IN CONVERSATION WITH PAUL NICHOLSON




1. The logo, from the point of view of language / representation, belongs

to the world of typography, without any doubt experimental. Generally,

in type design, the designer usually starts with a cue, or a reference, that

comes from a context or a language, from architecture to calligraphy.

What were the references from which the logo was born and where did

those shapes come from?


To understand how the logo was created, like any piece of artwork, it

must be put it into context. It was 1991 and the rave scene was in its

infancy and with it techno music. The imagery of the time was heavily

influenced by sci-fi, UFOs, alien conspiracies, chaos theory and psyche-

delics. With this in mind, I wanted to create something alien and not of

this world. At the time Richard’s music stood out as being something

you couldn’t label, it was so totally unique and that was the feeling I was

aiming for with the logo. It should look like nothing you had seen before

and yet feel like you have known it all your life. I was already aware of

Richard’s music having heard Analogue Bubblebath on Kiss Fm. At that

time a pirate station, Kiss FM was the only radio station that played

dance music and in particular the late night ‘Outer Limits’ was a feast of

the finest electronic hardcore, noise and experimentation. Around that

time, I started dating a Cornish girl who upon hearing the music I was

into told me that she knew a guy that did that ‘kind of stuff’. She knew

Richard, who is also from Cornwall, and once she mentioned the name

Aphex Twin, I knew exactly what he did and wanted to hook-up.

We immediately got on, and at some point I showed Richard my design

work and he asked that I create a logo for him. As we spoke more about

what he was after, I knew it had to be something that was amorphic and

soft form - not angular or with sharp edges and corners. Bear in mind,

this was in the before times, pre-computers, so the logo was hand-drawn

using circle templates, French curves and rulers. Even now, the old tools

still play an important role in the way I design. A lot of the time the

forms I was trying to create were not necessarily geometric or perfect-

ly balanced. So by sketching, I’m getting more of the feeling I’m after

because the hand moves a lot more intuitively with a pencil than when

you are moving nodes around a screen with a mouse. I think that there

is a different process at play as opposed to when you go straight to a

computer. The very nature of working on a computer is it is a vectoring

device; everything is on an X and Y axes, you’re aware of the verticals,

horizontals and diagonals. It limits you. You become more clinical when

you design. Whereas with a pencil it can be a lot more organic and thin-

gs happen. It could just be an accidental sweep of the hand or as you

are raising back you suddenly see something that you didn’t see before.

So there’s that chance element. It’s that more flowing freedom that you

get with a pencil. Unfortunately, I no longer have the first drawing of

the logo. I am pretty sure that went to R&S and used for the Selected

Ambient Works cover. Maybe Renaart still has my original drawing.




2. In retrospect, we can certainly say the logo has become an icon. Was

the awareness of this potential already present in the design phase, or

is it something that cannot be predicted, that unexpectedly happens for

some circumstance and can only be defined after the event?


Over the years, I’ve come across some bizarre stories and recollections.

Online speculation about the logo’s origins and its semiotic ‘true’ mea-

ning is still rife: “If you measure the angles of it and divide it by the cir-

cumference of a 12”, you get the secret formula of unlocking the powers

of... “, wrote one forum user. More noble efforts extend to it being an

image of a SAW, in line with the ‘S’elected ‘A’mbient ‘W’orks LP titles,

or that it’s related to λ (lambda), the symbol for wavelength. Others say

“it’s a dick with balls and a boomerang”. Blah, blah, blah! Unfortuna-

tely, the truth is somewhat more prosaic and its origins more humble.


Firstly, it was and is just a letter ‘A’. What I have always found amusing

is that the Aphex Twin logotype appears on a very early release - the

Xylem Tube EP - and clearly shows the Aphex ‘A’ being the first letter

of the word ‘Aphex’. It was hardly a mystery or well-concealed truth

and should have been obvious to anyone who had seen the logotype.

Furthermore, the Aphex ‘A’ was inspired by rough designs created for a

different project. I had been working on logos for Anarchic Adjustment,

a skatewear label based in San Francisco. As it was the early Nineties

and Anarchic was based in California they were keen that I explore a di-

stinctly ‘alien’ vibe. Before Anarchic had had a chance to view the work,


Richard had seen my initial sketches and liked where I was taking the

letterforms. Being abstract with a ‘not of this earth’ feel, it appealed to

Richard. So, I went away and drew up a logo taking elements from those

Anarchic roughs on to an A4 sheet of paper. Richard instantly liked it.

It didn’t need any revisions or changes, so what you see now was my

first and only design.


To sum up, I like what Phil Graham had to say in his article on Fontsmi-

th.com - As a letterform, the Aphex ‘A’ is the antithesis of everything

a type designer is taught a good letter should be. It’s unbalanced, it

has dark spots, it’s blobby and it’s illegible ... yet there’s something

infectious about it. It reminds me of a time when design could be ‘expe-

rimental’ and push aesthetic boundaries in unconventional ways. It feels

‘new wave’, digital, static, yet moving like a lava lamp. It’s a wonder to

behold! It’s arrival with the sinister and emotive soundscape of ‘Ambient

Sound Works’ conjures up feelings of Nineties nostalgia, yet Richard’s

music remains current and challenging, retaining a strange parallel rele-

vance to the symbol itself. The legendary type designer Adrian Frutiger

once said he had “a fascination about abstract symbols”. The Aphex

Twin ‘A’ is certainly one of the finest abstract letterforms in the music

industry today.




3. What do you think is the reason why this logo has actually become

a social icon? Are these considerations to be attributed to its execution

and precision from a technical/formal point of view, or rather to the

historical-geographical and social context in which it was born?


The Aphex Twin logo was actually my first attempt and he liked it strai-

ght away. No re-workings, tweaks, changes... Bang! Job done! It has now

been used, unchanged it for 29 years. Not bad.

When you create a logo and handed it over, it’s effectively out of your

control. As good as a piece of design is, its legacy does rely upon the

continued success of the individual or product it was designed for. In the

case of Aphex Twin, the fact that he’s remained at the cutting edge has

helped make the logo become iconic. I am not naive enough to believe

that it’s purely down to the quality of the design, but the fact that Ri-

chard is still using the logo is something I am proud of. It worked for him

then, as it does now. If you think about it, there are iconic designs within

every genre of music. If it’s ‘70s rock and roll, it would be The Rolling

Stones with the lips and the tongue. Likewise, with the Joy Division

sound waves - the white line