The Disquiet.com “MP3 Discussion Group”returns with its first full-length-recording consideration since pondering Oh, Oval’s recent return to commercial recording in almost a decade (see: disquiet.com). This time around, we’ve been listening intently to Move of Ten, the new EP by Autechre, the duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth — it follows quickly on Autechre’s full-length album Oversteps. The 10-track Move of Ten has characteristic titles like “pce freeze 28i,” “ylmo0,” and “Cep puiqMX” — what sonic characteristics it shares with previous Autechre releases is up for discussion.
Participating with me in this week’s MP3 Discussion Group are:
Alan Lockett: “I write music reviews and commentary on ambient/drone, the more adventurous end of techno/house, post-dub, and IDM. Based in Bristol, epicentre of the Dub-zone in the Wild West of England, I can mainly be read on igloomag.com and furthernoise.org.”
Joshua Maremont: “I record as Thermal and pursue my musical and other obsessions in San Francisco.”
Tom Moody: “I am a visual artist who also makes music, and blogs at tommoody.us. My informal ‘statement of musical principles’ can be found at tommoody.us. All my music is at tommoody.us.”
The conversation will play out in this post’s comments section, below.
A little note on the MP3 Discussion Group format: This is by no means a closed conversation, so do feel free to join in. The initial posts by participants were all written before they had an opportunity to see each other’s take on the release in question, but after that it’s intended to play out in real time.
More on Autechre’s Move of Ten at the website of its releasing label, warp.net. It’s available now as a download. Physical release will arrive July 12.
54 thoughts on “MP3 Discussion Group: Autechre’s Follow-Up EP”
It feels like barely enough time has elapsed since the release of Oversteps for it to be assimilated and, as is their wont, Autechre have followed it up with further related material. Similarly, a couple of years back, in the wake of 2008’s Quaristice — an album that seemed to herald a return to something more accessible — came a bunch of remixes, refixes, and extensions (Quaristice Versions and the Quadrange ep). To tell the truth, it was all a bit too much, perhaps not of a Good Thing, for it’s been difficult to comfily evaluate what they’ve done since the late-mid 90s within a lexical set bounded by good-bad (sidenote: it all became too far beyond connecting and it was easier — for me anyway — to follow other kindred spirits like Arovane, BoC and Bola and the like down a more obviously appealing path rather than struggle to accommodate to the Mancy duo’s more hermetic contortions). But anyway, tangents aside, the loose coupling between album-EP familiar from their 90s heyday, with the Chiastic Slide-Cichlisuite, LP5-EP7, Tri Repetae-Anvil Vapre pairings, suggests that the EP format seems to provide a platform for some of their more focused work. Not sure if Move of Ten is a long EP or a short album, but anyway… feels like EP spirit. What strikes in terms of its inclination towards its relative is a more pronounced density and greater texture. Some of the more airy-fairy fiddling is by-passed in favour of chunkier fizzier visceral mechanics – not that this didn’t present in sections of Oversteps (cf. “ilanders”), but Move of Ten seems less inclined to veer here and there and dissipate its intensity in the service of some hypothesized notion of an ‘album’ dynamic, or, for that matter, of knee-jerk ‘experimentalism.’
I think I’d describe the EP, as I hear it, as more practically minded than Oversteps. Move of Ten sounds much more like a dancefloor-oriented release. There are sufficient number of tracks where the beat is insistent to suggest something that could even be a backing track to a particularly experimental pop song (after some structural reformatting, of course).
I’m an occasional Autechre listener and non-fan (Marc is aware of this) but asked to participate in this discussion to learn what I’m missing. On the new album one track leaped out at me: “ylm0,” which doesn’t seem like anything else in the set. Almost no trace of a sequencer, burbles along nicely, a kind of modal construction. It reminds me of something Joe Zawinul or Jan Hammer might have done in the ’70s (thinking of Hammer’s concept LP The First Seven Days), but filtered through a ’70s filterer such as Boards of Canada (minus kids and samples). Also Drexciya a bit, in the Debussy-like trills of “Undersea Disturbances.” My next favorite tracks were “y7,” “pce freeze 2.8i,” and “M62,” which I can talk about more below. After that I either disliked or lost interest in the rest of the tunes. I find Autechre’s almost complete lack of humor to be very trying. Looking forward to hearing other views.
