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Yesterday I heard the preliminary mixes of the two Aphex Twin (aka Richard D. James, freaky prince of electronica) arrangements I did for Alarm Will Sound, NY’s own fab chamber orchestra, conducted by the indefatigable Alan Pierson, and WOW do they sound terrific. I was always pretty jazzed about this project, which took up a fair amount of my summer last year, but now after hearing the close-to-final product, I’m very excited about the CD’s release this summer.

The project itself is a full CD of arrangements of Aphex Twin tunes, from various albums, but I believe the bulk of them are off of James’s excellent record, Drukqs. Drukqs has a sort of schizophrenic quality to it: the cuts are generally either wildly complicated rhythmically, so much so you can almost see his sequencer smoking at the end of each track, or subtle and ambient, often with some wonderfully-manipulated samples of prepared pianos. Each track title on Drukqs is more unpronounceable than the next, reportedly fitting his character (our friend and colleague Steven Bryant once mentioned that RDJ lives in a medieval castle and owns a tank).

AWS is in residence at Dickinson College this year, and when I went down there for the recording sessions I got a chance to hear several of the other arrangements, and was floored with their quality and creativity. There was one track off of Drukqs that I was possibly going to arrange, titled Omgyjya-Switch (pronounce that), which upon first listening with an ear of possibly transcribing it, I instantly developed an ulcer. It took me about 16 listens before I even found the pulse. Another arranger grabbed the tune before I said yes, so I was spared, but he did such an amazing job of it that it hardly matters, incorporating 2 traps into the transcriptions to solve the problem of the impossible drum tracks, and somehow deciphering the monster-counterpoint. I know I could not have done even remotely as well with it, but I’m still haunted by my initial fear, and deep down I regret not attacking the challenge.

That being said, the two tracks I did do were off of The Richard D. James Album, and were challenging in very different ways. Fingerbib was a study in synth pads, de-tuning and heavy, wet reverb, all of which somehow got transcribed into an arrangement for standard chamber orchestra. And Logon Rock Witch, a bizarre and eyebrow-raising track, juxtaposes the ramblings of what seems to be a drunken organist with the silliness of the most frivolous percussion toys you can think of. Flexatones, coffee-cans, jew’s harp, slide whistles, it’s all in there, and I ended up arranging the organ music into the ensemble, with octave doublings galore, and notated wrong notes and rhythms. These two arrangements took me 2 solid months to do, my hair greyed significantly, and they were only about 3-4 minutes each.

AWS has performed some of the arrangements (including Fingerbib) live, both at Dickinson at last year’s Bang on a Can Marathon, but there will be a big premiere of all of them on a full concert, at the Lincoln Center Festival this summer, timed with the release of the CD (this entry’s title provides an unsubtle clue as to the record’s title), which will be on the Cantaloupe Label. I will go, in my club clothes, pretending I’m cool enough to be there…

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