Trackpacking: Aphex Twin

by Keith Savage

Aphex Twin in Concert

Trackpacking is a recurring series highlighting musicians that inspire me to travel.

As with many of my favorite musicians, Aphex Twin was first seeded to me by my brother. Sometime in my late teens he gave me Selected Ambient Works 85-92 as a birthday present, and there was no looking back. My subsequent foray into ambient and electronic music led me to some of my all-time favorite musicians, groups like Boards of Canada, Underworld, and Orbital. For me, it would be fair to say it all started with Aphex Twin, one Richard D. James. He’s a bit of an odd duck.

Mr. James was born of Welsh parents in Ireland but lived most of his early life in Cornwall where he developed a palpable mysteriousness bolstered by innumerable urban myths. Some say he built all the synthesizers used to write his first proper album, which would make him all of 14 years old! Others suggest his music comes to him in the midst of acid trips and synaesthesia. Determining the veracity of such tales is beyond me, but I can say that he is an innovator, consistently on the cutting edge of musical genres and equipment. Radiohead, of all people, cited Aphex Twin as an influence and that’s good enough for me.

Mr. James has produced a variety of music under a variety of monikers over the last two decades, but Aphex Twin remains his most popular. The music is challenging. I’ll be the first to admit that much of Aphex Twin’s prolific catalog sounds like someone trying to liquify my brain with schizophrenic series of bleeps, bloops, buzzes, and bangs. Within the static, however, are songs of such melodic beauty you might lament the blood flowing from your ears a little less. Lucky for you, Trackpacking circumvents the need for you to endure that. The special tracks are melodious affairs backed by echoey drum beats, airy synths, and reverb-heavy choirs.

The best travel music is always wordless, vocal-less, and provides a flowing canvas for the thoughts, images, and words that spring to mind as the world passes in front of me. There may not be a more perfect album for this scenario than Aphex Twin’s aforementioned Selected Ambient Works 85-92. It’s calming, forgetful, heightening, and full of a life all its own. Do yourself a favor and listen to it next time you’re on a bus, train, boat, or plane.

Aphex Twin

I would classify my musical tastes as being somewhat nostalgic. As forward-thinking as Aphex Twin is, some of his songs seem very much like paeans to childhood. They are full of wonder and awe and prone to make listeners think deeply. This is a fast-fading ability in our world of constant distraction. Consider Aphex Twin, then, a lifejacket.

Pack These Tracks

Create a Moment with Aphex Twin

  • Wake up on that trans-Atlantic flight as the sun rises.
  • Watch the grass blow and the waves crash.
  • Wipe away a tear and rejoice in that capacity to feel.

What music moves you?

Original photos by NRK P3 and Lorenzo [ilBarone] Caleca, respectively, via Flickr under Creative Commons.

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