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Aphex Twin

Richard Robinson on Selected Ambient Works 85-92

Design SAW 85-92 Richard Robinson

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53 replies to this topic

#26 joshuatx

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 08:59 AM

DAT was introduced in 1987, I doubt a 16 year old kid from Cornwall got one that year.

 

 

 

I used to misunderstand the tidbit about SAW 85-92 by assuming it was recorded on compact cassette (which is analog), but once I read it was DAT makes more sense. DAT is still digital information, so as long as the tape is intact and readable it's as consistent with each playback, hence the ability for it to be remastered and repressed easily. That said, it's very likely many parts and tracks of SAW 85-92 were recorded on analog tape of different forms.

 

No, you were right the first time. :)

 

Everything was originally mastered on standard tape on a hi-fi cassette deck.  I've only had a DAT for just over a year... With the first track, the tape had chewed in about seven places... It's a retrospective look, and the tape munching was all part of the stuff I was doing, so I've left it in.

 

That was back in 1993.  He'd lend his tapes out to his friends to listen to in their cars.  Then he got them back and recorded them to DAT, and from there to vinyl and CDs.  It's great music, not at all worth worrying about the quality of the equipment you're playing it back on, as long as you can still hear those subbass lines reasonably well... :)

 

Note that Surfing on Sine Waves also predates him getting a DAT player by quite some way, being recorded between 1986 and 1989, again to cassette tape.  That's the one with the orange juice spillage.

 

I can only imagine how boring it must have been going through all those old cassette tapes digitising old tracks when you could be making new tracks instead...  With that kind of setup, I can see why he preferred making music to actually compiling it into releasable albums.

 

 

Damn! I stand corrected. This is a very informative thread, I love when these get going in this subforum.



#27 calx

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 10:54 AM


DAT was introduced in 1987, I doubt a 16 year old kid from Cornwall got one that year.

 
 

 


I used to misunderstand the tidbit about SAW 85-92 by assuming it was recorded on compact cassette (which is analog), but once I read it was DAT makes more sense. DAT is still digital information, so as long as the tape is intact and readable it's as consistent with each playback, hence the ability for it to be remastered and repressed easily. That said, it's very likely many parts and tracks of SAW 85-92 were recorded on analog tape of different forms.

 
No, you were right the first time. :)
 

Everything was originally mastered on standard tape on a hi-fi cassette deck.  I've only had a DAT for just over a year... With the first track, the tape had chewed in about seven places... It's a retrospective look, and the tape munching was all part of the stuff I was doing, so I've left it in.

 
That was back in 1993.  He'd lend his tapes out to his friends to listen to in their cars.  Then he got them back and recorded them to DAT, and from there to vinyl and CDs.  It's great music, not at all worth worrying about the quality of the equipment you're playing it back on, as long as you can still hear those subbass lines reasonably well... :)
 
Note that Surfing on Sine Waves also predates him getting a DAT player by quite some way, being recorded between 1986 and 1989, again to cassette tape.  That's the one with the orange juice spillage.
 
I can only imagine how boring it must have been going through all those old cassette tapes digitising old tracks when you could be making new tracks instead...  With that kind of setup, I can see why he preferred making music to actually compiling it into releasable albums.
 
 
Damn! I stand corrected. This is a very informative thread, I love when these get going in this subforum.

It is indeed :)

You have to remember he was young ish and I'm sure he knew how good the tracks were, his friends will have been raving about them no doubt.

If he's anything like mr I'm sure the buzz of getting a full length LP together (of his and his friends favourite tracks) would have been on his mind most of the time, so it will have been a nesasary evil lot go through the tapes, or that's my take on it anyway.

#28 marf

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 12:10 PM

wish there was a high rez scan of the tapes. great post. thanks



#29 Ragnar

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 02:53 PM


On those tapes in the OP? Can't read them, except for the known titles.

 

Yeah, they're really hard to make out.  There's something that looks like Quarm (an early title for Quoth?), and Tapney or Tapwey, which I'm guessing is Tamphex.  It's curious to see the (de)evolutions of his distortions.  See also Isopropanol into Isoprophlex and Quintute into Quixote.  Quarm appears to have been offered as a Digeridoo B-side, at any rate.

 

 

tumblr_lt1pp4ndAJ1r33vt2o1_1280.jpg

 

please be unreleased Quorn track


Edited by Ragnar, 03 April 2014 - 02:54 PM.


#30 baph

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 03:29 PM

after pressure from vegetarian groups caused quorn to re-think its use of battery egg albumen as a binding agent, richard's pit sweat was proposed as a substitute. the idea was quickly scrapped, however, after initial taste tests uniformly described the reformulated mycoprotein product as merely (sigh) "quite good." 

