Aphex Twin’s “Stone in Focus” Track Analysis

For a track that was only on the original vinyl release, this one is a beauty, and lots of people like it a lot. I’d like to know how it was made and I think I can come close to understanding it. Here’s what I have so far.

Last updated: 15-June-2022

Where is the track?

This track was only on the original vinyl release. It has since been provided on the Aphex Twin site at Warp Records (see source). Here is the description:

track 19 [side 5, track 2, omitted from CD’s]:
This track has now thankfully been found and uploaded here, I was very worried it had been lost, very relieved*** It was not included on the original CD’s as there wasn’t enough room. I usually always give priority to the vinyl versions of all my releases as I never ever really liked CD’s much, think I would have liked CD’s a little bit more if you could put 90 mins on them, who decided they were to be 74 mins anyway? Thinking about this now I’d love to try and get Warp to do high quality chrome cassette versions of all my Warp musics, maybe even metal ones if possible. If I wait a year or so for this I could include all the extras on the cassettes as there would be plenty of room, would have to sign the tracks over to Warp first for a physical release, something I don’t have to do for this website but that shouldn’t be too difficult.

(source: https://aphextwin.warp.net/)

So that explains why it was not originally released.

What is the track?

The track.

What is the meaning of the name?

The title, “Stone in Focus,” is unofficial with Richard James not giving names to any of the tracks, officially. The name comes from a fan, Greg Eden, who gave names to the tracks based on the imagery included with the release. Each track had an image associated with it. (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selected_Ambient_Works_Volume_II)

How was it made?

This is a great question.

Here’s what I think I know:

An Oberheim Matrix 1000 was rumored to be the main synth used on the album because a lot of the factory presets sound exactly like what appears in the tracks. A Yamaha CS-5 was definitely used on the album. (source: https://reverb.com/news/recreating-the-synths-of-aphex-twins-selected-ambient-works-ii)

But the synths themselves are not really the whole story as far as the sound goes. I think what gives the Stone in Focus track, and really the whole album, its distinctive sound is the ringing that accompanies the tones in the tracks. The synths themselves won’t give you that. A reverb or delay is most likely the cause of it, and I suspect it is the Alesis Midiverb or Quadraverb (more likely) or maybe a Roland Space Echo that creates this. These are harmonics that are being heard giving it that hollow ringing quality.

I had some success using a Midiverb/Quadraverb simulation, the Goodhertz Megaverb. I also used a Space Echo replica, the Audiothing Outer Space. Both gave the tone I was after. I followed them up with another nice reverb in the 2CAudio B2, but probably any room reverb could be used:

Granted, it sounds only similar as I was using a piano (Pianoteq) and not a synth, but it does come close to giving me that feeling of the original.

I can hit it dead-on if I only sample the original, so of course, it sounds exactly like it. I did this with TAL Sampler:

But that’s kind of cheating though, isn’t it?

I tried it with Arturia’s Prophet synthesizer using the standard “flute” preset, followed by Goodhertz’s Megaverb set to mode D which I think simulates the Alesis Quadraverb. The Prophet is not the Oberheim as is rumored to have been used, but it is a synthesizer in the same general vein and for the sound needed, it kind of worked.

This is close.
This is closer.

Maybe this is close enough to get an understanding of just how easy it can be to recreate a sound like in the Stone In Focus track.

It takes a synth (in this case a software emulation of a synthesizer) that is maybe not the exact one used, but somewhat close.

Then that unmistakable metallic sound of the Quadraverb needs to be somehow in there and that can be found in the Megaverb and probably in other reverb emulations that are out there such as the Valhalla Vintage Verb or the Audiority Xenoverb maybe.

Conclusions

Three basic ingredients are needed in order to recreate the Stone In Focus track:

  1. The chord melody and pacing. This is basic and I show you the notes and timing in the videos above, so please copy those and try variations on your own. There’s not much there so it should be fairly easy to replicate.
  2. The synthesizer sound and attack. These settings you can get from the videos, but let me know if you need any help. I did not get it exact, so try some things on your own and you could get closer than I did.
  3. The reverb and decay characteristics of the reverb. It sounds to me like it could be a Quadraverb and to support that, it was rumored to have been used on a lot of Aphex Twin tracks. If it was recorded in a room, live, then there would have been room reverb. You can see how I reasoned that out with a diagram and how I tried it out in vst form on my DAW, shown in the videos above. But that could be entirely wrong, so experimentation will be the best thing to do here.

I don’t have it quite right yet, but I’m probably not pursuing it too much further right now. If you get some success, please share it if you want. You can contact me via email through this form below. Thank you for reading, watching, and listening!