Selected Ambient Works 85–92

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Selected Ambient Works 85–92
Selected Ambient Works 85-92.png
Studio album by
Released9 November 1992 (1992-11-09)[1][2]
ProducerRichard D. James
Richard D. James chronology
Joyrex J5 EP
Selected Ambient Works 85–92
Analogue Bubblebath Vol 3
Aphex Twin album chronology
Selected Ambient Works 85-92
Selected Ambient Works Volume II

Selected Ambient Works 85–92 is the debut studio album by Aphex Twin, the pseudonym of British electronic musician Richard D. James. It was released on 9 November 1992 through Apollo Records, a subsidiary of Belgian label R&S Records.[1][2] The album consists of ambient techno tracks recorded onto cassette reputedly dating as far back as 1985, when James was thirteen to fourteen years old.[8] An analogue remaster of the album was released in 2006, followed by a digital remaster in 2008.

Upon its release, Selected Ambient Works 85–92 received widespread acclaim. James followed up the album in 1994 with the more traditionally ambient Selected Ambient Works Volume II. In 2012, it was named the greatest album of the 1990s by Fact.[9] It entered the UK Dance Albums Chart at number 30 after the release of Aphex Twin's 2014 album Syro.[10]


James began experimenting with musical instruments, such as his family's piano, at an early age.[11] He subsequently created music using a ZX Spectrum and a sampler,[12] and also began reassembling and modifying his own synthesizers.[11] James said he composed ambient music the following year.[13] In an interview with Q magazine in 2014, James stated that the ambient track 'i' emerged from those early recordings. As a teenager James gained a cult following being a disc jockey at the Shire Horse Inn in St Ives, with Tom Middleton at the Bowgie Inn in Crantock and along the beaches around Cornwall, learning new musical techniques.[14][15] He studied at Cornwall College from 1988 to 1990 for a National Diploma in engineering. About his studies, he said "music and electronics went hand in hand".[15]

James' first release, under the alias Aphex Twin, was the 1991 12-inch EP Analogue Bubblebath on Mighty Force Records. In 1991, James and Grant Wilson-Claridge founded Rephlex Records to promote "innovation in the dynamics of acid — a much-loved and misunderstood genre of house music forgotten by some and indeed new to others, especially in Britain".[16] He wrote "Digeridoo" to clear up his audience after a rave.[15] Although he moved to London to take an electronics course at Kingston Polytechnic, he admitted to David Toop that his electronics studies were being abandoned as he pursued a career in the techno genre.[12][17] While performing at clubs and with a small underground following, James went on to release SAW 85–92, which was mostly recorded before he started DJing and consisted of instrumental songs that were mostly beat-oriented.[5] James later stated that the songs on his debut "were just tracks that my mates [selected], ones that they like to chill out to."[18]


Selected Ambient Works was reputedly recorded between 1985 and 1992 (beginning when James was fourteen)[8] using homemade equipment constructed from standard synthesisers,[7] as well as drum machines.[19] The recording's sound quality has been described as poor due to it being recorded onto a cassette damaged by a cat.[20]

AllMusic noted that the album draws from the club rhythms of techno and acid house, but adds melodic elements "of great subtlety, beauty, and atmospheric texture."[7] DJ Mag noted its synthesis of elements from techno, house, hip-hop, hardcore, and ambient, describing the album as a "somnambulist dreamscape that melted heavenly shoe-gaze melodies into slow-burn beats and ice-clear techno, often with a suggestion of menace lurking at the peripheries."[21] Record Collector stated that the album "demonstrated a mysterious, calmer side" of James's music in contrast to his abrasive earlier releases, calling attention to the presence of "unearthly, gorgeous melodies" on much of the album.[22] Barney Hoskyns noted that the album demonstrates a "schizoid mix of sonic assault and melodic melancholia".[23] Rolling Stone described the album as "fusing lush soundscapes with oceanic beats and bass lines."[8] Jon Savage stated that the album "trashed the boundaries between acid, techno, ambient, and psychedelic."[24]

Pitchfork stated that "despite the simplicity of his equipment and approach, the songs here are both interesting and varied, ranging from the dancefloor-friendly beats of 'Pulsewidth' to the industrial clanks and whirs of 'Green Calx.'"[19] DJ Mag noted that the "fuzzy melodies and blurred female vocal" of opening track “Xtal” places the track "in a zone similar to contemporaneous shoegaze artists Seefeel and My Bloody Valentine (albeit with the guitars stripped out)."[25] Dayal wrote that "Ageispolis" progresses in a "grand, cinematic sweep".[26] Simon Reynolds described its melody as "Satie-esque", upon an "incongruously strident, unrelenting beat".[27] "Tha" features a "murk[y]" beat and "underwater" sound according to Dayal.[26] Slant noted the use of "diffusive synth chords" throughout the album, and called attention to James's "pop sensibility" on tracks such as "Pulsewidth" and "Ptolemy."[4]

