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More Songs About Buildings

Sean Booth of the British duo Autechre talks about just about everything but how he and partner, Rob Brown, make music.

By Marc Weidenbaum

In late November of 1997, before Autechre signed with the Nothing label, before its pseudonym, Gescom, released a minidisc-only recording, before the unnamed fifth LP — Sean Booth, who along with Rob Brown comprises Autechre, talked for nearly 7,000 words about theoretical architecture, getting chased out of radio, why America’s too big, how Ridley Scott went to shit, and … how to pronounce the name of his band. You don’t need to dig too deep — the answer is here.

“I’m quite into the idea of engineering being beautiful,” he says at one point. The statement suits a group whose vocal-less music seems built from steam tunnel ambiance, scraps of circuit board, and the whir of efficient machines. Nothing in Booth and Brown’s music has the organic-world touch of, say, Coldcut’s National Geographic samples or Scanner’s spoken-word snippets. Parse the graphic-intensive data smog that passes for liner notes and you’ll find song titles Dr. Seuss and William Gibson might have dreamed up over drinks: “Cipater,” “Nuane,” “Pule.”

Autechre debuted in 1993 with a fairly buoyant album on Warp records, Incunabula. Each subsequent release has proven more deliberate, more meticulous — and more impressive. Sounds one might consider “natural” (smooth, spacious, lithe) have given way to “digital” ones (truncated, serrated, dry). Chiastic‘s “Pule,” for example, sounds like a bit of dour catwalk techno, albeit one struggling in vain to maintain a steady 4/4 beat.

“Working in the digital domain,” says Booth, “you’re using approximations of things; the actual sound wave never enters the equation. You deal with sections of it, and you’re able to do so much more by just reducing the information to a finite amount.”

He speaks of the process with great enthusiasm, as if Autechre’s pop were merely a lovely byproduct of a Nobel quest to solve some long-standing theorem. “You’re able to perform really complex mathematics,” he says.

Marc Weidenbaum: Thanks for agreeing to do the interview.

Sean Booth: No problem.

Weidenbaum: Your record, Chiastic Slide, is probably going to be listed as the number one electronic-music record of 1997 in Pulse!, the magazine that will publish a portion of this interview.

Booth: What? That’s fucking ridiculous.

Weidenbaum: What would you say is the top record?

Booth: Electronic record?

Weidenbaum: Yeah.

Booth: I wouldn’t like to nominate somebody. I have no idea — really, no idea. I wouldn’t even know where to start, but I really didn’t think that we’d be anywhere near there. I woulda thought that a magazine published by Tower Records would be going for somebody, like — somebody a little bit more commercial, maybe. A bit odd maybe.

Weidenbaum: Yes.

Booth: It’s good, it’s excellent. … It’s just caught me off guard a little bit.

Weidenbaum: There are other Warp records on the list: Squarepusher’s, the Richard D. James album.

Booth: Yeah, I definitely expect Aphex to be somewhere near the top. His stuff’s wicked, and sells tons, you know.

Weidenbaum: The µ-ziq record, Lunatic Harness.

Booth: A pretty good list.

Weidenbaum: You know the Dot label from Sweden? Its Knights Who Say Dot compilation is a strong possibility, too.

Booth: Yeah, they’re wicked.

Weidenbaum: We can pretty much start anywhere with our talk, so how about with the recent Cichlisuite EPs. Were those record-sleeve covers done on a computer architectural design program, a CAD program?

Booth: No. Although it’s funny that you mention it. I mean, they were definitely — the Chiastic Slide stuff is basically a kinda two-D/three-D experiment. We’re quite into graphics that are simultaneously two- and three-dimensional. But I can’t really elaborate any further because it’s not something — we haven’t really perfected it. We think that the Chiastic Slide sleeve’s wicked. It’s incredible, but I think a lot of people it shot over their heads ’cause they’re used to just getting images and messing around with them, and for us to do something quite so “designed” was a bit of a shock. I dunno — I really like it. It’s not really architectural in the strictest sense. It’s more playing with architectural ideals in a sort of two-dimensional environment. I can’t really elaborate. It’s quite difficult to explain, really. It’s more of a concept than a — more of a mental concept than an actual literal one.

Weidenbaum: There is a school of architects who draw buildings that can’t be built.

Booth: Yeah, we’re pretty well versed. I’m well into sort of Santiago Calatrava and people like that. I’m quite into the idea of engineering being beautiful, so it’s — it’s sort of an extension of that. I think some of the design that we do is influenced by that sort of stuff.

