The World Of Richard D. James
Richard D. James only writes music that goes to extremes. And it is this boundary-pushing fanaticism in every direction away from the norms of popular music which allows listeners to so easily discern the archetypal patterns which James prolifically and magnetically harnesses.
James, known by the aliases Aphex Twin, Polygon Window, and AFX, is the experimental wunderkind who almost single-handedly defined intelligent electronica in the 1990’s. James’s music polarizes popular and critical opinion into either love or hate camps, yet all would agree-including the artist himself-that James walks a fine line between stark, raving madness and the rare genius that is able to secure musical mana from the heavens and hells beyond this world.
James’s prodigious output from the last decade can basically be distilled into three general categories of techno: hauntingly beautiful, ethereal, beatless ambient; terrifyingly macabre, severe, and barren “illbient,” or dark ambient; and highly experimental, relentlessly driving hardcore, appropriately called “drill’n’bass.” James also acknowledges these divisions, as he states, “I just like the extremes of music whether it be totally chilled-out ambient music, the strangest bizarre music, or totally most aggro (aggressive) …mental hardcore.” (From “Words and music,” Aphex Twin)
Richard D. James’s birthchart
If we look at James’s birthchart, (solar only) we can see that he is giving voice through his music to the prominent archetypal formations at his birth.
James Richard was born on August 18th, 1971. His birth was at the strange interface between the waning energies of the Pluto-Uranus conjunction of the sixties and the potency of a tight Saturn opposite Jupiter-Neptune conjunction whose energies were best expressed in visionary fantasy films like Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Ken Russell’s The Devil’s, and Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
James was born with a considerable Grand Trine (three planets forming an equilateral triangle) between Saturn, Uranus, and Mars, however, unlike the reputation of Grand Trines being “lazy,” or forced to be made manifest only by necessity, James implemented the positive qualities of this configuration at an early age. As Saturn and Uranus in combination has a proclivity to electronics and mechanics, James began experimenting with computers at an early age, composing his earliest electronica at the age of 14. Later, James would pursue electronics in college, only abandoning it for his obsession with music and computers.
Not only is James’s music produced out of an electronic medium, but much of his music has a highly mechanistic, aggravated, and manufactured quality indicative of Saturn and Uranus in combination. The tension and urgency and the struggle for creation of Saturn and Uranus in aspect is driven with force and aggression when Mars is added to the combination. Notice the pounding, tense and frenetic, “state-of-emergency” quality of “Quoth” (mp3) (real audio) and “Metapharstic” (mp3) (real audio).Since James was also born with a Saturn-Pluto trine, the pounding and driving quality of Saturn and Mars in combination is not merely duplicated, but intensified, deepened and darkened; James’s disturbing rhythmic drill is often transformed into a veritable synthesized hammer of the gods, witness “We have Arrived” (mp3) (real audio).
James’s exploration in ambient-which varies from beautiful and blissful to depraved and horrorific-is indicative of the visionary and artistic gifts that Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune in aspect can bestow.
One of the potentials of Saturn and Neptune in aspect for the artist is the ability to harness the darkest and most haunting layers of the collective unconscious and implement it in concrete form. If one looks at Saturn and Neptune in hard aspect during the twentieth century, time and time again one sees a succession of films released or created under these global transits which epitomize dark visions, nightmarish fantasy worlds and dystopias, life devoid of meaning and spirit, and the trials and problems associated with the imagination-all Saturn-Neptune phenomena. James, born under the Saturn-Neptune opposition of 1971, captures the qualities of this darkly poetic world in pieces such as “Next Heap With” (mp3)(real audio) and “Hedphylm” (mp3)(real audio).
Yet James’s ambient is not all dark. In fact, he has composed some of the most inspiring, uplifting, and melodic electronica to date. James’s birth year of 1971 was a rare time in which Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn all were in conversation with each other, expanding and contracting simultaneously on the visions, dreams, and poetry of the Neptunian archetype. As an archetypal quality, Jupiter adds lightness, inspiration, and a glowing animation to the Neptunian world of myth, dreams, and vision. Specifically in music, Jupiter and Neptune is the composer’s combination, since not only does Jupiter uplift and enliven the unconscious stirrings of Neptune, but this combination is also known for its ability to allow the musician to craft gorgeous, memorable themes and motifs. We have “Alberto Balsalm”(mp3)(real audio) as an example from James typifying the sunny daydreams and knack for melody indicative of Jupiter and Neptune in aspect.
There are two specific points in James’s career that illustrate the power of astrological transits, or when planetary cycles create aspects to planetary positions in one’s birthchart.
In early 1993, James signed with Warp Records, a highly successful (in part due to James) and visible electronica label from Great Britain. After years-nearly a decade-of djing London clubs and creating his own unique brand of electronica, James’s persistence paid off. At this time, Jupiter conjunct James’s natal Uranus. If there is one planetary transit that so consistently correlates with the manifestation of the archetypal energies involved, it is this pairing. Time and time again, when one looks at Western history or the specific charts of artists or innovators in any field, when Jupiter conjoins Uranus, success is granted to experimentation and creativity. This was certainly the case for James, as he not only became one of electronica’s brilliant stars, but the contract with Warp gave James the financial independence to create to his heart’s content.
A more important transit in terms of James’s own creativity occurred in the middle portion of the nineties, when Pluto conjoined James’s natal Jupiter-Neptune conjunction and opposed his natal Saturn. Pluto’s nearly three-year transit coincided with James’s most fertile and intensely creative period, climaxing in the release of his “Selected Ambient Works Volume II,” which many critics believe to be the magnum opus of the genre. Pluto intensified, deepened, and rarefied the Saturn-Neptune-Jupiter constellation in James’s chart.
Pluto transits have the reputation of having the greatest and most transformative impact on our lives because these transits make manifest-more than any other archetype- the potentials in our chart. In the case of James, it was as if the Neptunian waters of the collective unconscious were lifted out of his psyche and made very, very perceptible and tangible. Not only this, but Pluto also intensified the push-pull dialectic that Jupiter and Saturn have on James’s natal Neptune. Many tracks are bright, airy and inspiring–Jupiter•Neptune–while other tracks are dark and depressing–Saturn•Neptune.
Every track on Selected Ambient Works Volume II upholds this “Plutonic” intensity. This is ambient music at its most visionary, its most otherworldly, its most surreal, and its most dimensionally rich and layered. Many critics have commented upon the music’s ability to conjure up whole, unchartered universes in a listener’s imagination, and certainly, Pluto and Neptune in conjunction are apt to create new worlds.
Music on Selected Ambient Works Volume II ranges from the angelic and rapturously transcendent to hellishly tortured-Pluto was at work intensifying the already powerful forced communion of Neptune, Saturn, and Jupiter in James’s birthchart. Listen to “SAW II track 1” (mp3) (real audio) as an example of sonic bliss. On the converse “SAW II track (real audio), unleashes eons of repressed purgatorial and hellbound fury.
As James funnels through his Saturn Return, it will be intriguing to see if he sustains the abundance of brilliance he was able to give the world of electronica throughout the past decade…or maybe he will simply enjoy more of his time driving his tank around London.