Aphex Stretch: What the Super-Slow Remix Reveals About Electronic Music
Stretched to 1000% of its original length, an Aphex Twin song suddenly exists on a different sonic plane while its component parts remain unchanged.
The title of Aphex Twin’s forthcoming EP—Cheetah—implies that it’s quick on its feet, but the famed producer’s music is perhaps at its most transformative when it’s moving as slowly as it possibly can. In 2011, a YouTube user named Evan Chapman posted a version of “Avril 14th” that’s fundamentally identical to the original cut from the Drukqs release, and yet in every other sense, the song is entirely changed. At 1000% slower than its former self, it has effectively morphed into a twenty-minute behemoth—a sprawling sea of marbled drone that’s shed its twinkly ivories to rejoin the earlier selected ambient works. The video in question is one of many, part of an ongoing exploration of “timestretch” technology, a type of computer software that allows fans to immobilize sound recordings.
The slow music movement found another early target with Justin Bieber. Years ago, his song “U Smile” was overextended by 800%. The viscously mixed single takes the shape of a post-classical composition; Glenn Branca (of all people) comes to mind. It is altogether unlike the irksome pop song that plagued the radiowaves for so much of 2010. From such a view, we glimpse another world of music, one beyond, or rather behind, our regular space-time continuum. Songs of every genre have been fed into the pausal program, and the results are still scattered across YouTube, with more mixes being posted every day.
Where remixes generally resemble their cited song, the ultra slow-mix, at its best, belongs to a different category altogether. A seething soundscape lurks in every pop song, but the most transformative musical resource is IDM of the kind produced by Aphex Twin. The slowing effect smooths out the jagged edges of the genre. Drum and bass beats are flattened into tectonic plates. Songs that thrived on hyperactivity suffer a quicksand fate. Synths that had once leaped and tumbled and crashed are now trapped inside sonic icebergs. Glacial and unmoving: the antithesis of dance.
Where remixes generally resemble their cited song, the ultra slow-mix, at its best, belongs to a different category altogether.
We might say that the soil for IDM is rich for the slowing, since it has so many microscopic components. The timestretch technology disassembles a song, revealing all of its intricate complexities. The best example of this is “Nannou,” another Aphex song (from 1999’s Windowlicker single). And while the user doesn’t reference the degree of slowness, we can tell quite easily this is not 800%. It’s more likely a medium range affectation. If the original “Nannou” was a well-tuned composite music box, then this rendition is the same device, gravely fractured, unspooling rustily with missing springs.
One of the most remarkable things about slowing music is that a less-tolerable song can become an incredible one. Case in point: Aphex’s seemingly unredeemable ’90s hit “Come to Daddy.” If you thought this single was scary the first time around, try listening to the house of horrors that moves seven times slower. It’s absolutely terrifying, particularly when combined with the slowed-down version of its already horrific video. Don’t be surprised if you’re unable to discern the sampled chorus; it’s been obfuscated by the acute slowness and transformed into a slithering growl. This is certainly not the same song that Skrillex references as his inspiration.
Of course, we don’t need timestretch software to manipulate music; in fact we don’t need computers at all. Turntables have allowed us to tinker with songs for decades. If you own either of Aphex’s Selected Ambient Works on vinyl, you probably know that these records can be enjoyed both at 33 and 45 rpm. In fact, most of last year’s Syro is available on YouTube in a format of 16 rpm, where “minipops 67” sounds like a satanic samba jam and “XMAS_EVET10” is a bubbling swamp of synths.
Still, it would require impossible dexterity to manually slow a record by 800%, and therein lies the novelty of timestretched music videos. It is a process that speaks to our societal anxiety; we enjoy Aphex Twin not only at the regular speed but also in a slothful appropriation that allows us to eventually lose sight of the original. It’s an endless drift into the dreamy corners of ambient lethargy. FL