I think the assumption of “Autechre’s complete lack of humour” to be incredibly incorrect. I find an immense amount of humour in their work but then I have been a fan of theirs for a long time so perhaps I can things up in what they do that a casual listener would not recognize.
Perhaps the most blatantly obvious comedic moment in ae’s music is to be found in the sudden cluster of beats and outrageous brass stab several minutes into ‘Sublimit’, the final track of Untilted.
And while I’m here I have to comment that I find their work to have a lot more focus and intent than a lot of people give it credit for. Alan’s notion of “knee-jerk experimentalism” is exactly the wrong idea as far as I can hear. I think that people just have different tastes and sensibilities and what sounds boring or uninspired to one person sounds like sheer brilliance to another.
Every record since Confield has displayed the utmost perfection to me (with the exception of Oversteps, I might add) although all are incredibly different from each other. Draft 7.30 is the album I would single out for the most praise, as it seems to me to be the pinnacle of greatness in modern Electronica. Every note feels like it is supposed to be there, every tone feels considered and the whole things is warped as all fuck.
One of my shelves has a privileged place for Autechre, running from Incunabula through Basscadet and Amber and ending up at the triple package of Tri Repetae with Anvil Vapre and Garbage. I recall hearing someone in the days of those releases claiming rather disparagingly that Autechre was the Joy Division of dance music, but something in the clanking industrial murk of Incunabula and the somber distance of Garbage channeled the dystopian dread dished out by Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, and other elders of Warp Records’ home town, offering a welcome alternative to the smiley faces of the raververse. On the rare occasions on which I found myself behind the wheel of a borrowed or rented car on the endless autointestine of Route 5 between SF and LA, Incunabula looped fittingly in the cassette player, tearing the already alien experience of freeway driving off on a Ballardian jag. And then came a series of increasingly abstract and apparently digital releases, in which the charms of those early wonders were replaced by virtuosic programming, and in which the recognizable drum machines and synthesizers were mothballed in favor of esoteric software and hardware. And of course so went the 1990s: the era of retrograde analog synth worship (enabled by low pawn shop prices and fueled by the lingering dislike of the keypad-and-data-slider-controlled digital equipment of the mid-1980s) gave way to the laptop powerful enough to run roomfuls of equipment while still leaving spare RAM for a gaming session during a live show. (Now we are back to what I want to call “original instruments” minimal synth pop and analog new age, but that is a different topic.) Yet my guess is that technology was only one driver of Autechre’s dramatic shift, for by the middle of that decade it was easy to name a number of people for whom the approach to atmospheric armchair electro (IDM does not really do it justice) heard on Amber had become a pervasive genre, and perhaps the men of Autechre felt enough people were releasing early Autechre records under other names and were happy to leave them to it. I devotedly grabbed the next few long-players as they were issued, but the first two things coming to mind about LP5 twelve years later are its tellingly opaque cover and its release in the US by Trent Reznor’s label. I will admit, then, to missing out on everything from Confield through Oversteps, leaning instead toward the increasingly fascinating work of Amber’s various children, and wondering until a few moments ago what I might be able to say about Move Of Ten. Immediately: reverb! The dry impossible cubist acoustic space of those later digital records has given way to the cavern, even to the warehouse, and despite the woozy rhythm of the rather cosmic opener, by the opening thump of Y7 I do think I see a DJ and a generator-powered soundsystem at the other end of this space. The clean fit of the sounds tells me that this is still a very digital record, but nevertheless Autechre seems to be recalling some of its early interests – and more broadly the earliest sound of Warp Records – here, as well as realizing the visceral power of some of its oldest tricks. If the third track seems a dip into dubstep and the fourth could be rattling windows while being pumped out of a trunk-mounted subwoofer in Miami, it is because both of these sounds were Autechre’s even at the time of Incunabula, and I get a sense here, as I have with recent records by John Foxx or Throbbing Gristle, of an old band not revisiting its past so much as staking a claim to its historic and current relevance: hey kids, watch how it’s done. Perhaps I need to make some additional room on that shelf.