Various tracks utilise samples: "We Are the Music Makers" features Gene Wilder's recitation of "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams" from Arthur O'Shaughnessy's poem Ode, from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. "Green Calx" contains samples from the 1987 film RoboCop and from the 1978 track "Fodderstompf" by Public Image Ltd, as well as distortion of the opening titles of John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing.[14]


The album's sleeve prominently displays the Aphex Twin symbol, designed by Paul Nicholson who was also a stage dancer at several of James's live gigs around this period. Nicholson stated that the duo's intention for the logo was to be an "amorphic and soft" form with "no sharp lines".[28] According to James, it was a collaborative effort: "He designed it all but I was guiding, like "nah more like this, yeah more like that" etc. [It was] my idea to put the circle around it. There were quite a few iterations before I was happy. I was also astute enough to buy the rights off him, with my last £'s, I was still a student, as I knew it would be very important to me and I also didn't want any arguments down the road."[29] James also suggested that it represented a sigil.


Selected Ambient Works 85–92 was released on 9 November 1992 by Apollo, a subdivision of Belgian record label R&S Records.[1][2] It was initially only available in the UK via import because a licensing deal between R&S and Outer Rhythm had collapsed earlier in the year.[30] The album was the first record released by R&S when it started operating in the UK itself instead of licensing their releases to another label.[31] James departed from R&S Records after the album's release as he had signed to Warp Records and also wished to focus on his label Rephlex.[32]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Encyclopedia of Popular Music[33]
Record Collector[22]
Rolling Stone[8]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[36]
Slant Magazine[4]
Spin Alternative Record Guide9/10[37]

Selected Ambient Works 85–92 received critical acclaim and almost immediately acquired a "huge underground reputation".[38][24] Andrew Smith, reviewing the album in Melody Maker two weeks after its release, wrote: "Not since Kraftwerk has an artist understood texture in this way, made electronic music sound so organic and resonant, so full of life".[30] Simon Reynolds, writing in Melody Maker at the end of 1993, called the album "the most sheerly beautiful album of '93 [and] also the most significant," arguing that it "gave credibility to the then emergent genre of ambient techno" and "singlehandedly won over many indie fans who hadn't really listened to much techno, thus encouraging them to seek out more."[39]

John Bush of AllMusic described the album as "one of the indisputable classics of electronica, and a defining document for ambient music in particular."[7] Reviewing the album after its 2002 reissue, Rolling Stone's Pat Blashill called it a "gorgeous, ethereal album" in which James "proved that techno could be more than druggy dance music."[8] David M. Pecoraro of Pitchfork noted "the creeping basslines, the constantly mutating drum patterns, the synth tones which moved with all the grace and fluidity of a professional dancer," describing the album as "among the most interesting music ever created with a keyboard and a computer" despite its "primitive origins".[19] In 2012, Reynolds wrote that the album "infuses everyday life with a perpetual first flush of spring."[40] Peter Manning, in his book Electronic and Computer Music, noted that James, upon the release of 85–92, "managed finally to elevate [electronic music's] status to the mainstream consciousness of the general public".[41] The album expanded the scope of ambient music and, according to Savage, "defined a new techno primitive romanticism".[24][36]

In 2003, the album was placed number 92 in NME's "100 Best Albums" poll.[42] The album was also featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. AllMusic called it "a masterpiece of ambient techno" and a "work of brilliance".[5] In 2012, Fact named it the greatest album of the 1990s.[9] In 2017, Pitchfork named it the best IDM album of all time.[6]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Richard D. James.

6."Green Calx"6:05
8."We Are the Music Makers"7:43
9."Schottkey 7th Path"5:08
Total length:74:40


Credits adapted from Selected Ambient Works 85–92 liner notes.[43]


Chart (2014) Peak
UK Dance Albums (OCC)[10] 30


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[44]
sales since 2011
Silver 60,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.