 

 

 

i'll show m'self out


Edited by baph, 03 April 2014 - 03:35 PM.


#31 calx

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Posted 03 April 2014 - 04:50 PM

wish there was a high rez scan of the tapes. great post. thanks


If there's enough interest we could email RR, I'm sure he'd be pleased to see other folk appreciate his work at least. Maybe even do a few prints???

#32 ZoeB

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 05:07 AM

OK, so I took the liberty of e-mailing Richard Robinson.  While he's not at liberty to give us any high res photos or sell us any prints, he did pass on some interesting titbits:
 
Aphex Twin sent lots of DATs to R&S, where Renaat Vandepapeliere picked individual tracks and grouped them into albums and EPs.  As far as Robinson can tell, only two of these tracks remain unreleased: SQ4 and Quarm.  It's possible they have been released and he hasn't noticed (especially given all these renamings), but these may well be unreleased tracks.
 
He says they sound pretty bass heavy and very much of that period.  And no, he's not allowed to share them. :)


#33 Herr Jan

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 05:27 AM

 

OK, so I took the liberty of e-mailing Richard Robinson.  While he's not at liberty to give us any high res photos or sell us any prints, he did pass on some interesting titbits:
 
Aphex Twin sent lots of DATs to R&S, where Renaat Vandepapeliere picked individual tracks and grouped them into albums and EPs.  As far as Robinson can tell, only two of these tracks remain unreleased: SQ4 and Quarm.  It's possible they have been released and he hasn't noticed (especially given all these renamings), but these may well be unreleased tracks.
 
He says they sound pretty bass heavy and very much of that period.  And no, he's not allowed to share them. :)

 

Cool! Nice of him to respond so quickly :) and thanks for asking! 



#34 MisterE

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 05:47 AM

i have some serious doubts about the use of cassette on all of surfing on sine waves. in fact i would almost just flat out say 'no way in hell'.

 

i don't care how hi-fi the deck is. you're only going to get somewhere around 50-60db of signal to noise ratio. and you are going to lose a lot of highs. you're going to have a high freq roll-off starting around 10khz even with good type 2 tapes. type 4 metal tapes you could get a response 'almost flat-ish' up closer to 20khz, but not every deck could play those, so you couldn't just go handing out type IV metal tapes to your buddies and expect their car tape players to play them. the first track on saw 1 and maybe a couple others are about the only ones where i buy there being a cassette source.

 

only other way i would buy it, were if he used a deck that allowed playing/recording at double speed, which improves the freq response and s/n ratio, but those decks are/were rare. only maybe less than 5 companies even made decks like that. well, there are the 4-track recorders which can usually do it, and i could almost buy aphex using one of those in the early days. but those work a bit differently from a typical deck (using all 4 tracks on the tape in one direction, instead of 2 for stereo in both directions), so they def couldnt be played in any buddy's cars or even any typical tape deck. also they would be 2x too slow in either case, played on a normal deck.

 

then there are even more oddball/rare types of cassette decks like the elcassette, but those tapes are a totally different format and won't play in any typical deck (or fit in them).

 

seriously, the tracks on surfing are just way too high quality to be from cassette. most on saw 1 are too.

 

imnsho. i might check again just to be sure because im going on memory of those albums, but i would almost say a definite BS on this idea of those being analog cassette sourced albums.



#35 MisterE

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 05:49 AM

heh did i just type all that out for no reason? somehow im just now noticing zoeB's post about them coming from dats.

 

oops. :emb:



#36 ZoeB

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 07:46 AM

Heh... It's not for nowt, no.  I still believe the DATs are digitised copies of the cassette tape masters.  And no, not double-speed or multitracks but actually stereo cassette tape masters, the kind you can play on equipment that was a household standard back then.

 

From the interview:

 

I'm surprised the ambient stuff came out as well as it did.  Someone phoned up to ask how we got the quality so good.  I thought "What are they talking about?  It's shit!"
 
Everything was originally mastered on standard tape on a hi-fi cassette deck.  I've only had a DAT for just over a year.
 
With the first track, the tape had been chewed in about seven places.
 
Not much has been EQed.  It would have been easy to edit out the glitches digitally, but it's a retrospective look, and the tape munching was all part of the stuff I was doing, so I've left it in.

 

 

And he doesn't even mention Elcassette until Analord, as you yourself spotted. :)



#37 MisterE

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Posted 04 April 2014 - 07:53 AM

i dont know, SOME of the tracks, maybe, but i just don't see it for most of them.

