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SUPER EGO "There is no previous book to this book. There is no Selected Ambient Works Volume I book, just as there is no record by the musician Aphex Twin bearing the title Selected Ambient Works Volume I. There is, however, a Selected Ambient Works Volume II album, released by the British record label Warp in 1994, and this is a book about that album."
So begins the latest entry in the great, ongoing 33 1/3 book series from Bloomsbury Press, which unleashes one notable writer on one seminal album and prints the often-poetic results. In this case, the "extravagantly opaque, willfully vaporous" chillout room masterpieces of electronic composer Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin -- basically what everyone in the 1990s listened to as they swept up/came down after the rave -- get the business from incisive SF writer and archivist Marc Weidenbaum. And really, the pairing couldn't be any more delicious.
Since 1996, Weidenbaum's been quietly documenting from the Richmond District all manner of experimental and electronic sounds on his incredible Disquiet.com site. (Some have referenced the site as one of the earliest blogs.) It's one of our great sonic secrets: Pretty much once a day for the past 18 years he's been opening ears to everything from random satellite-based sound sculptures and square wave coding antics to looped Sumerian myths and compressed Fugazi-discography experiments.
Named after mysterious early 20th century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa's "factless autobiography" The Book of Disquiet, Disquiet.com itself had a disquieting beginning. "When I founded Disquiet, I had quit a job I'd had for seven years," Weidenbaum told me by email. He'd started at Tower Record's Pulse! Magazine as an editor, then went on to launch its classical magazine and found its first digital publication. "I'd joined Tower because I wanted to work for a magazine that covered all music, which back then was quite an unusual thing. But in time I realized that my seemingly disparate listening had a core thread: that which I first thought of as electronically mediated sound, but eventually I recognized as 'technologically' mediated sound.
"Aphex Twin was part of a new generation of musicians who helped focus my ears. Wagon Christ. Shinjuku Thief. DJ Krush. Skylab. Oval. Spring Heel Jack. DJ Olive. Grassy Knoll. They were layered on top of the earlier generations of electronic experimenters, who I was already fond of: Brian Eno, Gavin Bryars, Pauline Oliveros, Laurie Anderson, Robert Fripp, Nicolas Collins, Ikue Mori.... Recognizing that technological focus gave me the comfort to move on."
And now he's written a book channeling his feelings for the technological mediation that Aphex Twin brought to the fore. The tricky thing, of course, is that Aphex Twin — who's recently reemerged to perform with and produce insane South African zef-rave act Die Antwoord — is known not just for ethereal, era-framing atmospheric ambience, but satanic electronic audiovisual combustions like "Windowlicker" and "Come to Daddy" as well.