Penderecki + Aphex Twin
November 25, 2011 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Although Aphex Twin has not been releasing much music recently, he still plays frequent live shows. At a recent show in Poland he reworked two pieces by Krzysztof Penderecki, with Penderecki conducting the original versions prior to Aphex's versions.

Polymorphia (conducted by Penderecki)
Polymorphia Reloaded (Aphex Revamp)
Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (conducted by Penderecki)
Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (Aphex Remix)
Aphex also premiered an interesting new technique for "controlling a 48 piece string section and a 24 strong choir by remote control, using midi controllers, lots of headphones and some remote visual cues:" Aphex Twin's remote orchestra.
posted by Frobenius Twist (36 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Penderecki deserves to be better known. Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima was used as background in Kubrick's "The Shining". Aphex Twin inspired countless rave chillout rooms, but Penderecki isn't chillout music.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:18 AM on November 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

but Penderecki isn't chillout music.

well neither is much Aphex Twin. But I'm totally with you on Penderecki's lack of renown ... and kind of embarrassed to admit I'd assumed he was dead.

Long live creators of extreme and beautiful music.
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

kind of embarrassed to admit I'd assumed he was dead

First reaction to this post was not "whoa, cool," but: "penderecki's ALIVE!?" Brian Blessed style.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 9:24 AM on November 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

AND JOHNNY GREENWOOD! Playing STEVE REICH? Sometimes the world is amazing.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:35 AM on November 25, 2011

I, too, had the "Penderecki's still alive?" reaction.

Also, I opened this post within minutes of finishing the novel of The Shining. So, something.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:36 AM on November 25, 2011

Regarding comparative notariety, they have different worlds. You won't likely learn 20th century music theory without covering Threnody. Richard James has sold albums but doesn't have that sort of academic legacy. Paper lasts longer than CDs, vinyl, or hard drives, and Pendercki has more published scores and more frequent citation in books.

People make much of the connections between IDM and the defunct avant garde, but James' style has much more in common with Stockhausen (who is, for good reason, much more noteworthy), but this world is not big enough for both their egos.
posted by idiopath at 9:45 AM on November 25, 2011

What's interesting to me about this is that these videos find Aphex working in an academic/electro-acoustic setting, far from the IDM he's known for. There's been some predilection for modern classical in his work in the past, but this side of his music isn't as well known.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 9:52 AM on November 25, 2011

A pedant wasn't Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima used in the Shining...the pieces used were Utrenja II, The Awakening of Jacob, De Natura Sonoris 1 and 2 and Polymorphia.

I've never quite got Aphex Twin. I think I'm too old. Penderecki fucking rocks though.
posted by peterkins at 9:53 AM on November 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Aphex Twin is one of those people I feel like I need to investigate. I just have no idea where to start. All the links in this post look great to explore, but I have to admit to wondering how accessible it will be to someone who's only sort of aware of modern classical and vaguely toe-dipping into electronic music (enough to know I like some of it but not enough to even understand the major genre divisions).
posted by immlass at 9:57 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

immlass: Start with "Selected Ambient Works '85-'92", and then "...I Care Because You Do." Skip Druqks (a huge amount of people will disagree with be on that one.)
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 10:01 AM on November 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

wow, this threnody remix is awesome.

One of the weirder segues ever in my itunes shuffle was going from some random 80's alternapop to penderecki's threnody.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:07 AM on November 25, 2011

I love Druqks (though mostly for the prepared piano pieces - my friend hates the piano pieces) I'd recommend Selected Ambient Works 2 since I think it's more ambient, IIRC.

Also - Instead of I Care Because You Do, I'd recommend the Come to Daddy EP. It has both some of his heaviest (Come to Daddy) and his most beautiful melodic stuff (Flim, IZ-US). Again - because his output is so voluminous, there's so much to choose from and too many different styles.

I would say some of his acid releases -- something from the Analord series (if just 1 album, then just get Chosen Lords)
posted by symbioid at 10:12 AM on November 25, 2011

I'd dip right into the deep end with the RICHARD D. JAMES album. It's fantastically composed, deeply strange, frantic and beautiful. The one album I'd select as his timeless masterpiece. (Most would point to his earlier ambient works, but I think he's done far more engaging stuff since.)
posted by naju at 10:19 AM on November 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also for Aphex Twin - check out the early release, Surfing on Sine Waves, that he did as 'Polygon Window' on Warp.
posted by carter at 10:22 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My vote would be to start with Selected Ambient Works 2 if we're taking a poll.
posted by juv3nal at 10:28 AM on November 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Aphex Twin is one of those people I feel like I need to investigate. I just have no idea where to start.