 

maybe a 4 track recorder at double speed, which would actually kinda make sense for a beginner to use something like that

 

but a standard cassette deck i just don't see sounding that good. you can listen at quiet sections and barely hear noise in places.

 

as always i could be totally wrong, but my tascam 122mk3 couldn't record/play while retaining the high freq response those albums have on lots of tracks, and the signal to noise ratio (some of those tracks get quiet in spots and you can hear noise in a lot of places on there but not at the level i would expect).



#38 kinski

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Posted 06 April 2014 - 07:00 PM

i have a jvc tape deck that has nearly zero hiss/artefacts.  it happens.

 

plus i think all the albums that were sourced from tapes were professionally mastered so they probably got rid of all the weird hiss and hum.



#39 MisterE

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Posted 06 April 2014 - 07:34 PM

0 hiss? that's impossible and it doesn't just happen. especially with cassete. not even close, which is a meaningless thing to say since 0 means 0 and any hiss at all is infinitely more than 0. but to compare with cd which has ~96db signal to noise ratio, you're going to be VERY lucky to get a 70db signal to noise ratio with cassette. this is due to some science such as the fact that cassette tape is 1/8inch wide, which is split between the 4 tracks, giving each track 1/32nd of an inch to contain the width of the waveform. then there's the fact that the tape is traveling at 1 7/8inches a second. compare that to reel to reel tape used to record albums in pro studios which may be up to 2 inches wide (although that may be split in up to 32 tracks but that still means each track has twice the width), and may go up to 30 inches per second.

 

reel to reel tape at the higher speeds and bigger widths can get at or maybe even a little more than the s/n ratio of cd, but thats the best decks and the best tape. these tapes can cost up to 100$ a reel.

 

 

you absolutely are not going to get that with cassette. never. if you could, or even close, someone would have started making cassette decks for high end studio recording so everyone could have saved thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on tape.

 

the nakamichi dragon is considered one of the best decks and its said to get around 70db (that's using dolby noise reduction). those decks were and still are very expensive. that's actually pretty decent and you probably wouldn't hear it at normal playback levels if you recorded a track onto it and did a good job getting the signal onto the tape (and used a nice tape). so i mean, i GUESS it's possible that some of the tracks that i wouldn't expect to have been recorded onto cassette still were, but i'm still going to be over here doubting that all of them, maybe even that most of them were. i'm by no means an expert and some of my facts may be a bit off but the bottom line is that cassette as a format is pretty crippled in most cases in terms of specs, and it's down to the physics of how tape recording works and the fact that cassette tapes/decks just aren't designed to be high end.

 

also the mastering guy back in the 90s isn't likely to have had some magical method of removing tape noise without adversely effecting the recordings. single ended noise reduction with decent results is a fairly recent thing. long story short, your deck not only doesn't have 'near 0 hiss', it has a fair amount of it. just for whatever reason you aren't noticing it.


Edited by MisterE, 06 April 2014 - 07:36 PM.


#40 LimpyLoo

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Posted 06 April 2014 - 07:50 PM

0 hiss? that's impossible and it doesn't just happen. especially with cassete. not even close, which is a meaningless thing to say since 0 means 0 and any hiss at all is infinitely more than 0. but to compare with cd which has ~96db signal to noise ratio, you're going to be VERY lucky to get a 70db signal to noise ratio with cassette. this is due to some science such as the fact that cassette tape is 1/8inch wide, which is split between the 4 tracks, giving each track 1/32nd of an inch to contain the width of the waveform. then there's the fact that the tape is traveling at 1 7/8inches a second. compare that to reel to reel tape used to record albums in pro studios which may be up to 2 inches wide (although that may be split in up to 32 tracks but that still means each track has twice the width), and may go up to 30 inches per second.

 

reel to reel tape at the higher speeds and bigger widths can get at or maybe even a little more than the s/n ratio of cd, but thats the best decks and the best tape. these tapes can cost up to 100$ a reel.

 

 

you absolutely are not going to get that with cassette. never. if you could, or even close, someone would have started making cassette decks for high end studio recording so everyone could have saved thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars on tape.

 

the nakamichi dragon is considered one of the best decks and its said to get around 70db (that's using dolby noise reduction). those decks were and still are very expensive. that's actually pretty decent and you probably wouldn't hear it at normal playback levels if you recorded a track onto it and did a good job getting the signal onto the tape (and used a nice tape). so i mean, i GUESS it's possible that some of the tracks that i wouldn't expect to have been recorded onto cassette still were, but i'm still going to be over here doubting that all of them, maybe even that most of them were. i'm by no means an expert and some of my facts may be a bit off but the bottom line is that cassette as a format is pretty crippled in most cases in terms of specs, and it's down to the physics of how tape recording works and the fact that cassette tapes/decks just aren't designed to be high end.