Very much in agreement about the DJ/generator mode — this is music, as Erik (Schoster, aka musician He Can Jog) mentioned down below, that can be heard to reflect Autechre’s interest in the live experience. Live performance. Live listening. Festivals. Dance floors.
May explain some of the stereoscopic play, and the sonic particulates that remind me at times of film sound design (especially work by John Powell and Jon Brion) — not the music itself, but the hardened pixie dust that can be heard at various vectors in binaural ear-space.
I feel like a bad host — I’ve invited people over, and I’m not particularly pleased with the dish I’m serving. And worse yet, I knew this in advance.
When I listened to Oversteps, the record by Autechre that immediately and quickly preceded this EP (Move of Ten), I looked back at the duo’s discography, and was downright struck by how many albums, and with them how many years, had passed since I’d last truly loved an Autechre release: that would be 1997, the year they recorded Cichlisuite. A year later came LP5, which I listed as one of my favorites of the year, but which hasn’t stuck with me.
Fast forward, jeepers, a dozen years, and along came Oversteps, an album with none of the broken rhythms that made the group’s first half decade, starting with 1993’s Incunabula, so special, so challenging. There were shifting rhythms to Oversteps, but to my ear they sounded (already I’m pushing the record into the past, and it’s only been a couple months since its release), well, sloppy. Purposefully sloppy, no doubt — a shifting that gave the finger to the metric lock-down of MIDI, but ultimately a somewhat woozy, adrift-at-sea feeling that provided little real confidence.
Anyhow, I may be inventing a bit of a narrative, a hopeful one, but Move of Ten seems to step forward from the missteps of Oversteps. The rhythms are more complex. The tracks are more memorable. It sounds less like a very expensive 8bit album — video game techniques exploited on 64bit machines.
I’m looking forward to what we collectively make of Move of Ten, because it is, if it has anything in common with past Autechre releases, inscrutable.
I don’t know Autechre’s discography as well as Alan, Joshua, or Marc, so I ended up preparing for this discussion by putting two other artists’ releases in my Winamp and cycling them alongside Move of Ten: the new Pan Sonic, which I picked up at Bleep while purchasing the Autechre, and Phoenicia’s Brownout, from ’01. Bad mistake: I especially now want to write about Pan Sonic, to which Bleep compares Autechre but which I find brimming with the dark humor Brown and Booth lack. My thought is that Pan Sonic’s “crystalline beats smothered in Nordic doom,” as Bleep tells it, are in fact a lively fiction conjuring “bad-ass metal guys” who are also accomplished sound artists. At least that’s a point of view they’re putting forward, whereas I get no sense of a viewpoint or center to this Autechre release: it’s a just a collection of ideas wrapped in a few clubby, dubby textures, some “dark,” some not.
Oh, and many thanks to Alan for posting the YouTubes of guitar-playing birds and cat listening intently to one or two piano notes: those made my week.
(during the Oval discussion)
This honestly feels like their best material in a while. I like it more than oversteps, despite it being shorter and sparser. There’s just something incredibly interesting about this work. I’ll keep listening to it and see if I can offer anything more elaborate but damn it is good!
I’ve listened to Move Of Ten three times plus change in the last couple weeks. The first time felt exhausting. I refused to simply cut my listen short because I have enough respect for Autechre’s past work to give it a fair chance – their work has grown on me in the past.
After that first listen my impression was: a lot of noodling and very little of anything I could pin down as compelling. The album felt like going through the motions, dicking around. I’d read that Autechre has been working in a live context more since Quaristice. I don’t know if that’s true, but it would make sense if this album was the edited result of hours of dicking around with a fun new setup.
A couple more listens later, my friend playing his highlights from the EP and pointing out his favorite tracks, and I’m still left with this first impression. I’m looking hard for something compelling to latch onto, but listening to this EP has been a chore that I think I’m finally ready to give up on!