Weidenbaum: Lebbeus Woods does these designs where, say, the fuselage of a plane is imbedded inside a building, and the various floors are built around it.

Booth: Yeah, Rob was talking about this guy, how everything’s really symmetrical and really focused and built around a central point. Is he the guy who did that spiral building?

Weidenbaum: The Guggenheim.

Booth: No, a different one, though the Guggenheim’s excellent. We’re more into sort of fluid structures that are simultaneously the most efficient, the most beautiful, and the most engineered. You know what I mean? We like the balance you can get in there.

Weidenbaum: What the origin of the images on the … I can’t pronounce it … the two EPs.

Booth: “Sickly sweet.” People always laugh. I dunno really. It’s again another sort of — this is the sort of thing you can do with a computer program anyway, but it’s basically trying to create curves from straight lines and trying to create shapes that have a sort of non-linear form but a sort of linear aesthetic, I suppose. That’s the way I look at it, anyway. I hadn’t really thought to explain it to anyone before. It’s kind of like trying to make straight lines from curves, but involving shapes that sort of dictate what the curves are, if you like, and the difference between two separate pieces creates a third transitional piece if you like. It doesn’t really exist; it’s just basically lots of different stages between the two pieces, and you end up with, like, a third shape that doesn’t exist but is suggested to you by the image. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s similar to what we’ve been doing with our tracks.

Weidenbaum: How so?

Booth: Well, to take two completely separate elements and come up with a third in some way. Not necessarily in that exact way, where you’re like morphing from one to the other, but in a more subtle way, where you get two completely disparate things and make a third from it. It’s sort of what we’ve been doing with our music recently. It isn’t so much — I mean there is a couple of things on Cichlisuite, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Weidenbaum: Could you take one track of Cichlisuite and talk about it.

Booth: I wouldn’t really know where to start discussing it. We don’t really talk about music that much, to be honest with you. It’s not some I usually — I can’t really talk about other people’s tracks never mind my own.

Weidenbaum: My job is to try and get something out of you.

Booth: I know.

Weidenbaum: We’ll do our best.

Booth: OK. I think if you ask me questions about something, I might be able to answer.

Weidenbaum: You’re familiar with the Fourier sequence — the mathematical explanation of how straight lines can approximate a curve.

Booth: That’s exactly the sort of thing, the sort of idea.

Weidenbaum: I think that the mathematician Joseph Fourier is a godfather of electronic music.

Booth: Hmm. Yeah, of course. That’s fucking absolutely true; it’s fucking absolutely — especially in terms of digital technology. I’ve always thought of digital manipulation — because of the way that basically working in the digital domain you’re using things that are approximating things; you’re never actually using the actual … the actual wave never enters the equation. You’re basically dealing with sections of it, and an approximation of it, and you’re able to do so much more with that by just reducing the information to a finite amount rather than the infinite amount you would have had if it was analog. You’re able to perform really complex mathematics and therefore re-generate a different curve that might be impossible to do using analog techniques. There’s a lot of digital work on that particular EP, you see, and the way we viewed it is very similar to what — like, Fast Fourier Synthesis is actually a method of synthesis that we use.

Weidenbaum: The reason the Fourier series functions in regard to digital sound is, simply, because the digitization of the sound is above a threshold of granularity that we might detect. The series works because our senses aren’t perfect.

Booth: At the moment they’re not. I don’t necessarily think that digital storage is amazing, but I think that digital manipulation has a lot of possibilities. I think, in terms of storing the music, that what we’re doing now we should try and store in analog form as well. I don’t know whether I’m, like, jumping the gun but it’s possible that in the future we may be able to use the information that we can’t receive at the moment. So we should preserve it. I don’t think that digital storage is necessarily a good thing, but I definitely think that digital manipulation is interesting.

Weidenbaum: That some people still prefer vinyl LPs over CDs suggests that we are capable of hearing some of these sounds that we’re often told, scientifically, are beyond the human ear’s threshold of sensitivity.

Booth: It just comes down to taste at the end of the day, and that’s something you can’t really analyze. Yeah, I think to have it all there is basically best, regardless of whether there’s hiss there as well.

Weidenbaum: Hiss is an aspect of the listening experience that many electronic musicians make use of. You do, most good hip-hop producers do, Oval does —

Booth: They’re excellent actually at manipulating noise.

Weidenbaum: There hasn’t been a straight trajectory in your music, but from Incunabula to the new material, things certainly get more arid and rarified, focusing on minutiae like surface noise, and beats that are tweaked at a very meticulous level.