The problem is that his later output is a bit uneven. There are some beautiful pieces on Come to Daddy, Richard D. James, and Drukqs, but also some dingers. I'd recommend the early ambient works, Polygon Window, and Mike and Rich. If you enjoy those, work your way forwards through his catalog, and perhaps to his acidic Analogue Bubblebath series.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:57 AM on November 25, 2011

If you can find a decent mp3 set rip of the Analord series, DEFINITELY check that out. It's a bit different compositionally than his recent works before that, but surprisingly warm and engaging for the most part.

i say 'find a decent mp3 rip' because paying for the entire series on vinyl is something only an insane person would do.
posted by FatherDagon at 10:58 AM on November 25, 2011

Ambient Works 1 if you want a more "techno" take on your ambient (ie: beats).
Ambient Works 2 if you want a more abstract take on your ambient (ie: Enoesque drones and scapes)

Both are brilliant.
posted by philip-random at 10:59 AM on November 25, 2011

Well, if we're just going to be recommending all of his albums (absolutely NOTHING wrong with that though!), check out "his" album "Rushup Edge" by The Tuss (commonly assumed to be AFX.)
Really, just listen to everything by him you can get your hands on.
Opinion is vastly divided on what's good and what's not, so the best thing to do is to make up your own mind.
The only thing piece of advice that you should take to heart is that if you hear one song or one album you don't like by him, don't let that stop you from listening to everything. For example, my favourite album of all time is SAW '85-'92, and yet I wouldn't count any of his other albums (besides ICBYD) in even my top 200.
posted by Cpt. The Mango at 11:03 AM on November 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Funny, I can listen to the Richard D James album endlessly, can get into I care..., but not much of his either stuff will engage me the same way.
posted by utsutsu at 11:22 AM on November 25, 2011

As far as Pendarecki goes, stick to the stuff from the '60s, his work got boring when he rejected formal innovation for expressiveness.

One thing that fascinates me about his Threnody For the Victims of Hiroshima is that he did not set out to make a threnody, he had only an abstract notion of the piece before he saw it performed, and initially titled it 8' 37". He decided on the evocative title some time after experiencing what the piece sounded like in concert . I am interested in the way that such an emotional and intense result came from a formal exercise. I have heard rumors/speculation that the piece didn't get as much attention in its first performances, and only gained acclaim once it got the evocative title.

So much of 20th century art music gets used in horror movies (Penderecki's music of course being a notable example, as mentioned upthread). I have a theory that this is because most of the formal possibilities of music are unfamiliar to us, and that unfamiliarity becomes anxiety, so that a vast majority of formal experimentation will viscerally alienate an audience. Playful tinkering on paper becomes the voice of Evil to our ears. The disconnect is comparable to the cold calculation of a mathematician as contrasted to the trippy fractal visualization of her chaotic system. Is this reaction of fear because we are closed minded? Is it biological? It is probably some mixture of these I am sure. I know that with familiarity (with an individual piece or with the style in general), the depth and variety of responses blossoms. Sadly most of us will never have the attention span or inclination to find the beauty hidden in the monstrosities.
posted by idiopath at 12:15 PM on November 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Citation, and fascinating discussion, regarding the retitling of the Threnody and the effect of the retitling on audience and critical perception.
posted by idiopath at 12:39 PM on November 25, 2011

I'd go with Richard D. James album as a starter, perhaps just because that's how I finally got into him after years of having his music forced on me by friends.

Does he really play a lot of shows? I saw him once, headlining the dance tent at Reading Fest (2001 or 2002, I forget which). Most of the aforementioned friends were extremely jealous when they heard, but maybe he just doesn't make it over to NAmerica all that often?

Anyhow, that was a fantastic show. He wore this bizarre bird mask thing and was doing crazy live sampling on the spot - never was sure if I was hallucinating (I was less than sober) but could swear I saw him playing with a blender/microphone set-up on stage.
posted by mannequito at 2:39 PM on November 25, 2011

It's funny, the Aphex remix of Threnody ends up sounding a lot like the early electronic music of Iannis Xenakis (e.g. Mycenae-Alpha), who was a big influence on Penderecki in the first place. Strange how these things loop in on themselves.
posted by speicus at 2:42 PM on November 25, 2011

speicus: I almost reached for the Xenakis comparison, but while Xenakis, Pendarecki and Aphex Twin are using similar timbral textures, Aphex Twin lacks the structural nuance that the other two bring to the table compositionally.

Xenakis pioneered the use of clustering because he had invented granulation as a synthesis technique (an idea that Xenakis, a mathematician, based on the theoretical work of Dennis Gabor (inventor of holography)), but could not get hardware capable of synthesizing using this method, so he attempted to get instrumentalists to do it instead. The result was a very useful failure.

Later Xenakis was able to get his hands on hardware that could do granulation. A student of Xenakis, Curtis Roads, is the acknowledged master of granular synthesis (he literally wrote the book).

Richard James, as Aphex Twin, is using granulation to manipulate the sounds of the Pendarecki piece. I can say with some confidence that the software James is using was written with input from Roads.

So a mathematician imagines manipulating and synthesizing sound using short bursts of other sounds, and lacking hardware innovates a compositional technique for live performers. Based on this, another composer writes a powerful piece for string orchestra. A student of the mathematician pioneers digital sound synthesis, leading to the creation of tools that an IDM rock star would use to manipulate these orchestral sounds.

