Aphex Twin - An interview on inspiration
Type of Spiritual Experience
James has publicly stated that the sounds from his album Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994) were inspired by lucid dreams. Upon waking, he would attempt to re-create the sounds and record them. This album consists of lengthy ambient compositions which James has described as being "like standing in a power station on acid".
A description of the experience
Aphex Twin was interviewed by Space Age Bachelor magazine on September 25th 1997, in the afternoon on the day of a gig in Vancouver. Here’s a link to the interview transcript
Sussing Out The Sounds of the Future
Aphex Twin’s music might sound like it comes from another world, but, in fact, it is recorded in this world. Just like you and me, he puts his pants on one leg and a time. This music is not beamed down from space. This in mind, I ask him where he likes to normally record. “Just in my bedroom sort of thing. I’ve got to have my studio close to my bed. That’s the only important factor.” Really, I am asking the most serious questions on this day. I have unlimited tape and readers with an unlimited attention span. So do you like lie on your bed and make music? “I do that as well, cause I’ve got my laptop as well. So I go to bed with my laptop. It keeps the bed warm as well. If you leave it on, you can lie in the bed with your computer.”
In fact, the day before I interviewed him, he had just bought a new laptop, a QY, and had already done four tracks on it. He has once said that people who play video games shouldn’t be allowed to drive an automobile. I ask him if playing video games ever interferes with his recording. Well, apparently, not as much as shagging, but more on that later. He says, “I bought a CD with about 5 billion games, and I haven’t played any of them yet. There’s too much information going around these days. I don’t know what to concentrate on. It’s quite hardcore, I reckon.”
Richard D James Album is probably one of the best illustrations that we are living in an age of information overload. It is music that changes every 30 seconds with tons of hyper, spazzy drum patterns and extremely poppy melodies. The individual sound is the most important thing. Where more minimal approaches try to build something up over time, with Aphex’s recent music you get the impression that every second must be exciting. “Yeah, I used to like stuff to go on for ages, but not now. I like my ears to be alerted like every few seconds. I like something different to happen, something good to go on.”
It’s open eared music that lets everything in. While never referencing anything, the sounds remind you of so many different styles. “For that album,” he says, “I was totally influenced by loads of things, cause I was living in a house with loads of my mates just listening to all this music all the times of the day. They all listened to wicked music. So I just couldn’t help incorporating it into my music. I didn’t mind, I just don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve moved out on my own, because I prefer to get inspired on my own.”
So does that mean that when you’re on your own, you don’t listen to music? “Well, I do. I just won’t carry it across. I don’t switch between listening-to-music moods, and making-music moods. I just get on a making-music mood for ages, and then I’ll get bored of it. And then I’ll go and listen to music for ages. It’s like two separate things. I don’t listen to records and get motivated to make music. Whereas, if you’re in a house, and you’re in a making music mood, and everyone’s playing wicked tracks, you just can’t help nicking things. The best way for me is to just wait till you’re really bored, and that’s when you make the best music. But I can’t be really be bored these days, because I’ve got so much to do all the time. It’s quite hard.”
I had read on a previous occasion that he’s a good Chess player. In the age of information overload, it seems like one of the hardest things I can imagine doing. “Well, I don’t know if I’m good,” he confesses, “But compared to someone who’s shit, I’m good. I love it. I can get right into it. Concentration’s not a problem. As long as I’m somewhere nice, and not distracting. I can’t play Chess with the TV on. That’s well fucking irritating. But I can play it when I’m listening to music. I’m rubbish when I’m stoned though. I just make really crap mistakes.”
I ask, if he reckons that music making is an addiction?
“I’d probably get quite strung out, if I didn’t do it …”
At this point, someone brings in a flyer for the evening’s show. Aphex Twin has a minor fit, when he thinks his name’s not been given top billing. “I’m not supporting bloody-what-the-fuck-are-they-called Sneaker Pimps.” As it turns out, what with the arty style of the design, his name was printed twice, once at the top, once at the bottom — it was the bottom, however, that caught his eye first. Also, on the bill, is the Crystal Method. The Asian hiccup could have been staved off with all the money that has been spent on Crystal Method’s advertising budget. They’re the cheap American imitation of the Chemical Brothers that no one should have heard of. Says Aphex, “I tried really hard yesterday to not hear them, and I managed to do it, which was pretty good. But yeah I hate them. They’ll be totally shit. I won’t listen to it today either. I’ll go sit on the bus.”