“the edited result of hours of dicking around with a fun new setup”
That sounds right to me. Almost no tune has any surprises after the first minute or so (except “yml0,” which keeps developing and which I didn’t want to end). It’s all in the setup, then banging it out for five minutes.
I’m no Autechre apologist but I’m wondering if some of the gripe is because people are really pining for the LP5 era or even Draft-era Autechre. I admit some of the current stuff lacks a great deal of conventional melody but I think they’re doing some pretty amazing work on much subtler levels than anything by anyone ever before.
Quite likely there is a listener generation gap there, Chang. I agree. Perhaps a crew who are attuned to the early work, and another who are attuned to the more recent work. (Definitely not melody I’m missing — almost the contrary. It’s more a textural intensity that I’m missing here.)
It’s clear Autechre has more listeners today than they did a decade ago — so people are digging the new work. I contrast that with Squarepusher and with Photek, two other acts I adored around the same time, whose subsequent work has failed to interest me as much as they did once upon a time, and who seem nowhere near as popular as they once were, or as they might have become.
I mainly know the tri repetae era and I’m not pining for that. Chang, what is an example of a track you like and what are you hearing in it? Just curious. (I don’t necessarily have to have a melody to get excited.)
I think rew(1) is incredibly funky, Autechre are playing with quantization in a way that is now familiar thanks to many post Dabrye/Dilla artists, but that they themselves have been doing since 1997’s Chiastic Slide. I also think their sense of humor is scattered across this release (as it was on Oversteps), not only in the aforementioned track but across the board. The never looping acid (yet non-acid) of y7 and M62, the quirky phased synth voices (are they voices?) in iris was a pupil (even it’s title raised a smile). I don’t expect many people will ‘get’ their jokes but some may, depending on their familiarity with Autechre’s previous work, and their own personal listening habits, and awareness of Autechre’s reference points and influences etc. To me, this is their most rewarding release since LP5. Their use of counterpoint and rhythm is, in a similar way to Oversteps, unique and very special. They seem intent on not being fashinable and at the same time manage to be way ahead of everyone. I also find it hard to understand how anyone could describe Oversteps as ‘sloppy’. To me it sounds like their most crafted work to date.
“Sloppy” was my contribution to the discussion. I didn’t simply call it sloppy. I called it “Purposefully sloppy,” which was my non-technical description of the non-quantization approach, which is why I described it as having given “the finger to the metric lock-down of MIDI.”
The way the elements don’t align neatly is a great idea, but sounds like sloppiness for its own sake to me on a lot of this record. (Look mom, no click track.)
That’s odd because to me it sounds as if Oversteps is all very neatly quantized, if not to 16th notes then at least to triplets. All of the tracks mix very well with other quantized tracks in my library. Some of the beats are a bit tricky to ‘get’ but they are still very neatly placed, to my ears at least. For comparison, their other albums Confield, Draft 7.30 and Untilted are full of non-16th/triplet timings. I do think this is all intentional though, as opposed to lazy or sloppy.
I could sort of imagine comparing “rew(1)” to “One Nation Under a Groove” or “Atomic Dog” and finding its robotic lack of funk to be funny, on the parody level of a machine striving to be funky. (Or Steve Martin being taught to snap his fingers in The Jerk.) I guess I can appreciate it on that very dry level but then one must also listen to it.
I like listening to it, but I never really liked Funkadelic. I’m quite into the JB’s though. Horses for courses, i suppose. Have a nice day.
I hope you have a nice day, as well, bart. Not liking Funkadelic definitely establishes your contrarian principles–sorry I didn’t pick a funk metric to your liking. (The JBs are fine, too.) I’m wondering, though, since not every reader can be assumed to speak electronic musician jargon, what you mean by “playing with quantization” in this song, why that is funky and why that is good, and also what “post Dabrye/Dilla artists” are and why that is a comparison worth making here. I’m familiar with the use of quantization (a computer algorithmic process of aligning or disaligning rhythmic steps with a sequencer grid) to give a song “swing” but would tend to mistrust it as an engineer-created gimmick. It seems like whatever “funkiness” it gives a song would be a kind of false funkiness, like a Photoshop lens effect used to make a dull picture more “dreamy.” When you say “playing with quantization” are you saying they are exaggerating this bad effect as a kind of sarcastic take on funkiness? Please help your lay readers here.
