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Aphex Twin Speaks to Tatsuya Takahashi (2017) (warp.net)
287 points by zengid 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments

This isn't just any old ex-Korg engineer; Tatsuya Takahashi is arguably the most influential living synth designer.


I didn't realize how big Takahashi was. Thanks for the article!

RDJ drops a link at the end of the article.

If you've ever studied phonetics, you need to check this out:


It got some HN discussion too: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18912628

That is super cool!

With some clever keyboard controls perhaps one could learn to actually "talk" with it?

Google the 'Voder'. A speech synthisis keyboard from 1939 using the concept you describe. There are some great demo videos of it.

Try it on a tablet; it supports multitouch.

I'm obviously a few decades late to the party, but I've been obsessed with analog hardware synths for a few years now.

There's something magical about messing around with a sequencer/arpeggiator, mixing together a couple of VCOs, changing their wave type, detuning them, modulating filters, amplitudes, rhythms. The sonic options are staggering, you can sit there all day turning knobs and stumbling upon interesting and quirky ideas.

Part of me thinks that "it's all been done before", yet there's joy to you doing this yourself from scratch, even if you're not the pioneer.

Take heart! All culture, and especially music, is about retracing steps. “Pioneering” in music is about capturing the Zeitgeist in just the right manner and with extraordinary expertise to be undeniable, which then creates a new normal. That’s not exactly pioneering, it’s standard setting. The perfection of a musical meme is retroactively confirmed by virtue of its proliferation. It’s genius, while undeniable, as a strong relationship with luck.

I'm stoked to see that others are interested in the article!

The important bit for me is Richard D. James's interest in promoting microtonal music, and that Tatsuya and Korg were cool enough to implement it in a relatively cheap synth.

Microtonal music is a vast landscape that I feel has so much left to uncover. I hope that tools like Korg's *logue line of synths will get new folks interested in breaking out of the limits of 12 tone equal temperament.

Have you listened to any of Aleksi Perala’s Colundi music? It uses a non 12 tone scale to very interesting effect. I imagine most fans of Aphex would find something to like in his catalog.


Thanks for sharing; definitely a prolific artist!

Yeah he puts out a ton of music. I'd recommend starting with the most recent releases and working backwards. Most of his music is available on streaming services.

It is sad how pop music on a Western model with its 12-tone equal temperament (or an East Asian model with pentatonic equal temperament) has, in the course of invading the whole world, gradually marginalized many local traditions that are microtonal. If those local traditions cannot manage to recover on their own, maybe some openness to microtones among Western pop music would help non-Western microtonal musics get more of the limelight.

Unfortunately, as with the highly complex rhythms that RDJ employed in some of his work (e.g. the "drill-and-bass" style), microtones are likely to entertain only a relatively small demographic of anoraks while striking the mainstream as too “weird”.

One of my biggest disappointments traveling around Asia is that Western pop music is totally ubiquitous here and contemporary Asian pop music sounds just like it. There’s something profoundly depressing about hearing Maroon 5 playing in a little bar in Cambodia.

>It is sad how pop music on a Western model with its 12-tone equal temperament (or an East Asian model with pentatonic equal temperament) has, in the course of invading the whole world, gradually marginalized many local traditions that are microtonal.

Heck, it has also marginalized many local non-microtonal traditions.

By the power of marketing money (and thus constant cross-media hammering), cheap thrills for teenagers, cheap sexualization of the singers, and so on, has made most of the global top-ten an image of the increasingly crappier Billboard top-10.

I recently made a couple of microtonal pieces on the monologue. It was a really novel experience and led me in directions I wouldn't naturally have gone.

Can we hear these online?

Sure, here's one in a seven equally divided octave, using a five-note mode from traditional Thai music.


Very nice!

I thought I had seen this article before. The discussion is much more lively this time around, but for reference here is a previous HN post from 2017:


Takahashi at the Granular Convolver Lecture (Berlin 2018).Discusses convolution & SuperCollider.


Article with more info: https://daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2018/09/the-granular-c...

Great read, although I feel Like RDJ is being funny and intentionally sounding like an infomercial.

I guess he did work on it enough to want to see some units move.

I've heard a few of Aphex's stuff. How is he live? Perhaps I'm not musically apt to fully get it, but I would like to.

A good overview of his music is this top 20 article on the 25th anniversary of Selected Ambient Works Volume II https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/feb/28/aphex-twin-bes...

To be honest, I think he is more of a musician’s musician and a bit hard to “get”.

