Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Aphex Twin, "Pulsewidth" (1993)


In the interests of honesty, I have to admit I don't know very much about the prolific electronic artist Aphex Twin (aka Richard D. James, an Englishman born in Ireland). But something about the warm and soothing cold tones of the instrumental "Pulsewidth" has always appealed to me a lot. In this one track I hear the essence of every track on every techno anthology I've bought blind over the years, and it's definitely the high point for me of the interesting but often unfocused LP Selected Ambient Works 85-92. More or less generic techno, perhaps even a key template of the form, it's driven by a supple rubbery bass and various keyboard splashes and effects, yet marked by an unusual and almost clinical hush. It's basically a mood and a reason to move that lasts less than four minutes. Somehow it always sounds good. As with all the tracks on the album (and a '94 sequel), "Pulsewidth" is in part the result of James's avowed allegiance to Brian Eno's conception of ambient music circa 1978, extending it into the '90s and beyond. Aphex Twin, of course (with all the other monikers James has worked under, more than a dozen altogether according to Wikipedia, from AFX to Soit-P.P.), has turned out to be a giant in this particular corner of electronic dance music, although in terms of overall career output I think I might still prefer the Orb. But this is such a fine and unpretentious distillation of a sound that it almost needs to go under glass.

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