominent figure in the music scene, especially after taking a Grammy for best dance/electronic album with the long waited Syro this year, and beating such worldwide popular artists like Deadmau5 and Little Dragon. That album, along with Acoustic Instruments pt2 may differ in sound, but are wholly Aphex Twin in ambition and refusal to sound like anyone else.
Even with the huge walls of layers and constantly changing patterns, there are always tender, melocholic moments on his records that prove it is not just technical flash for the sake of showcasing intense rhythms. Like Drukqs and the Richard D. James album, Aphex Twin provides classical oriented compositions that remind fans and listeners just how creative and talented he is as a composer. The track “piano un10 it happened” off of Acoustic Instruments pt2, brings back probably the defining point of Drukqs with “Avril 14th.” A gentle piano composition plays in between heavy drum tracks and allows the album to breath and concentrate on the importance of Aphex Twin’s musical influences in the likes of John Cage. Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 mainly features funky rhythms of sequenced live drum sounds to the familiar dissonance of melody, but it is these “light” tracks that provide an alternative to electronic music’s capabilities of club beats or chill ambient tracks.
Aphex Twin’s Grammy win is a testament to the why such mainstream awards and appraisal can be relevant in naming an artist as an innovator, or subjectively “the best” of that year. Although there are a huge number of artists working in the electronic genre – especially rock and pop artists heavily implementing synths and drum machines- the genre itself is still without a consistent definition. You can simply say that electronic music uses programmed notes and manipulation, but the endless possibilities of sounds, moods, patterns and the degree of how much is programmed or played by a live band gives the genre a much more open field of interpretation. Acoustic Instruments pt2 is strictly electronic music, but it is sonically far more diverse than say, a Chemical Brothers or Deadmau5 track. Aphex Twin’s album (and others before it) doesn’t narrow the genre down to straight tempo synth hooks, but sounds like an collective of drummers and multi-percussionists stringing together an orchestral piece based on rhythm and feeling.
Feeling. Many criticizers of electronic music express that it lacks this important quality of music. Aphex Twin, however, pushes the trained ear to feel drum rhythms and patterns to a much more “human quality.” For instance, the track “diskhat2” offers probably the most human-like drum playing for programmed beats with its push-pull approach and subtle ghost notes. Jojo Mayer, a famous drummer known for playing electronic styled beats acoustically, has described electronic rhythms as simply binary codes and that human playing goes beyond this with what he describes as the space between zero and one. This human element to drumming is very true to the sounds we pick up while listening to drum machines compared to a live drummer. So the question is: can electronic music eventually express the nuances of a human drummer? While Aphex Twin’s Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 does have a distinct feel that gets the head bobbing, it is still electronically programmed to real drum sounds. Whether it has feel however, is entirely up to the listener. Aphex Twin’s discography probably has the most intense rhythms that are impossible to play with the limits of the human body and two sticks. While many of these songs (especially from Drukqs) have intense creativity and uniqueness, its electronic capabilities may only go so far in providing rhythmic dynamics. If you ask me, Aphex Twin does achieve this to some degree, or at least will be able to in the near future.
Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 is interesting in its approach to matching a human quality to drumming, and with programming analog sounds together to create something entirely new, Aphex Twin is pushing how we perceive electronic music and its capabilities as something full of possibilities and reaching something more meaningful than expected.
You can download Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 and other Aphex Twin releases on Warp’s website.
Alex Gougeon is a Toronto-Based freelance Writer, Musician and Videographer who loves everything Film and Music. Alex’s recent reviews include the film It Follows, and the album The Powers That B by Death Grips.