Outside the artistic creativity itself, I find his music more enjoyable by recognizing the craftsmanship and musicianship required to create his unique sounds and rhythms. Once you realize it’s not just random noises, perhaps some of the songs may speak to you like I found.

If you have ever tried creating electronic music with drum machines, synthesizers, midi loopers, etc, it would be a lot easier to appreciate his music I think.

Maybe similar to say, free jazz? If you don’t appreciate or understand the nuances, I doubt you’d enjoy listening to it.

I’m on mobile or I’d research, but I’m sure there are some great videos on YouTube explaining some of his or similar techniques?

>If you have ever tried creating electronic music with drum machines, synthesizers, midi loopers, etc, it would be a lot easier to appreciate his music I think.

Or if you merely like to listen to electronic music, like hundreds of millions of people around the world?

Seems like your comment comes from someone for whom "real" music is rock, jazz, etc, and they assume everybody starts like that.

But in electronic there are far more niche genres than Aphex Twin's. He was left of field in the semi-mainstream, not across the board.

I'm not a musician, but I love `Selected Ambient Works 85–92`. It sounds way ahead of its time.

Also one of my all time favorite albums. Used to fall asleep to it at night. Id put it on, close my eyes and just let the music drive my imagination.

Best EDM album ever, I’d say.

EDM isn’t a catch all term for all electronic music

Apparently it became so for many Americans, who didn't have an "electronic music" in the mainstream in the 80s and 90s, and early "00s".

They'd use the term EDM now for anything, including Nitzer Ebb and Autechre...

Yeah he's IDM not EDM, IDM is a older term from the 90s they called it "intelligent dance music" because it uses the tools of dance music but just like you could dance to Duke Ellington but nobody danced to Charlie Parker you can't exactly dance to music as complex as his but it enjoyable listening for sure.

> Yeah he's IDM not EDM, IDM is a older term from the 90s they called it "intelligent dance music"

AKA "beard stroking music" in the D&B world.

It's music that doesn't energize people and get them on the dance floor. Go see a IDM/"experimental/"beard stroking" DJ live, all you see are a bunch of young male hipsters standing around stroking their beards, commenting on the uniqueness of the "interplay".

Sounds very similar to the reasoning behind the "shoegaze" genre name. All of the above of which I'm a big fan! Guess I like heady music, more recently have seen IDM described as braindance as well.

I think the brandance name came about when replhex records tried to re-brand the genera to get away from the smugness of calling your favored music 'intelligent.' That said, I definitely see the IDM label around more than Brandance.

The etymology seems to be the same, but I've also heard people classify Deftones as "shoegaze", which makes zero sense to me.

Funny enough, “my music is more danceable” was the exact RDJ's argument is the little (indirect) exchange with Stockhausen.

It's also commonly laughed at in the UK. We typically see it as an Americanism that is a sort-of catch-all for different genres of electronic music. When Aphex first came out it was under the genre/banner of "Braindance" (remember that? :)). He has used quite a few genres since, though.

On what planet does Aphex Twin sound like “random noises”. It’s not like it’s musique concrete.

To be honest, I think he is more of a musician’s musician and a bit hard to “get” ? Not in the UK - I would say Selected Ambient Works vol 1 is one of the best records of the '90s. Still stands up very well today.

> I think he is more of a musician’s musician

This is the best way I've seen it put.

Its like with all people ahead of time, like the velvet underground. There discoverys are reappearing in nearly half of the songs of all liked bands.

I listened off and on for decades and it never really "clicked". Then at some point in time, well into my adult life, I realized that I was quietly obsessed with Aphex Twin tracks and listened to them all the time. Broadly speaking, I think it's just about paying attention to details.

For example in SAW2 trk1 "cliffs" there's kind of a "peak and drop" moment. It's implemented as a very small shift in phasing between two voices, one which was lagging the other begins leading the other. And maybe Although it's barely audible the feeling of the track changes from... maybe a wistful reverie on a solitary walk on an ocean clifftop in the breeze and sun of a late-summer afternoon... to something more "unblocked", like joyfully running down a hill to home.

That kind of detail -- "Tempo" as a feeling, not just a BPM, accomplished by changing other stuff besides pitch and average loudness of notes. It is the sort of thing that one attends to when rehearsing with a good symphony conductor or a chamber-group coach. Or with a music teacher, e.g. "play through the measure to here [drawn out slightly]". You might be instructed to play something "scherzando", playfully, or "andante", leisurely. And God help you if you play something "lightly" instead of "playfully", or "dragging" rather than "stately", or vice versa! Rendering subtle emotional nuance through soundmaking tools is certainly learnable, and you get to learn Italian/Russian cursing for free.

