Selected Ambient Works 85–92

Selected Ambient Works 85–92 is the debut studio album by the electronic music producer and DJ Aphex Twin. It was released on 9 November 1992 through Apollo Records, a subsidiary of the Belgian label R&S Records. The album consists of ambient techno tracks recorded onto cassette reputedly dating as far back as 1985, when James was fourteen years old. On release it received widespread acclaim and entered the UK Dance Albums Chart at No. 6 on 26 December 1992.

Selected Ambient Works 85–92
The Aphex twin logo
Studio album by
Released9 November 1992 (1992-11-09)
Genre
Length74:40
Label
ProducerRichard D. James
Richard D. James chronology
Joyrex J5 EP
(1992)
Selected Ambient Works 85–92
(1992)
Analogue Bubblebath Vol 3
(1992)
Aphex Twin album chronology
Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92
(1992)
Selected Ambient Works Volume II
(1994)

Selected Ambient Works 85–92 is considered a classic and defining work of electronica. Music journalists have credited it with expanding the scope of ambient music and introducing techno to fans of indie music. The website AllMusic described it as "a masterpiece of ambient techno". The record is very different from the beatless ambient music produced by the composer Brian Eno. Selected Ambient Works 85–92 has since appeared on best-of lists, with the UK magazine Fact naming it the greatest album of the 1990s in 2012.

Background

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Richard D. James began experimenting with musical instruments, such as his family's piano, at an early age.[1] He subsequently created music using a ZX Spectrum and a sampler,[2] and also began reassembling and modifying his own synthesisers.[1] 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 as a DJ at the Shire Horse Inn in St Ives, with Tom Middleton at the Bowgie Inn in Crantock and on the beaches around Cornwall.[3] He studied at Cornwall College from 1988 to 1990 for a National Diploma in engineering. About his studies, he said that "music and electronics went hand in hand".[3]

James's first release, under the alias Aphex Twin, was the 1991 12-inch EP Analogue Bubblebath on Mighty Force Records. That same year he and Grant Wilson-Claridge founded Rephlex Records.[4] James wrote "Digeridoo" to clear up his audience after a rave.[3] 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.[2][5] In 1992 James released another EP, Xylem Tube EP, under the Aphex Twin name, as well as several singles and EPs under the name Caustic Window.[6]

Composition

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According to James, Selected Ambient Works was recorded between 1985 and 1992 (beginning when James was fourteen)[7] using homemade equipment constructed from standard synthesisers,[8] as well as drum machines.[9] The website AllMusic has described the recording's sound quality as poor due to it being recorded onto a cassette damaged by a cat.[10] The album is very different from the beatless ambient music produced by figures such as Brian Eno.[11] The Independent newspaper suggested it pays homage to the "refracted minimalism" of the composers Philip Glass and Karlheinz Stockhausen.[12] James has said that the songs on the record "were just tracks that my mates selected; ones that they like to chill out to."[13]

Commentators have categorised Selected Ambient Works 85–92 as ambient techno,[6][14] IDM,[15] electronica and ambient.[8] According to AllMusic's Anthony Tognazzini, the album draws from the club rhythms of techno and acid house, but adds melodic elements "of great subtlety, beauty, and atmospheric texture".[8] Ben Murphy of DJ Mag described 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".[16] He stated 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)."[16] Kris Needs of 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.[17] Barney Hoskyns described the album as a "schizoid mix of sonic assault and melodic melancholia".[18] Rolling Stone's Pat Blashill described the album as "fusing lush soundscapes with oceanic beats and bass lines."[7] Jon Savage wrote that the album "trashed the boundaries between acid, techno, ambient, and psychedelic".[19]

David M. Pecoraro of 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.'"[9] In The Guardian, Geeta Dayal wrote that "Ageispolis" progresses in a "grand, cinematic sweep".[20] Simon Reynolds described its melody as "Satie-esque", upon an "incongruously strident, unrelenting beat".[21] "Tha" features a "murk[y]" beat and "underwater" sound according to Dayal.[20] Writing for Slant Magazine, Sal Cinquemani 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".[14]

Some tracks use samples: "Green Calx" uses a sample from the 1987 film RoboCop, "Xtal" samples "Evil At Play" by Steve Jeffries, Mary Carewe and Donald Greig, and "We Are the Music Makers" samples dialogue from the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. These were probably sampled using James's Casio FZ-10M, which allows the user to record and load sounds via floppy disk.[22]

Artwork

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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".[23]

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 pounds, 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."[24]

Release

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Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 was released on 9 November 1992 through Apollo,[25][26] an ambient subdivision of Belgian record label R&S Records.[6][25][26] In the UK it was initially only available via import because a licensing deal between R&S and Outer Rhythm had collapsed earlier in the year.[27] The import release was priced as high as £20 (equivalent to £52 in 2023).[28][29] The album was the first record released by R&S in the UK after it started its own operations in the country instead of licensing their releases to another label.[28] James departed from R&S after the album's release as he had signed to Warp Records and also wished to focus on his own label Rephlex Records.[30]