Booth: Not of late, funnily enough — of late we’ve been working on more spacious material. I think it all comes in waves really, all of it, and with each wave you learn something about what you previously were naive to but did anyway. You’re bringing everything up into the conscious at the same time as you’re exploring other areas of your unconscious.

Weidenbaum: When’s the next release going to be?

Booth: When we’re finished it. I don’t know when.

Weidenbaum: Do you consider the Cichlisuite two separate releases, or one album.

Booth: They’re just records. I mean, they’re not really — we don’t really think of them being a format. It just falls into that because we’re contractually bound. We have to give them an LP and some singles, so we do it like that. The tracks are just selections from what we’re working on recently. I don’t think about it any more than that. I just release them and, like, obviously package them correctly.

Weidenbaum: It wasn’t that much longer after I got Chiastic Slide that I got Envane, and I wasn’t entirely certain which was the chicken and which the egg.

Booth: Right, yeah yeah. Quite interesting. They’re kinda interspersed. We did some of it around other bits of it, if you know what I mean. The tracks were just selected earlier. Well, from a totally retrospective point of view trying to select tracks that fit together for some reason that we could identify.

Weidenbaum: It wasn’t a traditional remix situation.

Booth: Envane?

Weidenbaum: Yeah.

Booth: It’s sort of hard to explain: four tracks that came from the same basis but not in the traditional sense of it, of them being sounds. They were more like mathematical bases. We basically developed four — we started off with the same part and developed it in four different ways but they ended up being completely different tracks. It’s almost like they were just different tracks but because they started from the same basis we thought, well, fuck it, we’ll call them remixes. ‘Cause they’re all related. But we didn’t do them all at the same time. We’d sort of do a few tracks and then do one and then do a few more tracks and then do another. So, what went on in between made the tracks totally different from each another. Kinda like, just the way we wanted to do it, ’cause that way we’d have some correlated tracks that weren’t literally correlated, if you know what I mean — only to us.

Weidenbaum: If our ears were, suddenly, made many times more perceptive, then recorded sounds we once considered pretty would sound brittle to us.

Booth: Of course, it brings it to the surface.

Weidenbaum: There’s a sense of heightened perception to your music, as if you are exposing something.

Booth: That’s quite interesting. A mate of mine said recently said a lot of stuff sounds like you’re listening to it outside, but also like you’re surrounded by it, and I think that’s quite similar. It’s quite claustrophobic, and I think it is to do with the amount that we’re exposing people to one particular point. Our live set’s become increasingly complex recently; we’ve been doing stuff that’s been vastly too much information for most people to deal with and I think it’s quite interesting watching how people behave in those situations, under those circumstances. I think doing more live stuff’s made us feel a certain way about that particular point. I quite like small clubs. I don’t really like playing in big clubs, and I think I’m really into the idea of a few people being together. It’s kinda different, the energy you get from anything else or any other sort of music, because it’s all so bogged down with cliche that it falls apart. And I think we basically are just trying to push it in different ways, if you like. I dunno. I suppose it’s kind of metaphorically similar to being dark without being aggressive. Up front and complex with out being flashy.

Weidenbaum: Large spaces don’t necessarily support individual thought; we attend baseball games and arena concerts for a sense of community, which isn’t necessarily that different from a riot mentality in slow motion.

Booth: And it’s not really what we’re about. We’re more about — it’s just a different sort of situation that we’d rather see ourselves in. I don’t really like the idea of playing to, like — I mean we do do it from time to time, play for large groups of people, but it’s always quite a strange experience, really. I don’t think that our music’s that “instant.” I think that you have to be — I think that you have to be really open, and you have to really be into it. It’s a strange thing I don’t really understand, but I don’t think our music’s that mass-marketable. You get X amount of people in a room, chances are a lot of them aren’t really going to be that into it. It’s a bit weird.

Weidenbaum: I’ve read that you have had a longstanding radio show. Is it still going on?

Booth: No, the station got rid of us ’cause we weren’t playing commercial enough music.

Weidenbaum: I can’t imagine people weren’t tuning in.

Booth: They were tuning in, but it was — I mean — apparently — it was really weird because they told us that we had 100-percent catchment of the area from listenership surveys. And that basically means that 100 percent of the people listening to the radio at that point in time are listening to our show, which to me was ace, you know what I mean? I thought, yeah, wicked; there was nothing else on. It was a shit time for a show, but for us it was perfect.

Weidenbaum: When was it on?

Booth: It was really late night, Saturday night, like 4 to 6.

Weidenbaum: In the morning?