 

also the mastering guy back in the 90s isn't likely to have had some magical method of removing tape noise without adversely effecting the recordings. single ended noise reduction with decent results is a fairly recent thing. long story short, your deck not only doesn't have 'near 0 hiss', it has a fair amount of it. just for whatever reason you aren't noticing it.

 

If you use decent gain-staging, you can do pretty well noise-wise with an old tape machine. Then in mastering any tape noise/hiss can be removed with a hi-shelf or a LPF,. And then the hi-end can be reconstituted using harmonic distortion.

 

(Just some speculation, of course.)



#41 MisterE

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Posted 06 April 2014 - 07:52 PM

to sum up how i feel now, not that anyone cares, but i got strong doubts that some of those tracks could have used cassette tape even just to store the finished mixes, BUT i suppose it IS possible... maybe. in which case it's pretty impressive.

 

but i guess also combined with the fact that aphex seems to have had a tendency to exaggerate and make things up..

and then the question of what the original elements were recorded to..

did he just set up the drum machines, samplers, and synths, send them through a mixer, and record straight to cassette, tweak the mix while working on the track, and finalize all mix settings and record the mix to a cassette tape in stereo format and that's that? no ability to adjust anything ever, just record and it's done? that'd be even MORE impressive if that was always the case (huge doubts about that). but if he didn't do that, then what? maybe a 4track cassette recorder or maybe a reel to reel deck. if reel to reel for the working tracks, why cassette for the master? if 4track cassette, the hiss/noise and other flaws from that would only stack with the cassette used for master.

 

i'm not saying i KNOW i'm right, but i would bet a little money without hesitation that all the master recordings for those albums weren't put to cassette format.


 

 

If you use decent gain-staging, you can do pretty well noise-wise with an old tape machine. Then in mastering any tape noise/hiss can be removed with a hi-shelf or a LPF,. And then the hi-end can be reconstituted using harmonic distortion.

 

(Just some speculation, of course.)

 

yeah i mean, you could definitely get a good sounding result. definitely.  i just think some of the tracks on surfing sound TOO good.



#42 MisterE

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Posted 06 April 2014 - 08:12 PM

sorry for lousing this thread up but i just realized something. my copy of surfing is, i think, the recent remaster. which i think was done sometime in the 2000's? so i suppose the mastering on that could have removed some noise with the more recent tools...

hmm

 

i still think that album sounds pretty damn great for being from cassette masters tho, if it is

 

oh but/and there's still the issue of that it seems to me like there are too many high freqs in there for cassette.. i just looked at a couple of tracks with SPAN, and.. it's not 100% uh, 'conclusive' but to me it looks very good for a cassette. there's usually a sharp dropoff starting around 15khz. i really think you'd have to have metal (more expensive, like 10$ a tape, not played by every deck) tapes to possibly get that.

 

to me the whole story just reminds me of skrillex saying he made his first tracks with blown speakers, just as if it was some nonchalant thing with little care or effort put into it, which conveniently has the effect of making it seem like an even more impressive feat. maybe some of those tracks were recorded on tapes like that and those tapes just passed around and then sourced for the album but all of them? he gave out the only master recordings of the tapes and not just copies of them?



#43 ZoeB

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 04:01 AM

The claim was definitely that they were mastered to cassette tape, which insinuates live, with no multitracking to help him out.  I think the idea was that he sequenced everything except the pads, then twiddled the odd knob and played the pads live all in one take, recording the whole lot in one go, live.

 

It's worth noting that if true, he probably only worked that way because of limitations of that era's technology!

 

Anyway, since listening to some early AFX tracks a bit more, I'm now leaning more towards Herr Jan's idea that maybe Aphex Twin started making music very shortly before his first release, and in a short time span of just a few short years, he released a few albums' worth of material, and for some reason just claimed to have written it years earlier, expanding the time range from, say, '88 (when he apparently got his first equipment) to '93 all the way to '85 to '93.  I can't imagine why anyone would lie about something like that though.  Surely starting at a younger age isn't any more impressive than writing a lot of good material in a shorter time span?



#44 mcbpete

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 04:05 AM

I can't imagine why anyone would lie about something like that though

This is RDJ - almost no facts from him are facts !

