This week saw the circuitous release of a record old enough to be deemed "electronica": Richard D. James"s 1994 album made as Caustic Window, which got as far as the pressing plant and five white-label vinyl copies before being shelved, the music itself only whispered about. You can read as to just how this item came into existence in the 21st century elsewhere, but while not exactly revelatory on its own, Caustic Window - taken in the context of James' ludicrous mid-'90s hot streak - marks 1994 as a prolific and wide-ranging year for the man best known as Aphex Twin. In one calendar year, James released the alien planet that is Selected Ambient Works Volume II, experimental techno and acid 12"s as AFX and GAK, as well as remixes and numerous other tracks, which appeared on comps like Artificial Intelligence II and Excursions in Ambience. At this point, the most interesting aspect of hearing Caustic Window - which is made up of idiosyncratic acid squawks like "Fingertrips" as well as elegant beatless explorations like "101 Rainbows" - is wondering how it would have slotted into the producer's formidable discography.
Able to do throttling as well as eerie (not to mention whimsical and step-uncle creepy), Aphex Twin brought together what might seem to be incompatible musical genres. But as Marshall Jefferson - the man who discovered the very sound of acid on Phuture"s "Acid Tracks" - told David Toop in his 1995 book Ocean of Sound: "Acid house was meant to be the capturing of moods." It was not tethered to dancefloors, BPMs, or even to hardware. Electronic music could be both about the moving body and the still mind. Or as another genre-less producer, Arthur Russell, once put it: "Music with no drums is successive to music with drums."
It was in encountering Aphex Twin"s music without drums that led me to the multitudinous forms of electronic music made with drums. Filling two minutes at the end of a mixtape a friend made for me, Selected Ambient Works Volume II seemed like anything but music to my teenage ears in 1994. Already a zealot for punk, grunge, hip-hop, alternative, and classic rock, when I heard this brief interlude (an untitled track that iTunes now calls "White Blur" when loading a scratched copy into the computer), I was mystified.