Booth: Yeah, yeah, but that’s wicked, you know what I mean? Everybody gets in, turns the radio on, they’re all fucked, and basically the doors are wide open you can do what you want. We were playing all sorts of — basically, getting away with murder cause when we were on people were still listening to it because they wanted to get freaked out. Well, the station didn’t like it. They decided between them and the advertisers that what we were playing wasn’t commercial enough. They started suggesting tracks and stuff, so we sort of got out fast.

Weidenbaum: In the U.S., there’s still a long way to go for this music’s popularity. Do you have a sense of the U.S. audience, what its listening to, what Americans will go for?

Booth: America’s a bit of weird place. I mean, it’s simultaneously many different places and the same place. And I think ’cause it’s viewed by quite a lot of people as one territory. It’s sort of — I dunno. The music industry over there seems to treat America like it’s one territory even though they got offices in different parts of America — they’re still quite sort of “America is the territory.” There aren’t many people who say that Europe is a territory, or Asia is a territory — it’d be suicide. And there are even more people in America than in Europe. I think it’s strange, really. I basically see it as loads of different places. I’ve never seen America as being one place, but I think the record industry people I’ve spoken to — although they will acknowledge that the cities are completely different from each other — I think they still handle it as being one territory. And that’s quite odd, makes it quite difficult for me to understand what it actually is like over there. In my experience, there’s been loads of open-minded people and then it’s been quite odd. ‘Cause I think our audiences out there have been quite mixed: there’ve been like a combination of intellectuals, really spaced out kids, and hip-hop types — you know, moody sort of party people. And it’s quite a weird sort of selection. It always gives me a weird impression of every city that we go to. Places that we’ve played that I’ve really liked basically been the obvious ones — Detroit, New York, Miami. And I dunno why. We did one in San Francisco, but it was at a shit club. I don’t think it was the right thing to do, really. I think that the next thing we do there hopefully will involve the Reflective [Records] people, ’cause we’re friends of theirs and they’re cool.

Weidenbaum: Perhaps the Justice League, a relatively new spot. Scanner played there when he was in town, and the audience was rapt.

Booth: I think if you do the right sort of party, and the right promoter’s doing it, then it will work — it has been in the past for us. But if you’re dealing with promoters — which is quite often the case with us, you know, ’cause we’ll have to do a tour to make it financially worth our while going out there, and then some of the dates will be just thrown in because they were financially a good thing. And they’re usually the ones that are shit cause you’re dealing with a promoter who doesn’t really understand you but does understand his audience, supposedly. The audience tends to be quite young and fucked out their heads all night, so it doesn’t matter who’s playing. It’s all that. We have done a few of them and they haven’t really been that good, but I think if you’re dealing with good promoters out there who sort of know what people are into, then it works.

Weidenbaum: Most record companies in America aren’t attuned to the idea that if a record blows up in one region, that it’s worth holding on to. Most record companies tend to take the total number of records sold, divide by the population of the country, and then drop the act if it doesn’t sell enough.

Booth: This is the problem, you know what I mean? This never happens in Europe. Distributors rarely distribute in more than one country, and if they do it’s usually just to a little sub-distributor who gets it out to the shops, a small label or whatever. I don’t think there are any really Europe-wide distribution companies, except perhaps RTM — well, certainly that are dealing with this sort of music. It’s sort of a bold thing to do. A city is a scene in America. It’s quite odd.

Weidenbaum: Speaking of big companies, are you really going to sign with an American one?

Booth: Yeah. Yeah, we are. I don’t whether I can actually say at the moment who it’s going to be.

Weidenbaum: I can say who I’ve heard, and you can confirm or deny or ignore.

Booth: OK.

Weidenbaum: Nothing Records.

Booth: I’ll have to confirm that.

Weidenbaum: Good.

Booth: Is it?

Weidenbaum: Yes.

Booth: They seem to have enthusiasm for the right music.

Weidenbaum: If they put out Drum n Bass for Papa

Booth: Yeah, exactly. They seem to be going for the right stuff. It’s like — I’d rather be on a label that understands us and allows us to be a bit odd. I don’t particularly care how many records we sell any more because we’ve kind of bought all the equipment we want to buy. It’s pretty basic. I really don’t. So when they come around and say they want to do our stuff in America, it’s compliment really.

Weidenbaum: What will be first?

Booth: I dunno. I think that they’re going to release Chiastic and Cichlisuite over there, and then I think just whatever we do, whatever we want to give them.

Weidenbaum: It’ll be good for Astralwerks, Thrill Jockey, and Moonshine to have some camaraderie and competition.

