Selected Ambient Works 85–92
|Selected Ambient Works 85–92|
|Studio album by|
|Released||9 November 1992|
|Producer||Richard D. James|
|Richard D. James chronology|
|Aphex Twin album chronology|
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 by Apollo Records (a subsidiary of Belgian label R&S) on 9 November 1992 and later widely in February 1993. The album consists of beat-orientated ambient tracks recorded onto cassette reputedly dating as far back as 1985, when James was thirteen to fourteen years old. 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, and has been considered a landmark in the fields of electronica, ambient techno, and intelligent dance music. James followed up the album up 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. It entered the UK Dance Albums Chart at number 30 after the release of Aphex Twin's 2014 album Syro.
According to James, he began experimenting with musical instruments, such as his family's piano, at an early age. He claimed to have won 50 pounds in a competition to make a program that produced sound on a Sinclair ZX81 (a machine with no sound hardware) at age 11. He subsequently created music using a ZX Spectrum and a sampler, and also began reassembling and modifying his own synthesizers. James said he composed ambient music the following year. 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. 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".
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". He wrote "Digeridoo" to clear up his audience after a rave. From 1991 to 1993 James released two Analogue Bubblebath EPs as AFX and an EP, Bradley's Beat, as Bradley Strider. Although he moved to London to take an electronics course at Kingston Polytechnic, he admitted to David Toop that his electronics studies were being evacuated as he pursued a career in the techno genre. 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.
Composition and design
Selected Ambient Works was reputedly recorded between 1985 and 1992 (beginning when James was fourteen) using homemade equipment constructed from standard synthesisers, as well as drum machines. The recording's sound quality has been described as poor due to it being recorded onto a cassette damaged by a cat.
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." 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 most of the album's tracks. Rolling Stone described the album as "fusing lush soundscapes with oceanic beats and bass lines." DJ Mag noted its "synthesis of elements from hip-hop, hardcore, ‘true’ ambient, house and techno." 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.'" 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." Many reviewers suggested that James was influenced by the ambient works of Brian Eno, though James claims not to have heard Eno before he began recording.
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.
The album's sleeve also marked the debut of the now iconic Aphex Twin symbol. It was designed by Paul Nicholson who at the time was sharing a flat with James on Southgate Road, and had acted as a dancer at several of James's live gigs. Nicholson stated that the duo's intention for the logo was to be an "amorphic and soft form with no sharp lines".
Reception and legacy
|Encyclopedia of Popular Music|||
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
|Spin Alternative Record Guide||9/10|
Selected Ambient Works 85–92 was released in November 1992 by Apollo, a subdivision of Belgian record label R&S Records. James departed from R&S Records after the release of SAW 85–92 to focus on Rephlex Records.
Selected Ambient Works has been critically acclaimed. Simon Reynolds, writing in the 1994 Spin Alternative Record Guide, gave the album a 9 rating. In 2012, Reynolds wrote that the album "infuses everyday life with a perpetual first flush of spring." John Bush of AllMusic described the album as "one of the indisputable classics of electronica, and a defining document for ambient music in particular." Reviewing the album after it was reissued by PIAS America in 2002, Rolling Stone's Pat Blashill called it a "gorgeous, ethereal album" in which James "proved that techno could be more than druggy dance music." 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".
Widely regarded by critics as one of the pioneering works in early IDM and modern electronic music, retrospective reviews mention its influence on electronic artists. In 2003, the album was placed number 92 in NME's "100 Best Albums" poll. Nine years later, it was named the greatest album of the 1990s by Fact magazine. The album was also featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. AllMusic called it "a masterpiece of ambient techno, the genre's second work of brilliance after the Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld". In 2017, Pitchfork named it the best IDM album of all time.
All tracks are written by Richard D. James.
|8.||"We Are the Music Makers"||7:43|
|9.||"Schottkey 7th Path"||5:08|
Credits adapted from Selected Ambient Works 85–92 liner notes.
|UK Dance Albums (OCC)||30|
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