The album entered the UK Dance Albums Chart at No. 6 on 26 December 1992.[31] It was still in the Top 10 when James's next album Surfing on Sine Waves (using the alias Polygon Window) was released in January 1993, and he briefly had two records in the Dance Top 10 under different pseudonyms.[32] Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 re-entered the dance chart just after the release of Aphex Twin's 2014 album, Syro.[33]

Reception and legacy

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Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic     [8]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music     [34]
Mojo     [35]
Pitchfork9.4/10[9]
Q     [36]
Record Collector     [17]
Rolling Stone     [7]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide     [37]
Slant Magazine     [14]
Spin Alternative Record Guide9/10[38]

Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 received critical acclaim and almost immediately acquired a "huge underground reputation".[39][19] Andrew Smith, reviewing the album in Melody Maker two weeks after its release, stated: "Not since Kraftwerk has an artist understood texture in this way, made electronic music sound so organic and resonant, so full of life".[27] The author and critic 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."[40]

The album's stature grew in the decades following its release.[12] Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 has since been described as a defining electronica and ambient record,[8] one that showcased electronic music as a work of "nuance and ambition" that took advantage of the LP format.[12] Neil Mason, the editor of Electronic Sound magazine, said that the album "arrive at exactly the right time. The acid house explosion of 1988 had ushered in an entirely new genre of music, but by 1992 it was beginning to settle and this sort of music was starting to cross over."[12] 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."[7] David M. Pecoraro of Pitchfork described "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".[9] In 2012 Reynolds described the album as one that "infuses everyday life with a perpetual first flush of spring."[41] Peter Manning, in his book Electronic and Computer Music, stated that James, upon the release of 85‍–‍92, "managed finally to elevate [electronic music's] status to the mainstream consciousness of the general public".[42] The album expanded the scope of ambient music and, according to Savage, "defined a new techno primitive romanticism".[19][37] AllMusic's John Bush called it "a masterpiece of ambient techno" and a "work of brilliance".[6]

Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 has appeared on several best-of lists. In 2003 the album was at placed No. 92 in NME's "100 Best Albums" poll.[43] Ten years later NME included it in their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time at No. 121.[44] In 2012 Fact named it the greatest album of the 1990s.[45] Three years later Spin placed the record at No. 204 in a list compiling the 300 best albums released from 1985 to 2014.[46] In 2017 Pitchfork named it the best IDM album of all time.[15] The album was also included in the 2018 edition of the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[24] In 2022 The Independent described it as a landmark 1990s record.[12] In 2024, Uncut ranked it 32nd in their list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of the 1990s"; editor John Robinson highlighted the album's "succinct, mysterious ambiences" and "soft and oddly nostalgic tunes", adding: "If this collected Richard James's past, it suggest everyone else's future."[47]

Track listing

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All tracks are written by Richard D. James[48]

Selected Ambient Works 85–92 track listing
No.TitleLength
1."Xtal"4:51
2."Tha"9:01
3."Pulsewidth"3:47
4."Ageispolis"5:21
5."i"1:13
6."Green Calx"6:02
7."Heliosphan"4:51
8."We are the music makers"7:42
9."Schottkey 7th Path"5:07
10."Ptolemy"7:12
11."Hedphelym"6:02
12."Delphium"5:36
13."Actium"7:35
Total length:74:40

Personnel

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Credits adapted from Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 liner notes.[48]

Charts

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1992 weekly chart performance for Selected Ambient Works 85–92
Chart (1992) Peak
position
UK Dance Albums (Music Week)[31] 6
2014 weekly chart performance for Selected Ambient Works 85–92
Chart (2014) Peak
position
UK Dance Albums (OCC)[33] 30

Certifications

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Certifications for Selected Ambient Works 85–92
Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[49]
sales since 2011
Silver 60,000

Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

References

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  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ a b O'Connell, John (October 2001). "The Further Adventures of the Aphex Twin". The Face. Archived from the original on 15 June 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Robinson, Dave (April 1993). "The Aphex Effect". Future Music. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  4. ^ Larkin, Colin, ed. (1998). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Dance Music (First ed.). Virgin Books. p. 285. ISBN 0-7535-0252-6.
  5. ^ Toop, David (March 1994). "Lost in space". The Face. Archived from the original on 3 June 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d Bush, John. "Aphex Twin | Biography & History". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 19 July 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d 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.
  8. ^ a b c d e Tognazzini, Anthony. "Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 – Aphex Twin". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 16 June 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d Pecoraro, David M. (20 February 2002). "Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 25 July 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2008.
  10. ^ Bush, John. "Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 – Aphex Twin". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 8 June 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  11. ^ Murphy, Ben (3 January 2019). "Solid Gold: How Aphex Twin's 'Selected Ambient Works 85–92' refined dance music". DJ Mag. Archived from the original on 16 May 2021. Retrieved 30 March 2024.
  12. ^ a b c d e Power, Ed (11 February 2022). "'This is Not Music': 30 Years of Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works". The Independent. Archived from the original on 11 February 2022.
  13. ^ James, Richard D. (May 1995). "True Lies". Mixmag (Interview). Interviewed by Marcus, Tony. London: EMAP.
  14. ^ a b c Cinquemani, Sal (2 November 2002). "Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 May 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  15. ^ a b "The 50 Best IDM Albums of All Time". Pitchfork. 24 January 2017. p. 5. Archived from the original on 2 May 2017. Retrieved 9 April 2017.
  16. ^ a b Murphy, Ben (3 January 2019). "Solid Gold: How Aphex Twin's 'Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92' Refined Dance Music". DJ Mag. Archived from the original on 16 May 2021.
  17. ^ a b Needs, Kris (June 2008). "Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92". Record Collector (350). Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
  18. ^ Hoskyns, Barney (October 2001). "Don't Fear The Aphex: The Weird Genius of Richard James". Rock's Backpages. Archived from the original on 27 September 2021. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  19. ^ a b c Savage, Jon (1993). "Machine Soul: A History Of Techno". The Village Voice. Archived from the original on 24 September 2021. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  20. ^ a b Dayal, Geeta (28 February 2019). "Aphex Twin's best songs – ranked!". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 7 September 2021. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  21. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2012). Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture. Soft Skull Press. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-5937-6407-4.
  22. ^ Carrlast, Dan (9 November 2022). "How Aphex Twin made Selected Ambient Works 85–92". MusicRadar. Archived from the original on 17 March 2024. Retrieved 17 March 2024.
  23. ^ Coultate, Aaron (6 April 2017). "Aphex Twin logo designer Paul Nicholson shows more unseen sketches". Resident Advisor. Archived from the original on 5 May 2019. Retrieved 29 March 2024.
  24. ^ a b Dimery, Robert; Lydon, Michael (2018). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (Revised and Updated ed.). London: Cassell. ISBN 978-1-78840-080-0.
  25. ^ a b "Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92". Apollo Records. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2019 – via Bandcamp.
  26. ^ a b "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.
  27. ^ a b Smith, Andrew (21 November 1992). "The Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92". Melody Maker. London: IPC Magazines Ltd. p. 30. Archived from the original on 2 May 2018.
  28. ^ a b Redmond, Steve, ed. (19 December 1992). "R&S Goes Solo for UK Return" (PDF). Music Week. London: Spotlight Publications. Archived (PDF) from the original on 23 August 2022. Retrieved 23 August 2022.
  29. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 7 May 2024.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ a b Redmond, Steve, ed. (26 December 1992). "Top 10 Dance Albums" (PDF). Music Week. London: Spotlight Publications. p. 24. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 February 2023.
  32. ^ Redmond, Steve, ed. (23 January 1993). "Top 10 Dance Albums" (PDF). Music Week. London: Spotlight Publications. p. 22. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 October 2023.
  33. ^ a b "Official Dance Albums Chart Top 40". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  34. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). "Aphex Twin". The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). London: Omnibus Press. ISBN 978-0-85712-595-8.
  35. ^ "Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92". Mojo (175): 121. June 2008.
  36. ^ "Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92". Q (263): 156. June 2008.
  37. ^ a b Frere-Jones, Sasha (2004). "Aphex Twin". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). New York City: Simon & Schuster. pp. 21–23. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  38. ^ Reynolds, Simon (1995). "Aphex Twin". In Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig (eds.). Spin Alternative Record Guide. New York City: Vintage Books. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Reynolds, Simon (Christmas 1993). "Ambient – The Buzzword of '93". Melody Maker.
  41. ^ 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.
  42. ^ Manning, Peter (2013). Electronic and computer music (Fourth ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 177. ISBN 978-0-19-998643-9. OCLC 858861237. Archived from the original on 7 March 2024. Retrieved 7 September 2021.
  43. ^ "NME's 100 Best Albums". NME. 2003.
  44. ^ Barker, Emily (25 October 2013). "The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time: 200–101". NME. Archived from the original on 8 November 2023. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  45. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s". Fact. 3 September 2012. Archived from the original on 11 March 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  46. ^ "The 300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years (1985–2014)". Spin. 11 May 2015. p. 2. Archived from the original on 19 October 2023. Retrieved 20 March 2024.
  47. ^ Robinson, John, ed. (April 2024). "The Ultimate Record Collection: The 500 Greatest Albums of the 1990s". Uncut: The Archive Collection (7): 58.
  48. ^ a b Aphex Twin (1992). Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92 (booklet). Apollo Records. AMB 3922 CD.
  49. ^ "British album certifications – Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85‍–‍92". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
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