Booth: We thought about Astralwerks, but then you know it’s the usual thing — I speak to other people at Astralwerks and it’s like, as soon as the Chemical Brothers album shows up everything stops for six months.

Weidenbaum: And if you blow up, your friends will be complaining

Booth: It’s all purely academic from this point; I really don’t care, as long as people know about us — I don’t fucking care how well we do, really. And I think Nothing, really, is sticking their necks out for us. We’re at the point where we’re basically, sort of — well, we’re doing what we’ve always done, which is to not get more commercial as we go on — or, perhaps, musically anyway. I dunno, maybe it’s a bit of a bold statement. I suppose we are a bit of a gamble maybe.

Weidenbaum: Is there competition within and among the musicians associated with Warp Records.

Booth: Of course there is. Yeah, there is, to an extent there is. It’s only in as much as we all wanna, like — I think it’s one of those things where someone does something — it’s not so much about the work we’re releasing, it’s about the ideas and stuff. But, yeah, we do wind each other up a bit. It’s good; it’s good for the music — it pushes it, in really weird ways. Recently, we haven’t seen anyone for fucking ages. I’ve been in Sheffield for six months.

Weidenbaum: Just working?

Booth: I haven’t seen anyone for fucking ages, so I haven’t had a chance to communicate. Last time I saw those guys was quite awhile ago. Apart from that, though, there’s a bit of a thing. More than there is with most labels. I think most labels are happy to just be on the wagon together, you know. I think with Warp it’s more — I can’t really describe it.

Weidenbaum: Siblings are known to be competitive.

Booth: We’re all trying to have a laugh. We’re not really competing with each other — well, we are to an extent, but that’s more about making everybody else look like idiots, but that’s the way — I dunno, maybe we’re all just deluded teenagers.

Weidenbaum: How old are you?

Booth: I’m 25.

Weidenbaum: Day jobs?

Booth: All the people on Warp? I don’t know really about everybody. Certainly Tom [Jenkinson, Squarepusher] and Rich[ard James, Aphex Twin] don’t have to go to work. We don’t have to go to work.

Weidenbaum: Are there bands outside Warp you consider part of this community?

Booth: Fucking ‘ell, it’s not a Warp thing. This is, like — I’m talking like every person I know who makes music. It ain’t just — it’s fucking everyone. I get tapes of people who’ve only had, like, one record, and they blow me away. You know, most of the best stuff that I get sent — most of the best stuff that I listen to — isn’t released, you know. Stuff that people won’t touch. Warp are getting shitloads of good stuff now. It’s silly; it’s really silly. I’ve got so many tapes coming in now it’s just getting so silly. There are a lot of people in America doing good stuff at the moment. That Push Button Objects kid on the Schematic label. They’re not very well distributed. And some kids called Phoenicia, and they’ve got a thing coming out on Warp as well. Everyone’s sort of networking nicely.

Weidenbaum: Have you heard Matmos from San Francisco.

Booth: Matmos? Guitar stuff, is it?

Weidenbaum: A little. Very experimental.

Booth: Has it got a color band across the bottom of the sleeve?

Weidenbaum: Yeah.

Booth: Me mate’s got it on CD. With a camera at the top? Really good. That’s fucking excellent, actually. You see, I — that’s really weird, ’cause I heard that, right, and I knew it was American and I didn’t know where it was from and I just assumed it was from Chicago for some reason. I quite like it ’cause it doesn’t sound too fucking English, which is a little bit of a problem at the moment. I used to really respect American music, especially Detroit stuff like Derrick May and Underground Resistance.

Weidenbaum: Juan Atkins.

Booth: Juan Atkins is genius, seminal. That, basically, was my fucking home base for a long time. And I think to see Americans copying British artists is just sad. I can’t even understand why they’d want to do it. I can understand why they’d want to copy Kraftwerk, ’cause Kraftwerk were amazing. Or maybe I could — I sort of hear them copying, like, us and Aphex and other good British stuff and think, What the fuck’s going on; it’s a bit odd.

Weidenbaum: There are bands whose memories are short, narrow, recent, but in that mix is someone who’ll copy people for a while and wake up to their own sound.

Booth: Yeah — flip out and do some amazing stuff. It’s getting silly now ’cause I think all the kids who were sort of — a lot of the Warp stuff has infected people’s minds ’cause they’re at the point where they can put tracks out, ’cause electronics are cheaper in America and kids are richer generally. I think you’re going to going to have a burgeoning electronic music community within the next couple of years. It’s gonna be fucking excellent. They’ve been brought up on the best music. It’s gonna be so good.