Or "The oboes here are cats, there's a cat in heat and the oboes are meowing around. Then the bassoon comes in and it's like a pregnant cat and it's not so excitable". That one came from a world-class Boston Symphony musician, and it's absolutely serious.

Really good musicians play with sound. Sometimes they do things for the lols. Music being about pattern matching, good musicians also play with the listener's sense of expectation and fulfullment. Good musicians do with sound what good lovers do with touch. Good musicians do with sound what good comedians do with concepts.

There are lots of good musicians in the world, and many don't have good recordings. Afx is one who managed to make a pretty good musical career out of his artistic vision, which seems rare. It's nice that it's easy to find recordings and people who've heard those recordings, and there's always something new to hear in them.

An example of the expectations thing: An absolutely beautiful melody buried under much louder boring/aversive voices. It's impossible to focus on the melody so it leaves you wanting more. Related to this is the "bass drop" and the idk "fake-out bass drop", maybe. I think "teasing" / "trolling" / "ruining or messing with expectations" is something that seems pretty characteristic of Aphex Twin tracks.

I think enjoying "challenging listens" is really just about exposure and mindfulness. Truly listening to all music helps. And playing music, only because it forces you to pay attention to what actually makes things sound the way they do. And paying attention to the sounds of the world around you, and how sounds are modified by the environment. And listening to the same recording over and over agin, to build familiarity.

Personally, I became a total afx fanboy over decades, and it was an incremental and slow process. I was thoroughly and extensively trained in classical music through high school; I mostly just listened to Drukqs for the piano and endured the other stuff. In college I ate acid more often than usual; it was general knowledge that "listening to Aphex Twin... enhances your trip, it's like hacking your brain or something" and then you got on with the rest of your life. And then one day I found myself dissecting the auditory nuances of why I liked something, or why something seemed like a deliberate choice to irritate the listener.

I think appreciating nuance is just something that comes with age, in that experience of the fullest range and detail of human experience comes with age. And also appreciation of a wider range of qualia, just like stinky cheese is something one usually does not appreciate immediately.

Also, it's instructive to watch musicians playing, and see how they communicate with visuals, body cues, and sound. Chamber groups are good. Some bush-league music festivals are good, after the main day is over sometimes the professional musicians jam with each other for the lols, or sit in on another group's late night set.

How does one develop a passion to be that nuanced and specific with his craft? I can't find anything that motivates me in my life beyond mindlessly scrolling through youtube videos.

Live shows are amazing! Saw him in 1996 in Seattle, and in 2003 at an All Tomorrow's Parties festival in UK. The latter was absolutely incredible, curated by Autechre.

Boy I feel old ;)

One surprise for me regarding idm live was how Amon Tobin's ‘nice soft electronics for listening in your room’ turned out more like eye-popping industrial hardcore when played on a club's huge speakers.

And btw, Richard has said in an interview that he knows how many of his tracks sound nicer when slowed down to 33 rpm instead of 45, and that you could just listen to the “RDJ Album” on 33 so you get ‘an album of standard length’ instead of 30 minutes.


Turns out, plenty of IDM, breakcore and other electronic music sounds excellent when slowed down, e.g. the entire genre of Belgian new beat is slowed down acid hardcore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yBvP3616Wc

Hard house turns into pleasant groovy house with harder sound.

But you'll need speed adjustment that doesn't adjust the pitch (i.e. like vinyl but not like Youtube's speed control). VLC can do that if the time-stretching option is disabled in advanced settings under ‘audio’. The sox console program can do that in batch (ffmpeg botches the audio for some reason).

Live is awesome. It can get very intense though.

I guess a good starting point is girl/boy song on Richard D James. It's 90s drum n bass that was pretty new when it came out, but sounds quite mainstream nowadays.

It's typical Aphex Twin with pretty insane drum machine supporting a slow-moving melody. Many many many variations within the same track.

Drukqs, and the later stuff (syro, collapse) are quite mature, more rhapsodic (like with very different moments within the same track) with an emphasis on non-standard scales.

I haven't seen Aphex live, but other ambient artists around 1999-2001 (Luke Bubert & BJ Cole amd [Greek letter mu]ziq. The shows were awesome and pretty chill. No one was dancing, just hanging out. Some drinking and ecstasy, probably more weed than anything. People sitting or laying on the floor, sitting on the stairs leading to the floor. It was fun and, though the music was "loud", you could still have a conversation without yelling.

