When looking at Syro last year, we said that its true worth would only become apparent in hindsight. Well here it is: it’s still good. Syro has quickly become that album that never shifts from your media player, a go-to album in those on the hoof lack of inspiration playlist moments. Flinging out a cliché, it is an album that you happily slip into like a well-worn pair of jeans. Comfort, however, is not what some seek when heading to the works of Richard D James and there have been some quarters who have not gravitated towards the bridging of a thirteen-year gap.
Sonically, it shouldn’t have been a surprise; Syro was clearly signposted for followers of the Analord series and the vaguely anonymous sidestep into The Tuss alias. It was the symptom of a man who has found his own comfort zone, albeit one that lies within a sprawling and lavish setup. With that in mind, Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 is the surprise that is salivated for, the facet hinted at in past works but as of yet given the chance to sparkle.
The concept of Aphex gone acoustic is not a new one; London Sinfonietta’s tour of Warp classics and contemporary classical pieces between 2003 and 2005 joined the dots between luminaries such as John Cage and Steve Reich to the vanguard of the Sheffield powerhouse’s roster, and the U.S. based ensemble Alarm Will Sound propelled themselves into media consciousness through covering Aphex Twin classics on their Acoustica album.
While novel, these translations introduce something not present in any of James’ compositions; several points of human error. Listen to London Sinfonietta’s take on Polygon Window’s Quoth, it is enthralling but gestures loosely in the face its electronic inspiration. Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 is acoustic Aphex done right, the man himself stepping in to translate his works through mechanical means into organic audio. It also proves to be a translation that is suffered gladly.
If you’ve ever subjected yourself to the endurance sport of high street shopping, it’s likely that you have the unfortunate experience of having an acoustics compilation of contemporary pop hits played at you, the complete dearth of range cruelly exposed once stripped of its loudness war trappings. Not so with the work of Richard D James, whether it is classical funk jam, a fragment of percussion workout or the melting snowflake of piano solo. His techniques are enhanced by the constraints; as a person who operates in self defined scales made up from the tones found in-between the notes, the detuned nature of melodies swirling around your cochlear and force you to pay attention with no time for narcosis.
The continual probing at the edges of sonic boundaries is something expected by anything with the Aphex moniker attached to it. This is also something that the Syro naysayers likely did not find in last years album, no doubt expecting a generational shift in digital aesthetics rather than a rabbit hole of analogue appreciation. A move to classical instrumentation may sound like a step backwards through the centuries, however it proves to defy expectations. Take the humble piano for example; the loosening of a string becomes your low frequency oscillator, muffling it creates the same dry punch you’d expect from any number of bass synths, augmenting with metallic objects adds the sharp attack necessary for aggressive arpeggios. After a while your mind fills in the gaps and you’ll catch yourself thinking “Ah! That’s the 303 section!” or internally bouncing along to a classic Chicago bassline structure.
If the material, which is sadly no longer available, uploaded to the Aphex Twin Soundcloud last year is any barometer, the future could be very well be filled with many idiosyncratic curios as Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2. As it stands, it is a warm and intimate collection that is a worthy follow up to Syro, the timbre of the instruments matching the faintly captured fragments of home life in the background; barking dogs and the colourful chatter of children.
Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2 is out now on Warp Records, order a copy from Bleep.com
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