2014 was pretty exciting for old-timey Aphex Twin fans such as your humble blogger, with the releases of both the Caustic Window LP and Syro. The former was recorded in 1994 and only saw the light of day due to a kickstarter campaign. We don’t actually know when the material for the latter dates from, though it seems to span a number of years, the record being billed as a round-up of tracks from the archive to clear the decks for a new direction.
This EP, then, seems to be that new direction. Syro was mostly a whistle-stop tour through Aphex’s ’90s styles, with only the closing track, the player-piano number Aisatsana, giving a preview of what he was working on. It turns out that he’s built a whole array of mechanical devices which play pianos (seemingly both via the keyboard and directly on the strings), drums, and percussion instruments, controlled by computer. There’s an obvious contrast with his old mucker Squarepusher’s Music For Robots EP, released in April last year. Jenkinson’s machines were made by a Japanese robotics company, and sounded to me like the musical equivalent of an automated factory production line: they put out precision-engineered notes at an impressive rate, but their efficiency was rather boring and occasionally overwhelming. RDJ’s homemade jobs have much more personality: they’re like the adorably ramshackle robots in a kids’ movie, clanking and thunking around the junk-strewn laboratory of the eccentric genius who created them. If Heath Robinson (or, for US readers, Rube Goldberg) made musique concrète, it would probably sound a bit like this. There are twinkling piano melodies (somewhat reminiscent of the Satie-inspired numbers on Drukqs) and jazzy little swing numbers and it’s all rather good fun. But, after all that, this is about the best I can say about it: it’s an interesting technique, there are nice little tunes, it has character and charm, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where he goes with this… but this music falls notably short of the greatness of his best work.
I bought this from Bleep. They call it Electronic and Electronica.