Weidenbaum: Yeah, today you have kids whose only CD player may be the one in their computer.

Booth: Yeah, and they’re using it almost secondarily as an audio device. They’re using it to do miles more other shit than just listen to CDs — they’re fucking remixing our tracks and send ’em to us. Just for a laugh. They’re not even bothered about fucking getting a record out. They just send you a total reworking of your track they did with shareware. I dunno. It’s basically the background we’re from but we didn’t have the technology then, really. It’s fucking brilliant, it’s just so available; it’s just a laugh.

Weidenbaum: Yeah, I was researching an Aphex Twin article, looking for web tributes to him, and I found remixes of his music. I’m sitting there and on the same computer I am writing the story, I’m also searching the web, and listening to audio.

Booth: Totally decent. Have you heard of that Koan thing? Generative software. You put certain parameters in yourself, you program it, and it creates the music for you. It changes key when you want it to, and it has certain parts being lead, and certain being following, and certain being augmentations of certain parts. It can be complex musically and rhythmically if you want it to be, but it generates within parameters randomly, to an extent, music, and it’s really good. And you can get plug-ins for the Internet so, basically, people could listen to your tracks so every time they listen to it it’s different, which is, like, something I’m pretty into. You can probably get a demo if you’re PC.

Weidenbaum: Could you talk about the role of the Internet in all this?

Booth: It’s as much as the role of the telephone at this stage. It’s not essential, but any communications medium’s a good one. The Internet’s kinda in danger of getting heart disease pretty soon, I think. Arteries are getting clogged with shit. But whatever. We’ll see what happens. As long as it doesn’t get too corporate, it’ll probably stay sweet.

Weidenbaum: It’s such a perfect medium for electronic music in such an obvious way.

Booth: It’s very relative isn’t it — electronic music, computers? You make it on a computer; all it costs is a few quid for a modem. That’s kind why there’s so many graphic designers and computer music kids on the net. There’s a lot of shit, but you can avoid it really easily. That’s the best thing about the net: you can go directly to things, whilst still be connected everything else if you want to be. It’s getting close to being the perfect literal communications medium, but as we’ve seen before, it gets clogged with shit after a bit.

Weidenbaum: Your partner in Autechre, Rob, is not around. Could you describe what portion of the music is his, or what he would say is yours — you know, vice versa.

Booth: At times, yeah. But we can copy each other as well. Quite often it’s things I’ve done and I’ll say, That’s so you, but I’ve done it.

Weidenbaum: Could you take a minute to describe such a moment?

Booth: No.

Weidenbaum: I’m doing my best.

Booth: No, but even if I could I wouldn’t tell you, and I can’t, I really genuinely can’t. I don’t — well, I could if I were here for a few hours, but it’s a bit complex, and it’s not something that we’ve ever really tried to define. The only reason I’d say it is just to let him know I’m aware of it, that sort of thing. It’d be like … we’re kind of like — we like certain aspects of each other’s brains but we really do want the same result. But it’s kind of odd. Because we’re different individuals it leads us to do different things, go about it in different ways.

Weidenbaum: There is a uniformity to your music one don’t necessarily hear in, say, Microstoria’s music — or that of other duos.

Booth: Yeah, I can really like bands who have very different members, and I think most bands have got very different members, but this band where you have people pushing and pulling it different ways — the tension creates an energy that you wouldn’t get, you know. There’s all kinds of ways that it can work, or not work. In our case, it’s just that we both want the same thing; we just have different ways of getting it. Sometimes I can go about doing something from a totally different angle from Rob, but we can pretty much come up with the same result. But you can actually tell the way that we’ve approached it is different — perhaps the order we approached things, or the way we selected — edited — what we’d done.

Weidenbaum: Came to same end?

Booth: You get the same result, but it doesn’t necessarily sound the same. I can’t really explain any more than that.

Weidenbaum: How long have the two of you known each other?

Booth: Nine, ten years.

Weidenbaum: Where’d you meet?

Booth: It’s a long story, but I used to do graffiti and stuff, and I met this kid one night while me and the mate were out — met this kid who was into it. Swapped phone numbers and he happened to have met Rob the week before, as well, and I think he just realized we’d get on. Got us both round Rob’s house with him one night — just fucking about with stuff and we thought, Fucking hell this is ace, you know. Dunno. Kinda weird. We’d both been making tapes for ages — I don’t know, it was just someone else who makes tapes …

Weidenbaum: At age 16 you’d been “making tapes for ages.” How long had you been making music?

