Thursday, 13 September 2012

Music: Keep or Cull No.4: Aphex Twin - Selected Ambient Works Volumes 1 & 2 (1993 & 2003)

In 2004, I moved up to Leeds in order to embark on a Masters’ degree in the clumsily titled ‘Social History and Theory of Art’ – this was to be the most intense year of my academic life.

The tutor on the course was a Professor on the verge of retirement who had a legendary reputation for being harsh and uncompromising with his students. His expectations were the highest, and if you didn’t meet them you were made to feel like a complete imbecile or worse, would be singled-out in a packed lecture theatre and publicly chastised.

There were only two of us on the course, myself and an American lad, but we took lectures with all the other MA students in the deparment. Each week, the two of us would have a seminar that lasted for three hours, in which we would deconstruct that week’s set text in the minutest of detail over a half-dozen cups of bad tea. One week, we had to close-read Michel Foucault’s ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ - to say this book wasn’t light reading is something of an understatement. 250 pages might not sound like much, but this was no ordinary book: deep, inspiring, and almost impenetrable. And coupled with the expectations of our tutor, a quick skim through, accompanied by a read through the Sparknotes just wouldn’t cut it. I spent at least ten hours a day that week ploughing through the book and making copious notes, only to turn up to the tutorial to find that a) we were only meant to have read the introduction, and b) the other lad hadn’t read it. Our tutor flipped his lid and kicked the American lad out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such anger and bitterness aimed directly at a student before or since. With only me in the seminar, the tutor decided to postpone until the other guy had caught up. Suffice to say, from that point on, the other lad was on the ball and always up to date with his reading. I think I learnt more in those few months than I did through the entirety of my degree. The Professor’s methods may be unorthodox, but damn it they worked.

With all my days being spent buried in books in the university library, I needed the right kind of music to help cut off the world around me. I found pretty quickly that rock or indie music wasn’t conducive to taking this stuff in, and anything with lyrics just distracted, so I ended up listening to a lot of electronica. Some music snobs call the strain of electronic I was listening to Intelligent Dance Music (IDM), but I find this to be quite a smug and self-congratulatory title for a genre of music, as it suggests by implication that all other forms of dance music are, well, thick. I listened to a lot of Autechre, Boards of Canada and Plaid around this period. However, the albums I came back to again and again were Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works’ volumes 1 & 2. ...

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