I appreciate that it’s hard for you to get your head around people using technology in a creative way, but there are a number of people who do. Hip Hop artists like Sensational, Dilla, Dabrye, El-P and Madlib all play with quantization using machines. Classical composers like Erik Satie, Sostakovich and Debussy use notation to achieve the same effect.
In my own case the pining is really for the period between Incunabula and Garbage. There was something evocative and emotional about those records, which like the best albums of 1970s and 1980s electronics conjured whole worlds between the sweeps of their filters and the clatter of their rhythm boxes. By contrast the later albums were increasingly impressive exercises, but for me they evoked little other than toil over software. I suppose then that an evaluation of Move Of Ten could take the form of several questions. (1) Does this record take us anywhere – whether back to those gray industrial landscapes of Incunabula or to somewhere new? (2) Is this a new turn for Autechre, or instead a return to an older style with new equipment, and is it successful from either perspective? (3) If music does indeed have the right to children, how does this work measure up to that of Autechre’s own offspring (Boards Of Canada, Bola, Arovane, Apparat, much of the output of Sending Orbs, and even some of the less noisy work on Ant-Zen and Hymen)? (4) If there is indeed a retrograde movement in this record, is Autechre conjuring its own history or conducting a wider survey of its original context (including, for instance, the shimmer’n’thud of early Aphex Twin and the cosmic arpeggiations of Anthony Manning, both of which I hear here)? Perhaps it is just the presence of a few early 1990s reissues on my shelf of late (The Boo Radleys, The Charlatans, etc), but with Move Of Ten and our previous gnawing material from Oval, I wonder if a certain reeavaluation of the journey taken by these electronic musicians of the early 1990s from pop/dance music into Rigorous Computer Music is being undertaken, for in very different ways both records seem to be recalling that “the old funny ones” may have had something missing from the later serious ones. And as with Oval a few weeks ago, Rob and Sean seem to be having more fun on Move Of Ten than they have allowed their music to suggest in years.
Is the humor and fun mainly heard when comparing Move of Ten to earlier Autechre? That’s the impression I’m getting from Bart’s and Joshua’s comments. Like in-jokes. To me this record sounds like an analog version of Rigorous Computer Music. Again, I guess that could be funny. As for your suggested “children,” Joshua, I would take Boards of Canada over this, for sure.
Marc, I notice a couple of tendencies in this and the Oval discussion. Your regular commenters have encyclopedic knowledge of the musical ensemble under discussion and its entire discography and assume a similar level of specialized knowledge in disquiet readers. Analysis consists of comparing various periods within the artist’s canon, and then avoiding any positive or negative assessment within deeply nested networks of qualifying phrases and chains of reference which read well, like Borges’ writing, but leave the reader wondering what the writer thinks. For example, Alan says he wants to avoid the use of “a lexical set bounded by good-bad” because of an elaborate distinction he makes between the LP and EP form in Autechre’s canon. This shows impressive knowledge but ultimately the reader wants to know, on the most primitive human level, “should I buy the damn thing or not?” Joshua gives a set of questions (1) through (4) but makes no effort to answer them. He’s the Autechre expert!
Criticism (especially in a post-Net world where everyone has disappeared into their their little areas of specialized fan interest) should probably consist of comparing artists to other artists so a sort of reader baseline is established, comparing songs within a album to other songs until a consensus emerges of an LP’s strong and weak points, and stating a clear opinion. I’m not seeing that happening much in these disquiet discussions. (Erik Schoster aside–he is clear and direct.) Any thoughts on this, as moderator?
Thanks for having asked this, Tom. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the characterization about the lack of positive or negative assessment — the Oval one (our previous MP3 Discussion Group) did seem to dance around the subject (me, for the record, I like the record, and should be interviewing Popp soon, for the first time since the mid-1990s, which I’m looking forward to), while it’s pretty clear no one who dislikes Autechre’s Move of Ten seems hesitant to say so (me, for example).
