Autechre: Sounds like..?
Tue 3rd May, 2005 Featuresin
What do Autechre sound like in the daytime? What do Autechre sound like?
Sean Booth – who, with Rob Brown, is half of the pioneering duo – thinks there’s a scarcity of words we can use to describe sound.
“We can’t help it, we naturally revert to the visual sense. The best words for sound are things like warm, hot and cold. It’s like, a Shakespearian thing”
“If we could just have the sound without the medium or titles or artwork, no identity, just sound…that’d be great. The origins would become impossible to ascertain.”
Anyone who is familiar with the work of Autechre will know that any attempt to describe it does fall short somehow. You can have a transcendental experience listening to their work. Equally, listen to it again and it’s impenetrable. Since the release of Incunbula in 1993, the complexity, the universal scope of their stuff, the phrasing, are what prompt people to write great bodies of work and devote endless hours to speculate on the origins of that feeling. Their press release to accompany Untilted read like a deconstructionist philosophy essay. What is it they are trying to communicate? What is the right way to hear Aurechre? What is The Answer?
Well, here it is: Autechre aren’t trying to communicate at all. They create what they want to hear. You hear. If there’s a meeting point, that’s great, but you’ll never ever know. They are purists in the pure sense of the word.
“Perception is just as creative as playing the keyboard. Who’s responsibility is it?” Sean says.
In fact, the incredibly affable Sean, who, with a scary cynicism, is quick with a joke, at times self deprecating and naturally reverts to the bigger questions, seems to have a particular antagonism towards those who try to use music to push a particular political end or message.
When discussing the recent hoax by Recordlabelrecords owner, Robert Martin, who released a fake new Autechre album over the net, before revealing all in a massively distributed, vaguely apologetic note, stating that it was an experiment following the recent hoax beheading of a US marine in Iraq, Sean scoffs
“The more fakes the merrier, we’ve released fakes ourselves, but not this time. If it were such a great publicity stunt, he wouldn’t have to overpublicise it. It’s worse because of the claim that what he’s doing is as relevant as a fake beheading. His sense of priority is clearly fucked.”
Reluctant to start, but unable to stop himself, Sean continues,
“The more you read the older you get, the worse it seems. I’m in to effecting change, but by using my abilities, operate in ways that aren’t necessarily going to get noticed or over simplify political matters. A lot of the bands that do this, I think, ‘you’re ok you lot, but you’re basically corporate and at the end of the day complicit in the system.’”
“Everything is just such a mess…nobody’s really doing anything about it. Here we are still talking about music in the press.”
So, back to the music…
The new album was recorded over a nine-month period, a record for Autechre. The result is something sparser, less sample based, more staccato, but with a good dose of the funky element that some have said has been missing since Confield. From the slicing opening track, LCC, the unyielding death rumbles of Pro Radii to the brain tickle that is Fermium, the album, despite Sean not knowing what people are talking about when they describe something as ‘typical Autechre’ has the beauty of ordered chaos by which they’ve become known.
Sean says there’s more of a social vibe to this album, adopting architectural terms to describe what he means.
“There’s more space. It’s less like walking into an ornate palace, more like into something more refined, but solidly constructed. More skeletal, with more smooth edges. But, all these are crappy impressions. Trying to put synaesthetics into words leaves me sounding like a cheesy bastard using all these cheesy visual metaphors, it ends up sounding like ‘Cathedral of Sound’ “We did a lot of the tracks for this album during the day, in the afternoon. We usually work late at night. I just realised, that might be why.”
So, more egalitarian?
“Yeah, yeah, totally. Less about itself, allows you more freedom to move within it.”
“The point of the exercise is not to be original. In the old days we’d sit there with a 606 drum machine and a 202 doing little tracks to tape, scratching over them then editing. What we do now is not massively different. We just get joy from building a library of available processes to arrive at something fresh.”
After such a stimulating conversation, quizzing Sean about that Spice Girls rumour seems trifling beyond words. But, for all you die hard fan-geeks, no they didn’t do it.
Go and buy the album with your eyes shut, don’t read the track names. Listen. It will be a memorable experience.Untilted is out in April through Warp/Inertia.