Booth: Yeah, it’s weird, because I never really thought of it as making music. I really didn’t. When I first started doing stuff I was about 12 or something, maybe even 11. I was at my granddad’s. He gave me a reel-to-reel and I used to just cut tape, and do all kinds of weird things. He showed me how to do, like, diagonal edits. We’d make tape loops in his front room with, like, a pencil and shitloads of tape.

Weidenbaum: What a grandpa.

Booth: It was a laugh, you know what I mean, but whatever. He just gave me the gear, and then my dad were showing you could edit your tape. First thing was just taping stuff with a microphone off the telee — all just people talking, and then doing things with it. I like started to use the tape deck to do pause button edits cause I got into that. When I was into electro I used to do mix tapes that were basically electro tracks that I got off mates or the radio off tape or whatever, and make new tracks — well, not new tracks, but, like, two bars of this, one bar of that. It started to get more and more complicated. Weird edits — got into Mantronix, listening to Latin Rascals.

Weidenbaum: Did you think you were weird at the time? I remember making tapes like that with my sister when we were young, just cutting back and forth between Charles Mingus and King Crimson.

Booth: That’s what I mean. You’re just messing about, right. I didn’t really think of myself as weird in that respect. Obviously my mates used to think it was a bit weird ’cause I’d always be in my bedroom pulling my hi-fi apart or whatever, but it wasn’t really weird. It was, Oh, what are you fucking doing now?

Weidenbaum: It’s not serial-killer weird, but it is, “Why aren’t you kicking a ball around” weird.

Booth: Yeah, people would ask that, but probably not many of the people I chose to hang around with.

Weidenbaum: Do you consider Autechre the name of a band, or a pseudonym. Coxon and Wales of Spring Heel Jack say it is simply the name of their band, but for Richard James it’s a wide variety of personas. For others, they’re like imaginary organizations.

Booth: We don’t really see it as anything other than — we had to have a word, really, ’cause if you ain’t got a word then how do people know what it is?

Weidenbaum: You become Dot.

Booth: Or nothing.

Weidenbaum: I think that’s why Nothing Records is called nothing.

Booth: Funny, ’cause my greatest fear is nothing. Weird that I’m signed to a label called Nothing.

Weidenbaum: Your greatest fear — you mean, in contrast with vertigo, insects, upsetting your mother?

Booth: It’s a weird thing to say. I’m just afraid of “nothing.”

Weidenbaum: Dark under the bed?

Booth: The void that you can only ever imagine when it’s the darkest time in your life.

Weidenbaum: That’s about the time one stops smoking pot.

Booth: [Laughs.] It’s not usually pot, but it’s not like — I’ve experienced it more than once — once is enough, really.

Weidenbaum: You could use your human names, but you chose something with “tech” in the center of it. How do you pronounce it? How do you pronounce Autechre?

Booth: awe-teh-ker.

Weidenbaum: A million Internet debates just came to a halt.

Booth: That’s how we pronounce it.

[ … gap in tape as it is switched … ]

Weidenbaum: You may be humored to know that my girlfriend is at this moment interviewing an architect.

Booth: Really — do you know who?

Weidenbaum: Peter Winkelstein — he’s not particularly experimental.

Booth: I’m not just into experimental. I’m into mainstream, too.

Weidenbaum: He works for a San Francisco-based firm called Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris.

Booth: Is it quite American in style as well?

Weidenbaum: What I like is they have a good sense of detail. You know the architect Antoine Predock

Booth: Yeah.

Weidenbaum: His stuff is interesting when you see the drawings, but if you walk through the completed buildings you’d think he stopped well short of finishing them. I don’t think he cares about the details — the buildings look quite … self-consciously distinctive from far off, but they’ve got the same doors as any other building, the same window frames, the same fixtures. Winkelstein and company seem to care about the details, down to the doorknobs.

Booth: That’s lush. I like architects like that.

Weidenbaum: Where it meets interior decorating.

Booth: I think that one and two should be the same. I hate the idea of getting in a building that someone else has designed and having to do something to it yourself to sort of dress it up — it’s like using presets in your tracks.

Weidenbaum: Exactly that. My dorm in college was designed by Eero Saarinen— none of the rooms had 45-degree angles, aside from where the floors met the ceilings.

Booth: Loads of beds making a mess, no space at all. Total space wasting.

Weidenbaum: I’m sure it looked great on paper. What kind of building do you live in?

Booth: At the moment? I don’t know what it was. I think it used to be an office — quite a hodgepodge affair, really. Sort of weird, dunno. It’s odd, just loads of rooms, but it’s where I live. It’s a flat, basically, but it’s been convereted from something — but I’ve no idea what it was originally.

