Aphex Twin – ‘Computer Controlled Instruments Pt 2’ (Warp)

Aphex Twin- as the name suggests- has always had a somewhat schizophrenic musical persona: part playful and deviant, part serious and profound. ‘Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt 2’ operates firmly within the former category, positioning piano ditties next to clattering percussive dirges, whilst its title refers to a predecessor that doesn’t exist. It also serves as a riposte to those who may have thought ‘Syro’ signalled a move towards some- admittedly not very straight or narrow- form of normality. Obviously, Aphex Twin is a rule to itself.

Where ‘Syro’ was shiny and polished ‘Computer…’ is dark and serrated. Opener ‘diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13’ sets the tone with scuffling, spliced snare rolls and the creepiest of piano motifs. From there things get darker still with ‘DISKPREPT4’ being propelled by a rhythm that sounds like the tick of a possessed grandfather clock. It is intense and suffocating yet captivating, too. The majority of the tracks come in under 2 minutes, appearing and evaporating like the whirring of an overactive brain. It is possible to pick out melodies and grooves within the midst of the murk but it’s more rewarding to just let the music just exist, free of any expectation.

In ‘Computer..’ James works within a self imposed limitation: manipulating mainly ‘acoustic’ instruments, as the title makes clear. It’s a conceit that is possible in an EP, and to compare it to ‘Syro”s infinitely broader sonic palette seems unfair. The EP explores this dichotomy of acoustic/computer to subtle depths. Over the course of the record you can hear a dog’s bark, a baby’s babble and one cough. This gives the unnerving sensation that the music is somehow ‘live’, despite its spliced and synthetic nature. In ‘disk prep calrec2 barn dance (slo)’ various stringed instruments reverberate in such a way that it’s almost impossible to imagine them not being ‘played’ – you can practically feel the dimensions of the room in which it would be performed. It’s an uncanny trick: an effect that is both intimate and distancing. It’s as if you’re in a room with a troupe of not-quite-humans playing not-quite-normal instruments.

The EP’s obvious outlier is ‘piano un10 it happened’. It’s a monolith of ivory stringed tenderness within a sea of disquiet and is among the most beautiful pieces of music James has written. Within the context of the record, it’s almost like a taunt, showing what sources of emotion the man can tap into when he feels like it. The vinyl format of the EP has a centre label adorned solely with the text ’33 or 45′ on both sides. It’s as if James is presenting another challenge to the listener: you decide. The self professed “irritating, lying ginger kid from Cornwall” has never been interested in presenting simple, digestible music. And whilst it’s unlikely that this release will turn up in your ‘most played list’ it does show that Richard D James’ dual impulse of delighting and perplexing in equal measure shows no sign of mellowing with age.

‘Computer Controlled Instruments Pt 2’ is out now on Warp. Buy it here.

Tim Peyton

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