I get the feeling, however, that Aphex will make it through this tour without too much grief, cause his mate Luke Vibert is along doing the DJ-ing. Otherwise known as Plug and Wagon Christ, I talked to Luke for a few minutes after my interview with Aphex. Luke complained about kind of falling through the cracks a little, cause to Squarepusher and Aphex his music is not weird enough, but to the DJ kids it’s too weird. Aphex reckons that Luke and the rest of his mates along on the tour are amongst the hardest-core pot smokers in London. So, I asked if they had any trouble crossing the US border, while travelling from Seattle to Vancouver. “They kept us for four hours going back to America the other day, which was fucking shit. They tried to scare us, but this time around we were wise to it, so it was well funny. This woman was trying to scare me and Luke, and we just ignored her. They told us that we had cocaine residue in the back of the bus, and none of us do it, so they’re just lying, trying to scare you. Pretty crap really, though, because anyone can tell just by looking at us that we smoke dope and not cocaine. We’re such scruffy bastards. People who take cocaine are usually more smartly dressed I reckon. They wear more designer clothing. So they took the wrong guess. If we do another tour, I’m not going to go through the border. I’m just going to fly.”
Doing Private Things In Public
“In Seattle, all the public toilets didn’t have any doors on them. It was well strange. What’s that all about? I had to take a shit, and they’re was like twenty people in a row going for a shit, and I was like, “uh.” So after about ten minutes, I thought it was quite wicked actually. I was quite into the idea of it.”
Things get, well, very scatalogical and eschatological at this point. During the round of press on the album, I Care Because You Do, much was made of Aphex’s use of lucid dreaming to compose music. I was confused at the time, cause I wasn’t quite sure what was meant by the term “lucid dreaming.” Is it actually dreaming or just daydreaming, I ask. “Well, both really. But what I meant was when you’re asleep, like making sounds in your head, and trying to work out songs. I used to do it. I don’t do it anymore. Like I had a dream on the bus the other day, and I had this tune in my head, and I couldn’t remember it when I woke up. It takes a lot of practice to remember it when you’re awake.” How do you train? “Well, for about a year. The training is to remember it basically. Because most of the time, I have a dream and know that I’ve dreamt up a wicked tune, or sound, or idea, and when I wake up all I can remember is the fact that it was really wicked, so that’s really irritating.” Most people can’t control their dreams, I tell him. “Yeah, I can change it. Not all the time. But most of the time — 75%. That’s why I love sleeping. For me, there’s different degrees of control. There’s ones that are like a movie, where you’re in the movie, and you can control yourself, and those are the best ones. And then there’s ones where you control everything, and that’s really boring, because nothing happens.”
It seems to me that breaking things is a very natural human impulse. I find it curious, in this regard, watching children. I say this in reference to one of the rare dreams I could remember controlling. I thought it was really funny to think that, knowing I could do anything, I decided to go a hardware store and smash a bunch of shit up. “Yeah, I’ve done that. I’ve smashed everything up, fucked everyone, blown everything up, burnt everything, done everything. I used to dream I was invisible when I was young. Those were one of my favorites. Now, I like eating in dreams — smelling and eating are what I do now.” I’m amazed, cause I’ve never smelled anything in a dream. “I’ve just worked out how to do it. It’s really weird. It’s like sound as well. Because it’s not real, but it’s like in your imagination. But when I eat food, it can be really vivid. I quite like looking in mirrors as well.”
I tell him about when I go to bed drunk without drinking any water. In my dreams, I drink soft drink after soft drink trying to quench my thirst. Says Aphex, “Oh yeah, yeah, I do that as well. It’s worse, if you piss yourself as well. I’ve done that about three times, when I’ve been drunk. You want to go to the toilet so much, but you’re drunk, so you just dream it. And then when you wake up, you go, “Ah fucking hell, I’ve pissed myself.’ You’ve never done that?” Actually, no. I haven’t pissed my bed since I was a kid. Some people say if you piss in dreams, then you’ll piss in real life, but I don’t think that’s true. “Yeah, not always,” agrees Aphex. “Like I usually start pissing in a dream, and then realize it’s a dream, and wake myself up. But when you’re drunk, I don’t control anything. I hate drunk dreams. They’re fucking shit. They just go in loops, and repeat over and over again. And I’ll remember things in the night, and they’ll just loop over and over again. So I have to wake myself up, and go back to sleep …
“Have you seen those things in the toilet?” he asks me after breaking off in mid-sentence. “Those information ads. They say the average time for sex is 33 minutes and 42 seconds, including foreplay.” Including foreplay! We agree it’s probably a lie. “Don’t know. I couldn’t work out if they were bullshitting or not. I don’t know what my average shag length is. I suppose it depends on what girl I’m with.” Comparisons can be drawn between his dreaming methods and sexual practices. “I can go as long as I want now. It’s up to me. It just takes a lot of practice, I think. Well, it depends. For the first shag, maybe I won’t be able control myself, but if you have like two in the night or something, after the first one you can do whatever you like. I can anyway.”
