There are few artists whose creative persona is as intrinsically linked with their music videos as Aphex Twin. Maybe it’s the fact that Richard David James keeps the sort of public profile that would make JD Salinger look like a Kardashian? Maybe it’s his commitment to working with artists of the highest order? Maybe it because the vids that are produced blend staggeringly memorable visuals with the ‘braindance’ tracks so perfectly that it’s difficult to imagine one without the other?! Whatever the reason, it means that another journey into the idiosyncratic world of Aphex Twin is always a deranged delight, as the new film for track ‘T69 Collapse’ goes to prove.
Utilising the talents of long-time collaborator Weirdcore, the promo‘s hyper-kinetic style not only acts as a delightful visualisation of the syncopated electronica in the audio but also questions the AI theory, imagining how AI would see the world on a trip and “how a simulation could break and go to next level.”... all the while giving your eyeballs the best workout they’ve had in ages.
Accompanying the video, Aphex Twin’s logo mysteriously appeared at Elephant & Castle in London, and posters designed by Weirdcore have popped up in other locations around the globe including Turin, Hollywood, Tokyo and New York. Alongside that, Weirdcore conceived the visual aesthetic for the Collapse EP, including artwork and visuals.
Hot off the back of the vid’s release (and last-minute dropping from broadcast premiere on Adult Swim, due to failing an epilepsy test), we grabbed the Prettybird director to chat about the intimidating prospect of adding to the Aphex Twin filmography, just how the overpowering images were created and how he felt when he found out his film might cause a fit.
In terms of music video legacy, few can match AphexTwin’s back catalogue. Was it daunting to take on the mantle?
Yes, that was actually. I'd been wanting him to ask me to do a video for ages, but once he did, I was like “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck... what do I do now..!?!?!?!?!?". BIG weight on my shoulders it was indeed.
What was your approach to the project? Was there guidance from the artist/label to begin with or was it a case of your reaction to the track?
Yeah, I chatted to Rich a lot at the start and throughout.
Warp weren't involved to begin with, as Rich had not sent them the tracks until a few months ago and not told them anything. Once they were involved, they just let me get on with it. They've been top actually, really supportive and up for it, yet letting me do whatever too, which is an ideal combo. Plus Prettybird have been really supportive.
What can you tell us about the production of the film? It’s the sort of piece that we can’t even contemplate how it was created, so please be gentle ;-)?
Oh, where to start… I don't reckon I can quickly explain this to be honest. In a nutshell, it was a long organic process which started with the goal to do a 3D scan collage with the vibe of 2001's Stargate scene and I just got on with it. A year later, here we are…
What’s the technology you use to create the visuals? There seems to be such a combo of projection mapping, CGI, photography, footage and coding we can’t tell where one thing starts and the other ends.
It's mostly videogrametry, photogrametry and real displacement textures, which I then manipulated in my own special way...
The visuals are deeply in sync with the beats on the track – is that tireless editing on your part or is there a technological shortcut? How many passes were there before the right level of sync was found?
Yeah it's synced/controlled with the audio stems/midi files and bpm change data.
However, I intentionally left the actual video edits rather rough/sloppy so it doesn't overall look too robotic.
You mentioned a year before. How long did the video project take to put together?
Well, we started gathering ideas just over a year ago and have been properly working on it since March. Things properly gathered pace around mid-June.
How collaborative is the process with Rich? Does he leave you to your own devices or get involved in the aesthetic?
He lets me get on with it, but defo has a lot of input too. It’s really hard to explain the work process between us - it's an unconventional yet ideal one
Alongside the video, you’ve also been involved in the EP design and promotional pieces. What can you tell us about the development of that?
Well that was a rather organic process. Richard wanted something which visualised ‘collapsing’, and one of the Cornish places he wanted used in the video was ‘Gwennap pit’.
I made an Aphex/animated version of it, which is used in the video. Originally the cover was meant to be a still from the video, but when it got the deadline of the artwork, the video was faaaaaaaaaaar from being finished. In the end, I adapted that Aphex Gwennap pit, as it seemed so perfect for it - it looks like it's collapsing once you apply different textures to it. The vibe for the promotional posters grew from there.
The film was set to premiere on Adult Swim until it failed an epilepsy test. Aphex Twin vids are known to court controversy – was this a conscious move or just a by-product of the extraordinary visuals?
Well, I was still finalising the video at the time and I was stuck between a rock and hard place as Richard wanted more strobing and such for certain moments in the track. When the Harding fail came up, we just decided to focus on making it more intense, rather than watering it down.
What’s up next for you?
In the near future, finally having a bit of holiday with the family after months of work on this. In the more distant future, Aphex live visuals in late October/early November.