The Aphex Effect
Halfway across the world from the jazz-filled streets of Frank Ocean’s hometown of New Orleans, is the county of Cornwall, United Kingdom. This is the home of Richard D. James—better known as Aphex Twin, an electronic artist who would go on to leave a massive trail in the music scene, often regarded as the greatest electronic producer of all time. Richard would synthesize his vision and ear for melodies, resulting in some of the most abstract, bizarre and otherworldly pieces of music in history.
To date, Aphex Twin has released six studio albums and twelve EPs, making him massively influential in music and netting him a Grammy in 2015.
Richard’s influence on Frank Ocean’s career alone can be seen peppered throughout. From the merchandise he wears, the drum patterns he has mimicked, and the spoken tributes he has made, here is a look at the Aphex effect on Frank Ocean.
This post was originally published on frankocean365.
It has been edited and reformatted here with permission from the author.
The Use of Birds
Listed among the 360 page Boys Don’t Cry magazine are some of Frank’s favourite songs, one of them being “Aisatsana” by Aphex Twin—a serene, melodic piano piece with sounds of nature and birds chirping blending in the background. The use of birds has become a mini-staple within Richard’s music and can be traced back much further than 2015′s Syro where the track is featured.
In 1992, Richard released an EP titled Digeridoo. The first track “Digeridoo” featured a swift drum line and heavy bass tones created with a Roland TB-303. These synthesized sounds are tied by the constant twittering of birds.
In May of 1992, Richard debuted an untitled track on BBC Radio 1 during the John Peel session. A cleaned up version was released in 2015 and dubbed “Slo Bird Whistle[peel Sesh].” It begins with a high pitch bird chirping which continues throughout.
In 1994, Richard released his fourth EP, titled Analogue Bubblebath 4 under the alias AFX. The project features a track called “Cuckoo,” an almost arcade-esque track with slapping percussions, rapid drum patterns and naturist sounds. The use of grasshoppers and owl’s smoothly intermix with the sonic environment resulting in a totally discrete sound.
In 2017, Richard released his London 03.06.17 under the alias AFX. Track 5, “em2500 M253X” has a vintage soft piano melody littered with bird chirpings evoking a relaxing sonic atmosphere.
Richard’s use of birds and animals are often sourced to provide a layer of tranquility to his music. They’re present in both of his electronic based and relaxing tunes. In tracks like “Aisatsana” and “em2500,” the use of birds transport the listener and paint an image of serenity.
Frank Ocean’s summery tales of his first love told in 2012’s channel ORANGE introduced a fresh wave of luscious and silky production paired with creative and cinematic songwriting.
On track 8, “Pilot Jones,” a bass-heavy tale about the effects of drug use on his relationship, Frank sings:
“In the sky up above, the birds, I saw the sky like I never seen before”
The production here transitions from the dark side of drugs into a different realm, one with sunny skies and birds chirping. Frank also changes up his cadence here, choosing to sing the verse softly. Much like Richard, the birds are used as a drop of calmness.
In 2016’s Blonde, Frank Ocean had the vision to rebrand the entire blueprint and foundation of how an urban contemporary album should sound. Forming a super-team of producers, the critically acclaimed album housed inspiration from all aspects of art. The production was innovative, avant-garde and idiosyncratic with tracks like “White Ferrari” and “Seigfried” pushing the boundaries of normality.
Birds have an understated role on Blonde. Just as in Aphex Twin’s music, they’re used as a totem of peace in a greater atmosphere of sound. On Blonde, they’re also used to demonstrate the important day and night split (discussed in-depth here). They can be heard during the “day” half, on the “Pink + White,” “Be Yourself,” “Skyline To” and “Self Control.”
On “Pink + White” they are heard throughout all throughout the track, most notably as the quick strings commence at the beginning of the track. They’re also isolated at the very end of the track.
The birds from “Pink + White” are smoothly transitioned into “Be Yourself” and can be heard until the 8 second mark.
“Skyline To,” a dreamy ballad about long drives and forbidden sex features quietly chirping birds under the melancholic production. The birds complement the laid-back vibe as Frank recalls his most memorable summers. There’s also a high pitch sound stretched out at the back end of the track that is similar to what Aphex Twin had used throughout in his track “Slo Bird.” It also sounds similar to a Termenvox, an instrument Frank learned how to play very early in his career. This, however, is not listed in the album’s credits.
On “Self Control,” birds can be heard in the opening seconds of the track. It is the last time birds are heard on the album as the focus shifts into the night half.
On 2016’s Endless, Frank channelled Richard’s use of drum and beat programming. He mainly took inspiration from 1996’s Richard D. James Album and 2015’s Syro focusing on swift drum patterns, abrasive percussion and quick rhythms.
On “Provider,” Frank sings,“stiff smile just like I’m Aphex Twin (yeah come to daddy)”
Synonymous with the Aphex Twin image is the smile seen plastered across some of his biggest albums. Frank’s suppressed ad lib of “yeah come to daddy” is a nod to one of Aphex Twin’s most popular tracks titled “Come To Daddy” off of his 1997 EP of the same name.
Among the 50 tracks Frank listed as his favourite, Richard’s music is listed twice. One is the previously mentioned “Aisatsana” and the other is “The Garden Of Linmiri” by Caustic Window, an experimental acid house track produced under a different alias.
Frank and I had been in the studio and were listening to a lot of music. We picked up ...I Care Because You Do and we were listening through it. When we got to “Alberto Basalm,” he was like “can you play that again?”
Most of his songs are totally instrumental. Some of them have his own voice in it, but there’s no lyrics. There are certain songs that resonate that with different people.
Frank added “IZ-US” from the 1997 album “Come to Daddy” to “blonded Los Santos 97.8 FM,” a playlist playable in Grand Theft Auto Online.
From “Blonded Los Santos” to the chirping of birds, Richard D James’ fingerprints have been left in various ways throughout Frank’s career. Both elusive artists, both generational talents and both evolving with every release of art they put out in the world.