Interview: Heiko Hoffmann
A German translation of this article has been published in Groove 151 (November/December 2014)
Richard D. James has been releasing music for almost as long as Groove magazine is being published. When the 25th anniversary of our mag approached this year, we heard that James was about to put out the first Aphex Twin album in 13 years. Enough reasons, we thought, for trying a different way of interviewing the elusive Mr. James: We asked 25 DJs and producers, all of them former Groove cover stars, to think about questions for him. James answered all the resulting questions – plus an additional wild card – during a meeting in London.
1. Roman Flügel: What was the first musical experience that really touched you?
“Nature sounds have always been way more intense for me than music, especially when I was a little kid. I can remember as a kid, if you run up to a big wall, you get this flange effect. It’s just a constant noise, it works like wind. I remember that one from when I was really young. I still hear it now, sometimes I see a wall and then I hear this sound from when I was kid.”
2. Apparat: Why did you only put out very few records in the last years?
“Just because I don’t need to do it. I’ve been making music all the time, as much as possible, but releasing it gets harder and harder. Because I’m making so much music, everytime I go to compile it, I give up after a few hours, because it’s just so much stuff and then I get lost. But I’m now in this mode where I’m listening and compiling a lot. I think I will be putting out a lot of stuff, hopefully.”
„I’ve been making music all the time, as much as possible, but releasing it gets harder and harder.“
3. Tim Sweeney: How has the process of making music changed for you over the years?
“It hasn’t really changed. I’m probably just better in recognizing different moods now. You are just recognizing what mood you are in and then do the right things accordingly. There’s a time when it feels right to fix my equipment, tidy my space up and get ready to work. Every hour of the day is good for certain things. Imagination, for example, is always better in the night, so basically after midnight. The morning – when you get up, have a coffee – is best for finishing things.”
4. Mate Galic: How did you switch from using hardware to using software for making music – and maybe back again? Has that changed the way you write music?
“This is the guy from Native Instruments, right?. For me Traktor is like the beginning, but you could do so much more with it. You could make it more complex but also simpler. For example, they have got these two screens with the wave-forms. But basically all you need is one screen with the wave-form of the tracks you’re playing in different colours so you can put them on top of each other. Then you can mix without even listening.
On the new album it’s all hardware actually. It’s no computer on any tracks basically. There’s maybe a few plug-ins and half of it is sequenced on the computer with the other half being sequenced with hardware. The reason I prefer to work with analogue synths is – for me it’s like a mathematical thing when you come down to it. Basically a computer can’t do distortion, everything on the computer just sounds perfect, which is nice if you want to make perfect tracks, but if you don’t, then you’re kind of stuck. Of course you can sample, you can record things and you can create sounds, but I really prefer to make sounds on synthesizers.
I used to like to make music on a laptop. When I started to do it, it was almost impossible and I really liked that, because it was so difficult to make music on a laptop. There were almost no programs. So you had to put programs toegther, the first one I used was Max/MSP. There weren’t really any plug-ins or anything like that. But I really liked it. Now, it’s really easy.
But I’ve actually recently hired a Chinese programmer to make a music software for me. It’s taking the concept of mutation into music software. You give the program some sounds you made and then it gives you six variations of it and then you choose the one you like most and then it makes another six and it kind of keeps trying to choosing the variations by itself. It’s a bit like that, but more advanced, but basically it starts with a sound, analyzes it, then does different versions of variations. It randomizes, it compares all of them to the original and then it picks the best one. It sounds totally awesome, but it needs to be tweeked a little bit. I will continue with this. I have a whole book full of ideas for software and instruments.”
5. Richie Hawtin: Do you think growing up with these landscapes being on the somewhat most isolated tip of the British isles [Cornwall, ed.] paved the way for your musical style and passion to remain somehow isolated and anonymous?
“It’s more trippy in nature. When I moved back to Cornwall after I had lived in London, I had this kind of fantasy about wild, beautiful nature. And it is, when the weather is nice, but it’s probably a fuckin scaring nature with the wind, the lightening and stuff. and it is also trippy. I also think that this feeling of being isolated has formed my outsider perspective.”
6. Caribou: Are you ambitious? If so, towards what ends?
“I’m trying to do the best thing imaginable – that’s my ambition. And I try this by making music. When you make music and you listen to it, it changes you and then it gives you an idea of something new to do. It’s a constantly evolving process. Everytime you make music, if you’re on form, you should be imaging what you want to hear, which is basically how you want it to be.”
7. Ben Klock: Do you think that some of your harsher or darker or more melancholic songs reflect a melancholic or paranoid part of you or do they just result from momentary moods?
“I think all the stuff you do is a part of you, but it doesn’t necessarily come out in the things that you make or feel while making the music. So you could listen to someones music and feel these things, but you would never know about what they really think. That’s the amazing thing about music – you can’t express it in words. If you get to know someone really well and he’s playing you some music, you’re like: Fuckin’ hell, I wouldn’t have known!”