ONLY NOISE: Aging Towards Strange with Aphex Twin

Only Noise


In my experience, listening to Aphex Twin is a willful crawl towards chaos. Richard D. James has managed to manifest an auditory minefield that calls forth visions of an underground orgy of electrical wiring, a realm beyond the strictures of the Logos. Passively listening to a track like “Metapharstic” is like tumbling up an M.C. Escher staircase, or getting a seemingly ceaseless skull spanking. Aphex Twin has been known to hasten the pulse, induce an itch, and summon the sweats. Comparatively, you are little more than a sluggish bystander to this brilliance. Your mortal human mechanics had not anticipated this din. This sensation seems to be exactly what Aphex Twin seeks to inspire. RDJ long ago abandoned the pursuit of equal temperament, detuning and tinkering with varied electronic equipment in order to produce his own scales and circuits. In an interview with Pitchfork, he explains the intent behind this process: “You’re working out a new language, basically. New rules. And when you get new rules that work, you’re changing the physiology of your brain. And then your brain has to reconfigure itself in order to deal with it.” Welcome to the sonically hypnotic maze of anarchic confusion and jubilant delusion that is Aphex Twin.

I was probably introduced to Aphex Twin in a speeding car after dark. I can’t recall the specifics of this episode, but I can almost guarantee that the introduction was made by one rogue beatnik boyfriend, and that the initiation track was the ever-haunting “Alberto Balsalm.” Aphex Twin, in addition to this particular relationship, nurtured a mind-bending realization at 16 years old. Like a synthesizer untouched by RDJ’s capably disturbed hands, my own internal wiring required some major adjustments. I would have to drastically reassess my own media consumption and greater existential priorities, else I continue to live a life most ordinary. In other words, both man and music proved to be psychically jarring. For the first time, I felt comfortably alien and happily unclean.

My first Aphex Twin purchase was the 1997 Come to Daddy album, in the form of a treasured compact disc. This album nearly sent me spinning off the road on several occasions, usually in the demonic grip of the title track. The song itself is sonic electrocution, but if you seek an even greater jolt, its accompanying music video – directed by the inimitable Chris Cunningham – offers further twisted hilarity and proper visual assault.

This early purchase was followed by a seizure of Classics, RDJ’s 1995 compilation album featuring the best of the brutal. As high school miserabilism and hometown cabin fever continued to mount, this album was almost always party to my late night roving. My twilight highlights included “Digeridoo,” “Phloam,” “Tamphex – Hedphuq Mix,” and the ever dreamy “Polynomial-C.”

I didn’t discover Syro until years later. At the time, I was attending community college in Portland, Oregon, a move which was likely little more than spontaneous stupidity. Downtown Portland was host to my gloomy wandering. On my lengthier romps, I inexplicably clung to “minipops 67 [120.2][source field mix],” the first track on the LP. I suspect that this isn’t a song you listen to if you are a reasonably content and/or jovial person. I can only describe it as a bout of haunting sonic schizophrenia, both cartoonish and sinister, like the sneer of a certain corporate clown. “Windowlicker,” the title track off of RDJ’s 1999 release, is similar in this respect. I was delighted to find it featured in Gaspar Noe’s 2018 film, Climax, as its disorienting quality lends itself beautifully to horrors of the psychedelic variety.

Much like Noe’s films, Aphex Twin is a gleeful usher towards the archetypal rabbit hole. Historically, the allure of the absurd has proven to be dangerously seductive. I am not immune to such seduction. Indeed, a wayward Aphex Twin lyric once proved to be the impetus for a date with a festering creep, who may or may not have tried to slip me a mickey. This is, regrettably, a true story. I was reluctant to meet with this person, yet was stupidly intrigued when he shot forth a garbled quote from Aphex Twin’s “Milk Man” over text. In my depressive dormitory solitude, I concluded that this properly perverse gent would at least be far from dull. Right. This malicious character, a sharp-featured man who only met my shoulders, managed to eject the most sinister laugh I have ever encountered in my twenty-three years. In fact, he wore an aura of quiet, simmering malevolence that I have not known since. This particular story was one of successful escape. However, the sour taste remains. We pay in these ways for getting seduced by the strange. Aphex Twin is one such worthy seductress.