That said, I’m not big on positive/negative assessments myself — partially because lengthy negative assessments often tend to seem to be more about the complainer than about the subject; mostly, though, because in the end I’m more interested in locating recordings (performances, installations) that I find “interesting” (a broader realm than positive or negative) and then dive into what’s interesting about ’em. I try to sort out what the music is getting at, and then look at how it accomplishes what it accomplishes, and then look at how the ends and means relate, what meaning there is in the space between the two. That’s not exactly my critic’s manifesto, but it’s a thumbnail of a rough draft of a thumbnail.
I agree about the comparison approach — Julian (a regular participant in these who unfortunately wasn’t available this week, because I think he’d really enjoy this session of the MP3 Discussion Group) I think is someone who’s raised the idea in the past, the idea that comparison is a useful tool, especially in this world (post-Net, as you put it) when those comparisons are readily available, just a link away.
I tend not to do too many comparisons myself, which may be generational — it was such a cliche when I first started writing about music, in high school and college, the whole “It’s like Frank Zappa’s band with Angus Young filling in.” Not that all comparisons have to be like that, but that mode didn’t appeal to me, and I’ve never quite gotten into the groove. But I should do more of it. The linking that people have done here has proven popular. (One caveat about linking: it sometimes leads to posts ending up in the Spam folder, which I need to keep an eye on.)
As for the overall knowledge/analysis/etc., when the MP3 Discussion Group first started, I imagined it to be a place where people who wrote thoughtfully about music would write about it collectively. I didn’t really think about it as a comment thread, but as a serial conversation — of course, there’s a lot of gradation in there, and in the past two, first Oval and now Autechre, it’s gotten even more comment-thread-like, which I am quite pleased with. It wasn’t where I saw this headed, but I’m quite glad to have gotten here.
Speaking of which, moderating has gotten the better of me, and I need to actually write something again about the album at hand.
Almost missed this critiquing by Tom of a notional in-house style on the disquiet MP3dg to which I apparently have contributed. Not to deny others’ perceptions (since that’s all we have to go on after all), but I’m not aware of this, being more inclined to see a bunch of different voices sometimes intersecting. I do not set out to indulge consciously in any ‘analysis’ nor do I have any intention or particular desire to be retailing What-I-Think to a hypothesized reader. (Not to labour the point, but, as you can imagine, I’m not keen on it being pointed out that I don’t do something that I never set out to do! :-)) Anyway, anything analytical that does emerge is usually hopefully useful, but is kind of incidental and if the reader seeks to glean something of what I think this may well be an emergent element. When I’ve made contributions to this group, I’m aware that it’s not done in the same spirit as when I write a review, for example, where I feel like a more discernible stance is sought. In this particular forum, though the writing is obviously not spontaneous, I find that the discourse is less deliberated over and pre- or re-reformulated; as such I may not know what I think of a discussed release when I begin, and often I’ll find myself finding out more about this in the act of writing and discussing. I recall this in one or two previous cases (e.g. I entered the Moritz von Oswald Trio discussion feeling ambivalent, if not totally stumped), and it has happened here with Move of Ten. If there is an absence of clear commitment to a view in this case, that’s also an indication of the complexity of my relationship to Autechre’s work, and the constant negotiation of my feelings of regard for their artistic imagination against my reservations about its articulation and development.
Reply to bart above, who said “I appreciate that it’s hard for you to get your head around people using technology in a creative way”
Now you’re just getting personal. I was asking for specifics of whether Autechre’s use of quantization was “sarcastic funkiness” and how they might be doing that, and you gave me a list of artist names. A comparison to Autechre to Dabrye and Dilla would be helpful. Are Autechre as funky as they are? Then or now? (I wouldn’t include Debussy and Satie as artists using technology in creative ways but I’m aware they deviated from the grid, thanks.)
“a comparison of Autechre to Dabrye and Dilla” is what I meant to say in the above comment.
