June 15, 2009

Polygon Window - Surfing On Sine Waves (1993, Warp Records)

Since I listened to "Selected Ambient Works Vol. II" last week, I have been on an Aphex Twin kick, and revisiting some of my favorites in my collection. Released under the moniker Polygon Window, "Surfing On Sine Waves" was the first in the seminal Artificial Intelligence series on Warp Records, which spawned a whole new "intelligent dance music" sound in the UK and world-wide in the '90s. The early releases in the series have a strong "bleepy" feel, made mainly with hardware synthesizers and drum machines rather than the software-heavy laptop approach of modern IDM. This was also one of the few Aphex Twin albums that one could actually find in shops in the US during the mid-'90s, thus it was one of his first CDs I bought after "...I Care Because You Do". "Sine Waves" features Aphex Twin in acid house and hardcore-inspired ambient techno mode, composing mainly with minimal-yet-pounding drum machine programming and repeating, washed-out synthesizer tones. While the tempo and beats are on the dance-side of the spectrum, there is lots of reverb and minimal passages, with a mysterious, timeless sound (apart from the dated drum machine sounds, which I would rather call "classic"). There is a total absence of drum loops on the album, and sampled material is kept to a bare minimum, although used to excellent effect with the strange spoken samples on "If It Really Is Me" and the stomping "Supremacy II". The reverb-and-acid-synth-laden "UT1 Dot" and the beatless "Quino-Phec" could fit in well on "SAW Vol. II", while other tracks blend the ambient elements with a strong techno beat, such as "Quixote". In '01, the album was remastered and re-issued with two additional tracks from the original sessions, both in a more down-tempo/IDM style but still in line with the overall tone of the album tracks. Aphex Twin has taken his Polygon/Caustic Window hardcore acid techno sound in an ultra-futuristic-and-yet-slightly-lo-fi direction on his recent Analord 12" series, but much of his early '90s material still stands as all-time classic to me.