Chapter 43: Playing with Sound

When I drove to Wal-Mart four times a week for all of junior year to work, I would always have the radio on. I’d alternate between the oldies station and The X, Pittsburgh’s local alternative rock station. I’d sing along, get weird looks from other cars watching me, and generally have a good time.

Until last summer my musical tastes hadn’t matured much, I hadn’t discovered a genre that wasn’t introduced to me by my parents. That’s a long time for this normally, but classic rock and old school R and B (Etta James, Aretha Franklin) are quite excellent, and as Matt Farmer would say of almost all classic rock, “File this under awesome!”

Two summers ago my brother brought home a movie he had heard was wild, called Pi. It’s about a brilliant mathematician whose goal is to find a pattern in nature, more specifically the stock market. He eventually goes insane and nearly kills himself. It’s a brilliant movie, with an amazing ambiance. That ambiance is what first took me to search for the songs on the soundtrack on Napster, then still a viable entity. I came up with Aphex Twin.

For the uninitiated, Aphex Twin is a guy from Britain who makes techno. He’s not a DJ, he doesn’t do clubs like the stereotypical techno person would. I downloaded around 15 of his songs at random, not having listened to any of it before, put it on shuffle, and sat back to one of most mind expanding evenings of my life.

Music didn’t sound like this. Music didn’t play with me like this. This wasn’t music. This was something beyond music. It was someone playing with patterns in sound, playing with patterns in rhythm, playing with me. It wasn’t a cardboard cutout of an earlier hit designed to sell records, it was . . . words still fail me to describe it.

Admittedly I don’t move through music extremely fast, it takes me a couple of runs through before I get fully hit with the significance of a track. I bought techno CD’s, downloaded mp3’s, and slowly expanded my archive of techno until, at least in my group of friends, I WAS the source. I didn’t and still don’t like trance very much, it’s too repetitive. Someone told me that Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin were kind of old, and that I wasn’t exactly discovering anything, just finding some oldies.

Today I was walking between declaring my major and trying to get paid for the tutoring I was doing, and I passed a couple of people listening to music in the head phones. I recognized both genres, country and metal. I smiled and pulled out my brand spanking new mp3 player, and brought Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole up to speed. For the next 15 minutes I was in another world.

Rock and pop might be good for a tune, but I trip the fuck out to old school techno.

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