It’s not uncommon for conversation to get rancorous on message boards and in website comments. It’s unfortunate that our strong feelings about the subjects of our passion and interest can sometimes bubble over into a situation when we are confronting each other rather than discussing the matter at hand. As the guy who runs this place, I have the responsibility to moderate discussion. The moderation setting on this site is mostly used as a spam guard (unless I’m mistaken, and a lot of prospective Russian and Romanian brides like abstract electronic music), but I won’t hesitate to neglect to approve comments that are personal attacks, or that otherwise elevate the negative tension, rather than the level of discourse. I am proud of the level of knowledge and literacy, and open-mindedness, of those who comment on Disquiet, and I want to continue to be. Thanks for hearing me out.
It would be difficult for us to have a conversation about art and our appreciation of it without it being in some way personal, as it is a highly subjective issue. In this case I was responding to two things you said in your comment above, one was that you would mistrust quantization as an engineer-created gimmick, and the other was that it is a ‘bad effect’ (I obviously read this wrong as i assumed from these comments that you were saying it would somehow be bad because it was the work of an engineer).
In answer to your question, no I don’t (personally) believe the way that events have been placed in this particular track is in any way sarcastic (this of course is an assumption as there’s no way to tell what the intentions of the artist are in this case). I think Autechre are doing something quite different to both Dilla and Dabrye, but that there are technical commonalities. Quite a few tracks by Madlib and Dilla et al have used a technique of delaying certain channels relative to others, sometimes to achieve a kind of funk, sometimes to undermine it, or to give the track some ‘flex’. Originally this was something you would hear in Hip Hop tracks by producers like Marley Marl, (later and perhaps more famously by RZA) as a result of having sample start times occuring before the attack portion of the sampled sound. Examples of artists who have taken this way further in recent years (in a similar way to the way Autechre have) would include Mike Slott, Hudson Mowhawke, Flying Lotus, Untold, Slugabed and Rustie. Whether these artists are all as funky as Dilla or Madlib is a matter of opinion. Personally I think that they are (as i said before, I like listening to it). I’m happy to accept that you don’t agree though (no hard feelings on the intertubes). I know you said ‘one must also listen to it’, but actually, no-one’s forcing you (or me, or anyone…).
If I’m not mistaken, bart is pointing to a wilfully staggered deliberately ‘off’ quantization-subverting styling that has proved popular enough with a bunch of hip-hop-inflected electronicists to have resulted in a sub-genre in itself, with its own designation: ‘Wonky’ (the most appealing of which, to these ears at least, is a bloke caled Lone, who isn’t a million miles away from a BoC at times). So, it may be that, to some degree, where Autechre were once channeling a mutant form of machine funk, they’re now making the tired corpse of ‘IDM’ twitch a bit more In-The-Now-like through a sneaky injection of something like Wonky. Or maybe being inveterate beat-obsessives, once they got tired of looking for the perfect beat, it was more the imperfect beat that piqued their offbeat interest.
Yeah, more or less. I’ve been hearing them play with these ideas since about ’97 or so, particularly on tracks like Nuane, Goz Quarter, Cfern, Eidetic Casein, V-Proc, their remix of East Flatbush Project. There are others but I don’t have my CDs to hand.
Well, I read that interminably long Rouge’s Foam piece about Wonky and one of my friends is producing tracks in that genre (I’ve only done wonky lite parodies myself) and… I could sure use some of that cool WaWaWaWa bass in this piece (still talking about rew(1)). This almost sounds like a backing track. Also, since my understanding of Grime and Wonky is they pretty much use defaults (off the shelf software like Reason), then this could stand to be a lot shittier in quality (I find it pretty polished). Bart, I actually did mean quantization is bad because it’s the work of an engineer. I make a distinction between artists and instrument makers and while the latter can do great work there is a tendency to want to have software fixes for everything. The Marley Marl “street finding uses for things” messing with sample start times eventually comes in a shrinkwrapped package and then artists have to find a a way to make it sound crappy again. One way to beat defaults is to put air quotes around them and make them funny but I think we’re establishing that that’s not what’s happening in “rew(1).” To come back to my Phoenicia example, they have a piece called “Grrl Trrbl” that has some slightly off the beat stuff going on but it makes me tap my toes, unlike “rew(1).” But, now that I think about it, it also has a catchy bass line. “rew(1)” has a noodly bass line–it just wanders around in search of a tune.
