AI on psychedelics, juttering simulations, and the Cornish landscape bind together in Richard D. James’ new output
After a week of internet users arguing over possible explanations for the cryptic billboards springing up around the world, Aphex Twin fans now have some new music to digest, along with a wild new video.
“T69 Collapse” is accompanied by a hectic, collage-like visual featuring codified dialogue, interpolations of Richard D. James’s lovely ginger face, and loads of vibrant flashing colours – the latter is so prominent that the video had to be dropped from its original slot on Adult Swim TV, after failing the Harding test for photosensitive epilepsy. After temporarily causing Warp’s official Aphex Twin website to crash, the video has sent fans into a frenzied debate over its deeper meanings, if there’s any at all.
Like those posters and the artwork for Aphex’s upcoming EP Collapse — out September 14 — the video was designed by Weirdcore, the mysterious anonymous artist who has previously collaborated with Tame Impala, Gwen Stefani, and adidas. Fans may also recognise Weirdcore’s dazzling style from Aphex Twin’s live shows, including last year’s Field Day performance, during which James laid out his current fondness of the machine-gun rhythm syncopation present in “T69 Collapse”.
The theories abound. Are those glimpses of James’s native Cornwall? Is this RDJ’s idiosyncratic take on simulation theory, like in The Matrix? Or is it simply another example of vintage Aphex mindfuckery? Here’s a closer look.
The video’s opening 25 seconds contain some nearly illegible (though not quite) snippets of what appears to be a message exchange: Weirdcore and James discussing the ideas behind the video? There is nothing to confirm who might be saying what, and there are some discrepancies between the hastily decoded transcripts popping up on the internet, but the gist of the dialogue makes for interesting reading.
While “chewing on peanut butter toast with swedish jam”, James cites fans of Britain’s Got Talent as possible proof that we could all be living in a simulation, an idea that seems to have inspired the video (more on that in a minute). The track itself, as stated in the opening message, is so named “cos when the bass bit kicks in and the tempo starts slowing down its like a collapse of sorts”. Read a particularly helpful transcript of the dialogue here.
PHOTOGRAMMETRY, ASCII AND POINT-CLOUDS
After the blinky conversation is over, we’re taken on a swirling tour around the video’s virtual landscape. Beginning with a glitchy high street before later bursting upwards into some kind of mountainous plain (there are also snatches of imagery from 1993’s “On” video and the accompanying book to Chris Cunningham’s “Rubber Johnny”), Weirdcore’s computerised world is reminiscent of a Fortnite map — or perhaps a Minecraft creation? James has links with the block-building game already, having sold the test pressing of his 1994 album Caustic Window to its creator, Markus Persson, for $46,300 in 2014.
In previous work, such as his vignette for Radiohead’s “Glass Eyes”, Weirdcore has experimented with photogrammetry, the practice of creating 3D images using 2D photographs. “T69 Collapse” pairs the technique with the use of point-clouds — sets of data points comprising a 3D shape — and ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) — a form of character encoding in electronic communication — all of which throb and pulsate to the manic rhythm of the music. The ASCII here is largely composed of messages from the opening dialogue, during which James and Weirdcore make enthused reference to both point-clouds and ASCII. Head hurting yet?
GEOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES AND THE CORNISH COUNTRY
The cyber architecture of the video makes clear reference to a number of real-world places, each of which — you guessed it — holds some significance in the Aphex universe. Most obvious is the shiny, box-like structure which recurs throughout, undoubtedly meant to be the silver building which sits in the middle of what used to be Elephant and Castle roundabout, inside which RDJ was once rumoured to live. The allusion is made clear in the video’s opening dialogue, where James says the box will be “one of the focal points of the video a bit like the monolith in 2001”, hinting at a fondness for Kubrick’s dreamlike classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Shortly after we’re sucked through an Aphexian wormhole at around 3:15, we emerge into a weird grassy place that several gleeful YouTubers have noted “looks a bit like where Richard was interviewed on John Peel once”. That place is in fact Gwennap Pit in Redruth, Cornwall, where James went to school. Other Cornish sites featured include Redruth’s viaduct and Coffee Tavern, Falmouth Road and Penryn High Street. Some particularly keen-eyed fans have even spotted what appears to resemble a mirrored Aphex logo just north of Redruth on Google Maps. A stretch? You decide…
According to the press release, Weirdcore’s film was inspired by Artificial Intelligence, specifically how an AI might see the world on psychedelic drugs. The video’s opening exchanges include reference to this too, with both Weirdcore and James expressing interest in simulation theory, the idea that we all exist in a simulated reality. One of them remarks that the chance of ours being a base — or “real” — reality is “about 1 billion to one!”.
The escalating intensity of CGI madness in “T69 Collapse” confirms the interpretation. Weirdcore is quoted in the press release as having mused over “how a simulation could break and go to next level”; the answer, it seems, is an increasingly barmy abstraction of the world, culminating in a neon assault of the brain not unlike a sequence from a Gaspar Noé film, or that time you took rhino ket at Gottwood festival.
THE BEST OF THE APHEX FANDOM
Fans remain the lifeblood of IDM, the nerdy internet subculture that was kickstarted by Aphex Twin’s debut album all those years ago. It’s partly thanks to the fans that such fervour has always been poured into the endless myths surrounding RDJ’s life, some of which are referenced in “T69 Collapse”. For starters, “T69” is the name of an American tank used in the Second World War, surely a nod to the ancient rumour that James used to drive a tank around his former home in Elephant and Castle.
While other online eulogies include claims that Weirdcore is really an android from the future and another that the video can cure cancer, we’ll leave you with these words of wisdom from a stupefied YouTuber: “Remind me never to watch this under the influence of ANYTHING. Not even aspirin. I'll fall into RDJ's pulsating digital anus and never find my way out again”.