Sounds Like

Dan Willis

So Warp records, the U.K.-based titan of electronic awesomeness, recently released an album with music performed by the London Sinfonietta entitled “Warp Works and 20th-Century Masters.”
It’s a concept album, but not in the way in which, say, the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” are, in which a common story or theme runs through all the songs.
The concept in this Warp recording flows from the juxtaposition that is captured surprisingly aptly as you read down the track listing. The album offers works by such 20th-century concert music visionaries as Reich, Ligeti, Nancarrow and Stockhausen packed right up against prepared piano pieces by Aphex Twin and an arrangement of a song by the drill ‘n’ bass god Squarepusher.
I would prefer to call the concept more of a background framework; the liner notes read, “The relationship between human musicians and machines, both electronic and mechanical, provide a kind if ide fixe which runs through this collection of music.” I couldn’t have put it any better, or more pretentiously.
A highlight of the album, a Kenneth Hesketh arrangement of the Aphex Twin song “Polygon Window,” serves as an excellent microcosm of the album. The arrangement is written for two pianos, a violin and 100 billion percussionists.
A big part of what makes Aphex Twin so unique and effective is that Richard D. James is an electronic sound junkie. He creates much of his own hardware and software in order to craft his alien blips, farts, squeals and haunting melodies just the way he hears them in his bizarre mind.
Thus, the acoustic treatment presented here loses much of the effect created by Aphex Twin’s meticulous sound manipulation. Also, the tempo was cut nearly in half, presumably because of the fact that it is physically impossible for humans to play percussion as fast as Richard D. James programs it.
So the breakneck hellscape beats – consisting of twittering, otherworldly snare drums and a hi-hat so tight that it could only be duplicated in the physical world by an obsessive compulsive, manic, beastly automaton hopped up on 1000 mg of caffeine with calves twitching as fast as bees’ wings – of the original recording translate into a simple, jaunty disco beat.
Now, don’t get me wrong, jaunty disco beats are interesting and refreshing to hear coming out of the concert hall, but if you are going to do justice to the genius of Aphex Twin, you’ve got to be bringing something radically progressive to the table.
But hey, props for the mere fact that this project was attempted – that’s pretty cool. The fact that people are recognizing electronic music as genuine art music and not some perverted hang-up of hermit internet addicts is a sign that electronic music – at least the good stuff – is starting to take its rightful place in the realm of “high art.