  1. ^ a b c Apollo Records. "Selected Ambient Works 85–92". Bandcamp. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "The Aphex Effect". Future Music. Bath: Future Publishing. April 1993. pp. 22–23. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  3. ^ Bush, John. "Drukqs – Aphex Twin". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Cinquemani, Sal (2 November 2002). "Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85–92". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  5. ^ a b c Bush, John. "Aphex Twin | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  6. ^ a b "The 50 Best IDM Albums of All Time". Pitchfork. 24 January 2017. p. 5. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Tognazzini, Anthony. "Selected Ambient Works 85–92 – Aphex Twin". AllMusic. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d e Blashill, Pat (12 December 2002). "Selected Ambient Works 85–92 : Aphex Twin". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 25 May 2009. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  9. ^ a b "The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s". Fact. 3 September 2012. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  10. ^ a b "Official Dance Albums Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  11. ^ a b Reynolds, Simon (21 June 2010). "A Classic Aphex Twin Interview. Simon Reynolds Talks To Richard D. James". The Quietus. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  12. ^ a b O'Connell, John (October 2001). "Untitled". The Face. Archived from the original on 15 June 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  13. ^ Anderson, Don (1999). "Aphex Twin: Mad Musician or Investment Banker?". Space Age Bachelor. Retrieved 7 July 2014.
  14. ^ a b Jordan (9 December 2011). "My Year in Lists: Week Forty-Nine". Review To Be Named. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  15. ^ a b c d Robinson, Dave (April 1993). "The Aphex Effect". Future Music. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  16. ^ Wilson-Claridge, Grant (30 November 1992). "~~~ The definitive RePHLeX ~~~". alt.rave. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  17. ^ Toop, David (March 1994). "Lost in space". The Face. Archived from the original on 3 June 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  18. ^ James, Richard D. (May 1995). "True Lies". Mixmag (Interview). Interviewed by Marcus, Tony. London: EMAP. Archived from the original on 17 March 2021. Retrieved 17 June 2021. Alt URL
  19. ^ a b c d Pecoraro, David M. (20 February 2002). "Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85–92". Pitchfork. Retrieved 6 March 2008.
  20. ^ Bush, John. "Selected Ambient Works 85–92 – Aphex Twin". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 8 June 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  21. ^ Murphy, Ben. "SOLID GOLD: HOW APHEX TWIN'S 'SELECTED AMBIENT WORKS 85-92' REFINED DANCE MUSIC". DJ Mag. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  22. ^ a b Needs, Kris (June 2008). "Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85–92". Record Collector (350). Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  23. ^ Hoskyns, Barney (October 2001). "Don't Fear The Aphex: The Weird Genius of Richard James". Rock's Backpages. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  24. ^ a b c Savage, Jon (1993). "Machine Soul: A History Of Techno". The Village Voice. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  25. ^ Murphy, Ben. "SOLID GOLD: HOW APHEX TWIN'S 'SELECTED AMBIENT WORKS 85-92' REFINED DANCE MUSIC". DJ Mag. Retrieved 19 September 2019.
  26. ^ a b Dayal, Geeta (28 February 2019). "Aphex Twin's best songs – ranked!". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 September 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  27. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2012). Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture. Soft Skull Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-5937-6407-4.
  28. ^ "Aphex Twin logo designer Paul Nicholson shows more unseen sketches · News ⟋ RA".
  29. ^ "User18081971".
  30. ^ a b Smith, Andrew (21 November 1992). "The Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85–92". Melody Maker. London: IPC Magazines Ltd. Archived from the original on 2 May 2018.
  31. ^ Redmond, Steve, ed. (19 December 1992). "R&S Goes Solo for UK Return" (PDF). Music Week. London: Spotlight Publications.
  32. ^ Weidenbaum, Marc (2014). Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II. 33⅓ series. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-62356-763-7.
  33. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  34. ^ "Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85–92". Mojo (175): 121. June 2008.
  35. ^ "Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85–92". Q (263): 156. June 2008.
  36. ^ a b Frere-Jones, Sasha (2004). "Aphex Twin". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 21–23. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  37. ^ Reynolds, Simon (1995). "Aphex Twin". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  38. ^ George-Warren, Holly; Romanowski, Patricia, eds. (2005). "Aphex Twin". The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. New York: Fireside. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-7432-9201-6.
  39. ^ Reynolds, Simon (Christmas 1993). "Ambient - The Buzzword of '93". Melody Maker.
  40. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2012). Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture. Soft Skull Press. pp. 156–7. ISBN 978-1-5937-6407-4.
  41. ^ Manning, Peter (2013). Electronic and computer music (Fourth ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-19-998643-9. OCLC 858861237.
  42. ^ "NME's 100 Best Albums". NME. 2003. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  43. ^ Selected Ambient Works 85–92 (booklet). Aphex Twin. Apollo Records. 1992. AMB 3922 CD.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  44. ^ "British album certifications – Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 29 March 2021.



  • Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig, eds. (1995). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.

External links[edit]