Small world.
posted by idiopath at 3:00 PM on November 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

I adore Penderecki. I mean, yes, it's the difficult listening hour, but the way he uses music not in lines but in planes never fails to rock my world. I have every one of his a capella choral works, and I listen to them often.

Some years ago, I was listening to music with my friend Emma and our respective husbands while her 5-year-old autistic son played elsewhere in my house. Well, we were trying to listen to music; every time we'd put something on, Philip would come rocketing out from wherever he was playing and shut the music off before rocketing back to playing the Star Trek theme on the piano, or whatever it was he happened to be doing. (Avenue Q didn't make it through the first bar.)

But when I put on the Threnody as an illustration of how complex Penderecki can be, and how music can be extremely unpleasant to listen to but still a powerful work of art, Philip came creeping into the room. He walked up to the stereo, but instead of turning it off, he reached out and put his hand on the speaker. Then he reached across and put his other hand on the other speaker. And he stood there, transfixed, absorbing the music with his body as well as his ears, for the entire duration of the piece.

When it ended, he turned around and shot back to the piano without a word or gesture and resumed his previous activities. But he was clearly experiencing that piece in a very different way than most people do; I wish I knew what it meant to him.
posted by KathrynT at 3:13 PM on November 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

idiopath: while Xenakis, Pendarecki and Aphex Twin are using similar timbral textures, Aphex Twin lacks the structural nuance that the other two bring to the table compositionally

I would say their areas of interest re: structure are different. Maybe "here are these elements I've discovered, how can I present them in a streamlined way" vs. "here are these elements I've discovered, how can I use them to evoke a particular mood or atmosphere." It's interesting that, as you said, Penderecki almost accidentally ended up evoking a very powerful kind of atmosphere when his real area of interest was elsewhere. Much of Xenakis' music fails by this rubric, but likewise it's really not fair to judge it that way since it wasn't his area of concern either.
posted by speicus at 4:01 PM on November 25, 2011

I think to be failing, Xenakis would have to have been trying. His real goals were an idiosyncratic mixture of the technical, the emotive, and an atheistic variant of spiritual awe (described in his own writing in a way that reminds me of Sagan).

His clustering was a failed attempt at synthesis (the orchestra is not disciplined enough to have the control his theory needed), but I think in terms of his own criteria his pieces mainly succeeded (whether they used clustering or not). That is, they demonstrate a novel concept, they engage an audience with a visceral sense of power, and with the right listener there is a feeling of grandess on the galacti superhuman scale.

This isn't neccessarily what a listener wants from music, but for one who is looking for those things his work is very satisfying.
posted by idiopath at 5:31 PM on November 25, 2011

posted by speicus at 7:20 PM on November 25, 2011

Capt. Mango: immlass: Start with "Selected Ambient Works '85-'92", and then "...I Care Because You Do."

Seconding this very enthusiastically. Two great releases, that I seem to almost never tire of of...
posted by Skygazer at 11:37 PM on November 25, 2011

FatherDagon: i say 'find a decent mp3 rip' because paying for the entire series on vinyl is something only an insane person would do.

Two years ago, Rephlex released the whole Analord series as downloadable mp3s, with extra previously unreleased tracks. Prior to that, yes it was only on vinyl.
posted by memebake at 1:52 AM on November 26, 2011

Thanks for all the tips. I'll be checking out the Selected Ambient Works and see where I go from there. I should have known to just ask on Metafilter to find out where to start!
posted by immlass at 7:37 AM on November 26, 2011

Oh man oh man. I'm sure you have ample advice at this point, Immlass, but I'd recommend starting with a handful of songs rather than an album. My possibly idiosyncratic nominations: Xmd5a, Windowlicker, Fingerbib, Alberto Balsalm, (or this version), Flim, Bucephalus Bouncing Ball, Tha, Meltphace 6, Where's Your Girlfriend [as AFX], Klopjob [as AFX], Last Rushup 10 [as The Tuss, presumably], Fenix Funk 5.
posted by Zerowensboring at 8:12 AM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I so love the song Alberto Balsalm.

If the future has a sound, that is it.

posted by Skygazer at 9:02 AM on November 26, 2011

i won't add or remove to the list of recommendations, as afx has enough output to hit people in very different ways. it's worth sampling everything and see what sticks.

but one thing to note. if this is your first time experiencing his older music, you should know it was not just novel at the time (aside from sawII, which is very eno-ish), afx/autechre and the rest of the warp/rephlex roster were doing the most out-there shit anyone had heard. it's easy to hear it now and think "i have a plugin that does that" or "that's just drum & bass," but no, nobody had a plugin that did that, and no it wasn't just drum & bass at the time.

in some ways, entire genres were spawned from single tracks he made.

so just keep that in mind when sampling from the afx platter.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 2:49 PM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

My possibly idiosyncratic nominations

Mine, all from SAW2: cliffs, rhubarb, z twig
posted by juv3nal at 7:43 PM on November 26, 2011

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