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Published: 2005/08/08
by Jesse Jarnow

Acoustica: Alarm Will Sounds performs Aphex Twin – Aphex Twin

Cantaloupe Records 21028

In many ways, Acoustica: Alarm Will Sound performs Aphex Twin makes such perfect sense that you just gotta sit back and dig it. Issued on Bang on a Can’s Cantaloupe label — who also issued Acoustica’s forerunner in BoC’s own adaptation of Brian Eno’s Music For Airports — the disc has the 22-piece avant-garde New York ensemble setting a baker’s dozen of the enigmatic Richard D. James’ compositions to… well… the corporeal. And while it makes sense, it has almost a normalizing effect on James’ work.

The genius of James' recordings remains their sheer otherworldliness. Smartasses call it "intelligent dance music," but smartasses don't usually dance, and trying to imagine anybody doing so to Aphex Twin's diced-n-smothered micro-rhythms only conjures images of drooling Martian ravers. Who knows? Maybe that's what smartasses look like when they get some mojo. Beyond the alien rhythms, the timbres are all mutated acoustics and sampled fuzz-outs. Drawn mostly from James' last outing, his sprawling 2001 double-disc Drukqs (with a pair of tantalizing detours into his Selected Ambient Works), the arrangements are never quite as fundamentally weird as the originals. But that’s fine, ‘cause they’re mostly still beautiful.

Though Alarm Will Sound cleverly employs a variety of percussion toys (curtain rods, air pumps, water hoses), the center of nearly all the tracks is the group's strings, which shade everything with a deep warmth and a strange humanity. And that's not to mention the rhythms, which (obviously) sound less mechanical than their originals. In places (the disc-opening "Cock/Ver 10"), it sounds like the Ensemble Moderne's Frank Zappa renditions. Elsewhere, there is added drama, such as on John Orfe and Payton MacDonald's arrangement of "Mt. Saint Michael," which sounds not unlike Mark Mothersbaugh's scores for the action sequences in Wes Anderson's Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Occasionally, though, physical pokes through a little too much (the slapped bass pulsing out of "Meltphace 8").

The short way to say all of the above is this: if the idea of a 22-piece nu-classical ensemble playing bizarre electronic music appeals to you, you will likely quite enjoy Acoustica. Now let’s dance.

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