Saturday, June 11, 2016

Autechre, "elseq 1-5"

Joe Muggs' interview for RA is hands down the best Autechre interview I've ever read.  Hell, it's the best article of any kind about Autechre that I've read.  And their new album "elseq 1-5" is up there with the best work of their career.

Rather than delving into intense theoretical discussions about the duo's "aesthetic" or delving into the minutiae of how their album was made, the interview turns into the long awaited oral history of the mid-90's "Artificial Intelligence" scene, or rather, the complete lack of a cohesive scene (this is discussed in detail in the interview).

They talk about the old days (not always in a positive light), how programming their music is like a form of artificial intelligence (where the computer runs smart algorithms that predict what their creator wants -- Markov chains make a cameo appearance here), the concept behind releasing a four hour album (you can't exactly plop 20-minute tracks into the middle of a single album without ruining the flow), the possibility working with hip-hop artists (never say never, but it's almost inconceivable that it hasn't happened by now, "Envane" was almost twenty (!) years ago, and I guess their remix of Sensational Meets Kouhei doesn't count?) and so much more, and it's all a must-read.  

Before discussing the new album, let's revisit the 90's, with Sean Booth quoted at length:

The last time we did that [making music aimed at Warp] was Amber [1994]. We thought we'd be a pure fringe act when we signed, but Incunabula [1993] sold like hot cakes, went to indie number one, and Warp were like, "You've got to follow that up, you need to do another album in six months." We went, [shrugs], "Oh, OK," and did this very Warp record for them. Then we never did that again. When we gave them Tri Rep I had half a mind that they were going to say, "Oh, it's not the same, we can't have this." But they went for it, and that gave us the confidence to do what we really wanted, so on Chiastic [Chiastic Slide, 1997] we went all out to be as weird as possible. I think that's when quite a few people jumped ship.

This is the kind of information we'd have killed to have in the 90's (or even five years ago), it might have settled a whole load of debates a lot more quickly.  I've never heard "Amber" as a Warp album, for me it's a lush, encapsulating listen in a way that none of the Artificial Intelligence albums were. But the process of gaining their record label's confidence and trust was all leading to something, and that something was "Chiastic Slide", i.e. Autechre doing what they really wanted to do.

The people who jumped ship with "Chiastic Slide" were back on in time for "LP5" and the peak of IDM's highbrow popularity, but that's for another time.  But "Chiastic Slide" was a challenging album because it relied more heavily on repetition than anything else they'd done to that point.  But that was precisely the reason why I loved it so much (and still do). 

Without having to worry about fitting their ideas into a semi-palatable album type of format, Autechre have finally come back around to making another "Chiastic Slide".  Five of them in fact.  For much of the past decade plus, Autechre records were etudes in rhythmic construction.  Repetition was largely replaced by intricacy.  But on "elseq 1-5", the repetition is finally back in earnest.  Melodically, it's full of echoes from the past -- the heavy reverb of "Quaristice" and "Oversteps", the robotic funk of "Tri Repetae", the ghostly ambience of "Amber", and too many more to mention.  There is no fear of recycling sounds from the past.  Any and all backtracking is sacrificed at the altar of repetition, stretching their ideas well past the ten and even the twenty minute mark in a number of instances.  It's dense, hypnotic, and immersive.  Somehow it seems to fly by much faster than a four hour album should.  Only the second part, dominated by the longest track in the collection (the 27-minute "elyc6 0nset") could use some serious editing, but just about everything else is unmissable.  

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