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Unreleased Aphex Twin, Warped in Ableton Live

By now, people who care about the music of Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, know about how he dumped 175 (and counting) unreleased songs on Soundcloud. Like everything he’s done its a body of work that is at turns beautiful, frustrating, and obtuse. The majority of the tracks seem to be Aphex-esque techno and acid house, which is to say his unique combination of standard drum patterns with melodic flights of fantasy and piss-takes.

I had the idea of DJing with these tracks, and when I say ‘DJ’ I mean ‘arrange and blend tracks in Ableton Live’ — which isn’t proper DJing, according to many. That controversy aside, that is the easiest way for me to work; by not having to worry about synchronization and beat-matching, one is free to concentrate on the arguably more important parts of DJing, which is song selection and sequencing.

What started as a simple project to select some tracks to play in DJ sets turned into an obession, and I ended up ‘warping’ the entire corpus of tracks — 175 in total. There are only 173 on Soundcloud because 2 were withdrawn.

To make use of my warping efforts is unfortunately a 2 stage process, the first being to go download the music files. These are available on Google Drive. You’ll need a Google account of some sort to download them, but you can just download the “Selected Soundcloud works 1985-2015” folder. https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B80j1_axBSvIRWJJMUNvdldmWFk&usp=sharing.

Then, download this zip: http://www.cornwarning.com/xfer/AphexUnreleasedLiveProject.zip. It’s also available in the Google Drive AFX folder as well, in the “Ableton” folder.

There’s a ‘Readme’ file in the project ZIP file explaining how to use the warped files, but the TL;DR instructions are “Unzip the mp3 files, unzip the Project, load the project in Live, and tell Live where to find the mp3s.” It should be self-evident to anyone who regularly uses Ableton Live.

Some observations after working through all those tracks:

1. Tempos are almost all very consistent, making me think that he used accurate clock sources & DAT recordings from very early on. There are a very few with the telltale ‘cassette stretch’ tempo drift.

2. There are several with ‘Sequencer Stop’ pauses where he stops the master clock device, allows the effects to decay, and then restarts the sequence off beat. This blows Ableton Live’s mind. I’ve fixed these as best I can, basically pinning a warp marker on the last beat and then dragging the point where the sequencer restarts to the next measure start.

3. Only a few had ‘intergral’ BPMs, i.e. 130, 140, etc. Meaning that the tempo clock was only accidentally set to an intergral tempo. Or the sequencer device and Ableton Live don’t agree about intergral tempos.

4. A couple of them were unwarpable, and I gave up on those.

5. This set of songs was a torture test for Ableton Live’s automatic warping, and I wasn’t impressed, even by the new 9.2 beta version which supposedly improved automatic warping. It rarely found the downbeat properly, was confused by beatless intros etc. Even though the tracks have a very steady tempo.

This was an interesting project to undertake, and it allowed me to ‘needle’ drop in every track. There’s a lot of impressive tracks in this collection.
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