Aphex Twin (arr. Patrick Nunn) – Nannou (World Première)

by 5:4

Though at first glance the music of Aphex Twin might not seem a likely subject for instrumental arrangement, the fact is that his work has attracted this treatment on a number of occasions, usually with surprising success. As far back as 1995, Philip Glass created an outstanding orchestration of the track ‘Icct Hedral’ (from the album …I Care Because You Do), and in the mid-2000s Alarm Will Sound put together Acoustica, an entire album of arrangements of tracks from a variety of Aphex releases (primarily Drukqs). The arrangement i’m featuring in my Advent Calendar is a more recent one: Patrick Nunn‘s reworking of one of my favourite Aphex Twin tracks, ‘Nannou’, which closed his 1999 EP Windowlicker. It’s an irresistible track, simultaneously (tw)itchy and intimate, laden with scratching ratchets and rapid plinking melodic chimes, sounding like the whimsical output from the world’s most elaborate music box.

Nunn’s approach to orchestrating the piece is very nicely judged, using a suitably light touch in his rendering of the jittery electronica into purely acoustic form. The mechanical gizmos and doohickeys are brought alive through a mix of lightly tapping and scratching percussion. Most prominent of all, though, are the ratchets that begin the piece and reappear later on, a bewildering clatter that brings to mind the weird image of an array of fishing rods in a bicycle repair shop.

While Nunn is clearly aiming not to detract from the original (and succeeding), he enlivens the melodic aspect of the work through modest timbral changes, passing phrases back and forth between open and muted trumpets at one point, elsewhere switching colours and articulations in order to subtly demarcate sections and episodes. The sequence where the fantastical music box starts to run down is especially nice, Nunn paring things back in the same way as the original, before moving down through the registers to bring everything to a gentle plunking halt. Back come the ratchets and Nunn allows himself to inject just a smidge of filmic sweep via the strings before everything calms and quietens. Just like the original, it’s playful, whimsical and a whole lot of fun.

Patrick Nunn’s arrangement of ‘Nannou’ has been performed twice (why not more is anyone’s guess). The world première took place on 9 June 2011 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Charles Hazlewood, as part of the orchestra’s ‘Electronica III’ event. The second performance took place a few months later at the same venue by the same orchestra, now conducted by Keith Lockhart, on 31 October as part of a vaguely Halloween-themed concert titled ‘Disturbia’. The première is a little looser and lighter (and a recurring bowed crotale crescendo is strangely inaudible throughout), while the second performance is somewhat more tight and with greater clarity in the parts (that crotale is now LOUD). Take your pick; they’re both great.

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