Weidenbaum: A lot of light, or a little?

Booth: No, it’s terrible. Sheffield — like, the sky’s brown but this time of year it’s disgusting. It’s really bad. You just get these grey overcast days that aren’t grey; they’re sort of beige.

Weidenbaum: What percent is climatic, what percent industrial?

Booth: I’d say the reason it was beige is industrial — the reason it’s grey is probably weather. There’s a lot of sulphur emissions here, as well.

Weidenbaum: Autechre’s equipment, as I understand, is primarilly stored —

Booth: In my place, but Rob’s got equipment in his place as well.

Weidenbaum: But most of the recording is done at yours.

Booth: Yeah, I’d say, not most, but more.

Weidenbaum: There’s a mystique about electronic musicians keeping their equipment in their bedrooms. Do you feel it’s necessary to keep your workspace close by.

Booth: Yeah, I dunno. I, like, do stuff all the time, really. A lot of it’s portable, so yeah I’ll do tracks anywhere. I don’t really think about where I am. We use laptops, we’ve got quite a lot of equipment that’s just in the studio that you can’t really lug about. I do take bits up into my room sometimes and write on one bit of kit — sometimes laptops, sometimes whatever, whatever I got, ’cause I’ve got a few things that are insular equipment but with batteries. So I do quite a lot of stuff with them but I tend to usually end up somewhere where there’s a lot more quipment when I’m recording stuff just ’cause I like to fuck about.

Weidenbaum: Are you Mac or PC people.

Booth: We’re both. Yeah. I don’t believe in all that debate. Yeah, it’s whatever isn’t it? Whatever’s cheapest, and most effective. There’s no fucking brand loyalty in this house.

Weidenbaum: The German electronic musician Alec Empire has an album called Star Wars Generation. What does that phrase mean to you?

Booth: Dunno. Kids who saw Star Wars and thought it was brilliant, ’cause that’s what it is. Relative cultural thing.

Weidenbaum: Were you …

Booth: I was into it, but it wasn’t like the most important cultural event of my life or anything. Good. I prefer THX 1138 to Star Wars. I’ve always been more into Kubrick. Thought 2001 was awesome when I was a kid, my favorite film for years. Ridley Scott’s ace, you know — his old stuff’s ace, anyay. Don’t care about Thelma & Louise.

Weidenbaum: G.I. Jane.

Booth: Yeah, right. I’ve fucking no idea where he is now, what he does with his brain anymore. I reckon Alien was pretty good.

Weidenbaum: I’m looking forward to the new Alien, because I like Delicatessen and the other things the director’s done — City of Lost Children.

Booth: Yeah, it looks like it’s going to be pretty good. You like all that French stuff, all the little brass noodlings and stuff?

Weidenbaum: Yeah.

Booth: Yeah, yeah. I like Terry Gilliam for that sort of thing.

Weidenbaum: It gets a little out of hand.

Booth: It’s over the top, almost camp sometimes — the way he uses it, it’s so fucking heavy handed. Everything about what he does is like that — it’s just crap, and it’s pretty good because of it. Weird

Weidenbaum: What are the five records you’re listening too right now?

Booth: What a question. The five records. Um.

Weidenbaum: Draw a close radius around your turntable.

Booth: Can’t see it from here. If I go into this room I can give you a literal — from here I can see Experimental Audio Research’s The Koner Experiment. I can see Decay, which is a compilation album on Touch. I can see a Warsaw album.

Weidenbaum: Die Warsau?

Booth: No, like Joy Division’s old name. I can see an Interdimensional Transmissions 12[“]. And Selected Ambient Works II. I can see the new Gravediggaz album, some Stock, Hausen and Walkman, and some Pram. There’s also Drum n Bass for Papa lying down there. My room’s a bit of a mess.

Weidenbaum: Mine, too. Well, I guess I’m coming to the end of my questions. Thanks again.

Booth: No worries. Cheers.

Portions of the intro to this transcript originally appeared in Pulse! magazine.

/ Comments: 2 ]

One Comment

  1. [ Posted February 21, 2011, at 9:21 pm ]


    Just found this interview, about 13 years late! Still, it paints an interesting snapshot of Autechre in those days.

    Thanks! v.

One Trackback

  • By Autechre elseq 1-5 Listening Diary on September 11, 2016 at 6:16 am

    […] coming up on 20 years since I interviewed Autechre, back in 1997 (“More Songs About Buildings”). Their music was then no less self-assured than it is now, but they were. Told their Chiastic […]

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