Bach and Aphex Twin

Within the flow of art which we experience over years of listening to music, reading books, going to museums and shows – there are always these very few works, which have left upon us an impact so immediate and strong, that we will never forget that moment of awe; that split second when it became clear that this work of art had just changed something essential in our inner library. For me, such was the case both with the Aria from the Goldberg Variations (1741) by Johann Sebastian Bach and with Jynweythek by Aphex Twin (from his album Drukqs, 2001). And though the latter came to my life about 15 years later, I felt an almost immediate association to the harpsichord sound of Bach’s Aria, in particular to the historical recording made by Wanda Landowska (the first time this piece was recorded on a harpsichord). Since Aphex Twin was brought to my awareness so late, I had a lot of catching up to do, and the more I listened to his music, the more the association to Bach became stronger; now being not only to the particular sound of the harpsichord, but also to the complexity and crafted polyphony which are at the same time a singing melody. I often found myself comparing both artists, listening to their works back to back, forgetting that one lived 250 years ago, has never left Germany and was using a quill pen to write his scores, while the other still lives, have probably traveled all over the globe and most likely have never written a single note outside of the computer. Bach is considered by many the greatest composer of all times and the father of Baroque music (though historically incorrect, as he lived at the very end of the Baroque era), while Aphex Twin (real name: Richard David James) is the acclaimed pioneer of IDM (Intelligent Dance Music). Bach mastered several musical instruments, while Aphex Twin began his career by manipulating the code of a hardware that wasn’t able to play any sound whatsoever – so that it could make weird noises. Bach composed for churches and aristocrats, while Aphex Twin creates his music for the night clubs.

The list of differences can go on and on. Much shorter (if at all) would be a list of similarities.
But there is no claim I love proving more than the claim, that “music is music”.


A few years ago, David Shemer (of course, my Dad) released his own recording of the Goldberg Variations, a life-time project which he documented with the help of his magician sound engineer Avi Elbaz. The unique album art (by Sharon Asis) features a flowerlike crochet:

Surprisingly, the knitting of the crochet follows a mathematical pattern not unlike to that of the development of the variations.

Inside the CD’s cover the following words are written, referring to this phenomenon:

“Fanciful, free, ever changing, yet completely structured, and abiding by the strictest rules of a sophisticated mathematical concept” [David Shemer]

If I was asked to explain my fascination with the music of Aphex Twin, I would find these words helpful. In 2013, I took my Dad’s recording of the Aria, cut it into pieces and patched it with Aphex Twin’s music (very rude indeed), to create a sound collage (sometimes goes by the name mashup):

A few words about sound collages:

The art of collage-making involves cutting and pasting, while the question of “what to cut and what to paste” can be as captivating as questioning the randomness of the universe in which we are living. Sound collages typically use sampling techniques to put together parts from different compositions (or different parts from the same composition), creating a new work. Much like its visual predecessor, the result often ames to be something else than comfortable or homogeneous, but rather to evoke thought and thrill in light of a surprising new combination.

I took the Aria by Bach and two tracks by Aphex Twin (Acrid Avid Jam Shred and Nannou), and enjoyed the wonders that have happened by simply cutting and pasting; that old computer-editing trick, which so often reveals beauty and charm where they are least expected. There is something startling and shocking about the idea that you can take materials from such different contexts and put them together to create a newborn. The final track was given a video collage, which I made using footage from several YouTube tutorials, all showing Baroque dancing. I named it “A Goldberg Twin”:

A slightly off-topic anecdote (related to the art of collage-making):

Many years ago, when I was in my 6th grade, my school ran a program in which the older students were paired with the young ones from the 1st or 2nd grades. The idea was to create a sort of “older brother or sister” to the younger kids, in a way that supports the youngsters and, obviously, teaches the elders so much about responsibility, communication and education. I was paired with a sweet boy who was, I guess, 6 or 7 years old at the time. My “job” was to meet him once a week for 45 minutes, and spend this time in various activities: helping him with his classes and homework, talk and play, and basically be there for him for whatever challenges he is dealing with. This particular boy had, in fact, quite a heavy burden on his shoulders, there was a tragic death in his family and he was very shy and introversive. By the end of the school year we had a rather strong connection, but the program was about to end, and I had to prepare our very last meeting. In an attempt to leave him with something that might help him express his thoughts and observe his feelings, I gave him a picture: a collage work which I made out of various materials. I used things like cotton balls, sand paper, folio and fabric to create a multi-textural surface. I encouraged him to travel with his fingers over the different materials. We talked about the the associations each texture brought up: emotions, memories, dreams… I thought he could use the collage as a sort of dictionary; something that might help him identify what he feels at a certain moment. Years later, I know better to explain why I feel collage works speak to me in a way little other formats or technics do: they are insane, absurd and irrational just as much as they reflect nature and its randomness, and thus, they are soothing, comforting and allow even the strangest things to feel alright.