#45 MisterE

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 02:31 PM

heh, zoeb i hadn't even thought about that aspect of the thing in this, in terms of the time frame and possibility of DAT being used due to whether some of these tracks were done before DAT format. but yeah i've leaned towards those dates being bogus or an exaggeration for a while. maybe some part of it was done earlier or maybe some sound collage or something from when he was a kid was inserted into a track, or who knows. but yeah it does seem like a stretch that any of those complete tracks couldve been made in 85



#46 LimpyLoo

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 02:54 PM

The claim was definitely that they were mastered to cassette tape, which insinuates live, with no multitracking to help him out.  I think the idea was that he sequenced everything except the pads, then twiddled the odd knob and played the pads live all in one take, recording the whole lot in one go, live.

 

It's worth noting that if true, he probably only worked that way because of limitations of that era's technology!

 

Anyway, since listening to some early AFX tracks a bit more, I'm now leaning more towards Herr Jan's idea that maybe Aphex Twin started making music very shortly before his first release, and in a short time span of just a few short years, he released a few albums' worth of material, and for some reason just claimed to have written it years earlier, expanding the time range from, say, '88 (when he apparently got his first equipment) to '93 all the way to '85 to '93.  I can't imagine why anyone would lie about something like that though.  Surely starting at a younger age isn't any more impressive than writing a lot of good material in a shorter time span?

 

Do we know what sorta samplers or sequencers or trackers he was using back then?



#47 Joyrex

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 03:06 PM

Richard had about 11 cassettes worth of material pre-Digeridoo that he gave copies to his friends to listen to in their car stereos - this is where most of the tracks from SAW 85-92 came from.



#48 ZoeB

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 03:42 PM

Do we know what sorta samplers or sequencers or trackers he was using back then?

 

In 1992, Ben Middleton said he was using a Casio FZ-10M.  In 1993, Aphex Twin himself (via a journalist, anyway) said he was using a Casio FZ-10.  I think he meant to say FZ-10M.  There's also mention of a DX-100, which you might sort of recognise from the cover of The Philosophy of Sound and Machine, plus an SH-101 (nice!) and a QuadraVerb, all sequenced on an Atari ST.  These aren't expensive, highly sought after pieces of equipment.  It's more the angle he approached music making from.



#49 ZoeB

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 03:51 PM

Richard had about 11 cassettes worth of material pre-Digeridoo that he gave copies to his friends to listen to in their car stereos - this is where most of the tracks from SAW 85-92 came from.

 

Has this ever been verified?  I've heard about these, but never seen a photo of one or heard an otherwise unreleased track from one.  Are any of these tracks particularly good?  And just how much earlier than Digeridoo were they disseminated?  There's a world of difference (as far as this particular discussion goes) between, say, if they're some excellent SAW 85-92 outtakes from 1985, or some GAK style material from 1991.  For all I know, maybe these tracks were unreleased back then, but since got cannibalised into Analogue Bubblebath 3 and 4 and GAK.

 

I'd go as far as to suggest that most artists have a lot of unreleased material, for good reason.  Having lots of unreleased high quality material is another matter.  Although admittedly I prefer the infectiously catchy Melodies From Mars to most of his other albums in terms of the music, if not the sounds, so it's certainly possible that he's been holding back on lots of really good music!



#50 Joyrex

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Posted 07 April 2014 - 04:01 PM

 

Richard had about 11 cassettes worth of material pre-Digeridoo that he gave copies to his friends to listen to in their car stereos - this is where most of the tracks from SAW 85-92 came from.

 

Has this ever been verified?  I've heard about these, but never seen a photo of one or heard an otherwise unreleased track from one.  Are any of these tracks particularly good?  And just how much earlier than Digeridoo were they disseminated?  There's a world of difference (as far as this particular discussion goes) between, say, if they're some excellent SAW 85-92 outtakes from 1985, or some GAK style material from 1991.  For all I know, maybe these tracks were unreleased back then, but since got cannibalised into Analogue Bubblebath 3 and 4 and GAK.

 

I'd go as far as to suggest that most artists have a lot of unreleased material, for good reason.  Having lots of unreleased high quality material is another matter.  Although admittedly I prefer the infectiously catchy Melodies From Mars to most of his other albums in terms of the music, if not the sounds, so it's certainly possible that he's been holding back on lots of really good music!

 

If I remember correctly (which is a loaded statement at my age), it was Mike P and I think he said this was around 1988ish, and I think was prompted by me asking if Richard really was making stuff as far back as 1985 (which he really was!)


I think Mike P even still has some of these cassettes...







Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Aphex Twin, Design, SAW 85-92, Richard Robinson