The Warp press release states that he “has been teaching his computer to write music so he can spend more time shagging. He continues, “I like shagging. The girlfriend I’ve got at the moment is totally up for shagging anywhere, like in the street. I had a wicked shag on a beach in France before I came to America, and it was really good. There was this quite pretty woman, who was quite fit and about thirty, and she started wanking like about thirty feet away from us. She was wanking herself off, watching us two. So when we finished, she just crept away.”
That’s pretty odd, but strange things happen in France. In fact, I’ve seen a French movie where that happened, except everyone was related to one another. “Well, I’ve got a lush French girlfriend right now. I’m well missing her on this tour.” I ask if he’s pretty popular in France. “No not at all. I think it’s probably the lamest territory. I’ve only played there once. But I said yes to a festival there later in the year, because I thought I’d get to see my bird.”
So when you meet a girl, do you meet her cause you’re Aphex Twin, or has it got nothing to do with that?
“I try, if I meet a girl, to make it so that if they know who I am, then I’m not into it. That’s why I wouldn’t want to be any more famous. Cause basically the only people that know me are in some certain scenes. Like this girl would have heard of me, but she wouldn’t have recognized me. So it was pretty sorted. She wouldn’t give a shit about that sort of thing anyway.”
Yeah, I figure there’s going to be some bars, where you can get just about any girl in the place, because they know who you are.
“Well, she’s the opposite way around. Being famous is probably more of a handicap for me, because if it’s a girl who’s intelligent, she’ll probably think, “He thinks he’s a right fucking stud, because he’s famous, and he can fuck off.’ So it can work the other way around. That’s probably what my girlfriend thought, and then she met me, and realized how right sorted I was. I’m more into girls who don’t like what I’m into, because it keeps you interested more. If girls are to into what you do, you just get bored completely.”
Okay, the big question. Is there a big difference between Richard James and Aphex Twin?
“I don’t know. I don’t know what Aphex Twin is anymore.”
So if you’re screwing about with girls a lot — do you think that affects your recording?
“Oh definitely, that’s why I haven’t made loads of music for like two years, because I’ve been shagging loads of girls.”
For all the press accolades and the showers of praise from the press and critics’ congratulations and fan’s adulations, I can’t help getting the impression talking to him that Aphex Twin is more preoccupied with debauchery than anything else, and any good music that results is incidental. Once you can make music all the time, he points out, it’s less exciting. The days where he would ride his bike home from school as fast as he could so he could make some music seem to be passing. “I still get excited when I’m opening my computer up,” he says, “But not as much as I used to.”
Halfway through the interview, I confess to being low on questions. So he asks me a question. (Something I’ll always remember and respect about interviewing Luke Vibert is that when my mind blanked halfway through, he filled in for me by just talking about various things he was doing, while I tried to think up more questions.) The interviewer becomes the respondent. “You haven’t got any weed have you?” No. “Can you buy it in Vancouver?” Oh yeah, you can buy it. “Can you get it in cafes and stuff like that?” No, it’s not like Amsterdam or something. “Oh someone told me you could do that in some cafes.” Well, maybe some cafes have some illegal operations. “Yeah, we had to put all ours in a Phillies Blunt last night before we went through customs — you know, when you empty out a cigar, and fill it full of grass. So that’s it. We burned it all up.” So you’re looking for some more? “Yeah, I wouldn’t mind. I’d love a spliff right now actually. I’ve got a hangover from last night.” You should make someone give it to you on stage. “Yeah, I’ve done that before actually. I did it Detroit actually, because I didn’t have any gear. So I said at the end of the set, “If anyone’s got any gear, bring it to our bus, because we want a smoke.’ But I forgot to say we wanted to buy some, so there was like 80 people outside the bus saying, “Do you want to have a spliff with us?’ And I couldn’t really have a joint with like 80 people one by one on the bus. So I was just like, “Well, I just wanted to buy some for me and my mates,’ but I did get some in the end, so it was pretty good.”