Not every song of his is like that. Mano of them are soft and nice.


He was really ahead of his time in terms of the electronic music sounds he uses. He was also known for unique methods of sound creation (like programming... A toaster? Stuff like that... Can't recall specifics atm).

It takes careful, perhaps repeated listenings. My favorite time to listen to his stuff is while tripping though. From his 'weird' bleeps and bloops emerge something new entirely.

Regarding Aphex and unique methods of sounds creation, check out his midi-driven robots.

“Hat” : https://logosfoundation.org/instrum_gwr/HAT.html

“snar_2” : https://logosfoundation.org/instrum_gwr/snar2.html

He also has a full drum kit with actuatated drumsticks on each surface. I can’t find that online, but I saw it in an interview in his home studio.

Whoops, misread previous comment as "how does he live", as though he 'didn't get' rdj's music, and couldn't fathom how he made a living... Ha ha...

His current live show is a bit intense: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj9URI2aKgM

But it's also very rare for him to tour

I just went to one of his live shows and would definitely recommend it. He spends a good amount of it messing with his modular rig, doing crazy rolls, etc. For a music nerd it's pretty great.

Recent review from a performance in 2018.


seeing him live was both a a highly transformative and personal experience for me

How so? I know those terms get tossed around with a lot of musical acts, but what did it for you? Would you equate it to a religious experience? If so, what do you think that is?

Anyone know what keyboard he’s talking about here? An omnichord? That’s all I can think of, but it doesn’t have an actual string...

“RDJ: I’ve got one Japanese keyboard, Suzuki, which has got some Japanese tunings built in and a little string on one end that you can plucK”

For more information on microtuning and MIDI


If anyone is looking for an accessible Aphex Twin track, I would give “Alberto Balsalm” a try. One of my favourites on my University radio show. (That no one listened to back in the early 2000s. :)

They use the very early Aphex Twin works on TV as background/intro music. Millions get 'ambiently' subjected to what started out as far from 'accessible', i.e. 1000 white label pressings on his original label Rabbit Recordings.

I am impressed that Warp are still going, there is and was something magical about seeing that logo majestically spin round at 33 rpm. In the days before the Internet you only found Warp records in independent record shops, the High Street majors were hiding the good stuff from you. Plus the BBC banned dance music back then. You had to be a true 'raver' and into the music to hear Aphex Twin, it slotted in to the 'chill out' part of the scene.

This is why I find it so funny when I hear a little bit of Aphex Twin, Autechre or other Warp stablemates such as Sabres of Paradise as the backing track to a BBC documentary about serious stuff.

Imaginably anything is 'accessible' given enough time. The audience are always playing catch up with an innovative artist.

"In the days before the Internet you only found Warp records in independent record shops" ? Are you sure about that? That's not really true in the UK, both HMV and Virgin stocked early Aphex, and I think my Selected Ambient Works came from Our Price of all places on week of release. You couldn't get more mainstream where I lived.

I wouldn't say the Beeb banned dance music, either. I first heard LFO's LFO on radio one, which is synonymous with WARP.

As for Sabres - Screamadelica won the Mercury music prize with Weatherall in charge. It's not like they were off the radar or anything.

Autechre started out quite normal, but have morphed into probably the most complex out of everything that you've mentioned. They're well-known, but their music is anything but mainstream today - it's a running joke that they used to make music :)

Indeed The John Peel Show was awash with the stuff in the early 90s, certainly where I heard LFO, Aphex Twin (etc) for first time.

Noob here. If anyone could translate as to what technique they're talking about for circumventing the lack of velocity on Volca fm, it'd be super nice.

So apparently, “motion sequence” is Korg's term for automation—i.e. you fiddle the velocity slider while playing back a loop instead of putting the velocity in when playing the keys initially.

a very low-tech solution: set a kind-of slow attack. holding the key for a short period of time (< the attack) gets you a "low velocity" sound because it doesn't reach the maximum volume; longer periods (>= the attack) give you the full velocity. it's dumb but it works!

Seen him live in Leeds in 1998. Sat in the cubicle he vacated when he left the place at a Rephlex gig he didn't play at in 2001 (At the Leeds Brudenell Social Club). And I played live at the same venue as a previous Rephlex gig in Edinburgh (the University) in 2001.

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