“Forget all the equipment, forget the music, it's just literally frequencies and the effects on your brain. That's what everyone's essentially after.” Richard D James told Pitchfork in 2014.
It’s a neat summation of the impact James – aka Aphex Twin – seeks whenever he makes music.
“You’re working out a new language,” he continued. “New rules. And when you get new rules that work, you’re changing the physiology of your brain. And then your brain has to reconfigure itself in order to deal with it.”
Considering some of the biggest names in contemporary electronic music cite him as a major influence, James has done his fair share of brain physiology re-arrangement over the many decades he’s been making music.
From Skrillex to Deadmau5, Caribou’s Dan Snaith through to Radiohead, there’s no shortage of high praise for the impact and importance of Aphex Twin’s music.
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So how does he make such unique, mind melting soundscapes that have enthralled and exhilarated a worldwide cult following? The short answer is a mixture of growing up with a degree of creative isolation, the ability to access vivid dreams and then there’s a good dose of genius thrown in too.
In a 1993 KISS FM interview, James spoke about his limited exposure to music as a kid.
“In Cornwall, it’s pretty bad to buy records and there wasn’t a lot available in the early days,” he said. “I wasn’t influenced by much stuff because I didn’t really hear any of it.
“When I can’t find anything current that I like, I sort of listen to a lot of ‘70s electronic music, sort of avant-garde stuff.”
His ingenuity was also evident early on. James explained during a 1995 BBC3 interview that necessity drove him to build his own instruments.
“I didn’t have any money to start off with which is why I started to make it basically,” he said.
The mischievous man behind Aphex Twin has been known to put out a lot of misinformation about himself, but what he had to say about the role of lucid dreams in his music making sounds and feels like a good fit when you listen to his work.
In a 1997 interview with Space Age Bachelor magazine, he was quite animated when explaining the unique connection between his subconscious and his conscious mind.
“Sometimes I get little ideas, a little melody or sounds or a concept or sometimes a whole thing, like finished in my head,” he explained.
At other times, he’s been able to tap into sounds he hears in lucid dreams, an ability that he was trying to cultivate for a short while with varying success.
“Most of the time I’d have a dream, know that I dreamt up a wicked tune, sound or idea, and then when I woke up, that’s all I could remember, the fact that it was really wicked, it’s really irritating.”
For Caribou’s Dan Snaith, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 came along at a pivotal time in his life and remains one of his favourite albums ever.
"I was hearing lots of much more tough, industrial sounding electronic music at that point,” he told Double J in 2014. “This album, with its beautiful melodies and harmonies and kind of more feminine sensibility about it, really, really connected with me and showed me there was a different potential for electronic music."
That potential, I think, is in making the contrast and collision of sounds, harsh and soft, weird and wonderful, familiar and unfamiliar, seem natural.
There’s jarring textures that grind and groan (‘Green Calx’, ‘Hedphelym’), sharp hissing hi hats (‘Xtal’) and beats that feel sticky and terrestrial (‘Ageispolis’, ‘Ptolemy’).
But there is a very perceptible dreamlike nature to each of the tracks and bright, playful melodies too.
Selected Ambient Works 85-92, may seem like a deceptive name for this collection of songs, because there’s not much that we’d classify in the traditional sense as ‘ambient’. But ambience is also a relationship to one’s immediate surroundings. And Aphex Twin’s debut, even after 25 years, still makes for an inviting and curious space to let our minds wander through.