I’m not sure what you mean by ‘defaults’ here, as most of the grime/dubstep stuff I like (including Wiley, Untold, Terror Danjah) doesn’t use any kind of default sounds or sequencing. Also, as far as I have been able to gleam from interviews with Autechre, the sequencing on Oversteps and Move of Ten was done using MaxMSP, which would require them to specify everything, and wouldn’t even give them the opportunity to use ‘defaults’.
Oops, I’ve been spelling Phoenecia wrong.
OK, I’ve been listening around to some of the artists on Bart’s list.
This one by Untold is great; kind of what I’m missing in the Autechre, really dumb but super clear in purpose:
Another Untold, liking this a lot:
Not such a leap from that to “Grrl Trrbl” (Miami rulez):
Yes, well, back to Autechre then. It is interesting to contemplate the introduction of programmed sloppiness into digital music, because for me it seems, on its surface, analogous to the gratuitous embrace of lo-fi recording in rock music during the 1990s; when it was easy to make a crappy recording on a four-track cassette and hard to make a glossy one, we drooled over fully automated mixing desks and gleaming multitrack reels, yet as soon as home recording (starting with the ADAT) was cheap and good enough, those with money started spending more of it to make their beautiful studio recordings sound as if they had been farted out in a garage on granny’s broken wire recorder. There the motivation was partially nostalgia for the old genuinely independent records on the part of those who never had to struggled to make one and partially an obsession with “indie” credibility on the part of those without any. To me the impulse to dequantize rhythms or, for that matter, hammer them out live on an MPC, seems a similar tilting against undesired perfection, a grasping at the more organic sound of the old electronics in the too clean and too easy face of digital technology. But Autechre seems an odd pair to head along this road; the funk of the old records was dark and industrial, certainly, but nevertheless had the compelling mid-body grind of the best 1970s and 1980s electro, and one supposed that their bequest of late-stage dancefloor beat-mangling to the likes of Funkstörung meant that they were off to the clean room, with doors bolted behind them. And unless I am listening carelessly, Move Of Ten seems very clean and digital indeed; there is nothing of the grit of those hardware reverb units in these warehouse acoustic simulations, and each one of those wobbly beats seems offset with purpose and with care. Which is to ask, is Autechre really trying to take the machine out of the funk, or instead is it trying to retrofit the old funk with its new machines? I hear the latter, and having only heard this record properly on headphones, I wonder: do we shiver and shake to this funk? Do we really see ourselves – or only several species of small furry avatars – grooving in that simulated cave with a pict?
It might be helpful to know more how this music is made. When Erik Schoster wrote “I’d read that Autechre has been working in a live context more… I don’t know if that’s true, but it would make sense if this album was the edited result of hours of dicking around with a fun new setup” I imagined hardware but am in agreement with Joshua that “Move Of Ten seems very clean and digital indeed…”
Thanks to Alan for the Lone recommendation. This is awesome:
Maybe if “rew(1)” had some of those sweet pads…
Get these pads, Tom!
I’ll use Tom’s appreciations as an excuse to continue to use the Autechre as a pretext for bringing in other intersecting beat-driven electronica strands: I hear something of the spirit of Autechre in Pangaea’s work – on Hessle Audio, a post-UK-garage/dubstep label that’s garnered accolades over the last few years. This one in particular has some of that furrowed-brow neo-funk jerkiness that used to beguile in AE’s work:
though this one (off the same ep) has some of that doleful melancholic cache that always used to draw me in:
I’m kind of missing some of these tenebrous resonant atmospheres in late-period Autechre – this sounds almost like it’s channeling some of the mood of Inucunabula or Amber through a post-dubstep lens. In re: current Autechre, and [my/its] failure to fully connect maybe it’s just me needing less oblique strategies.
I’m glad you did this as most of the posts here rely on qualitative descriptions of the music, which (if relevant at all) could only ever be half the story.
Just a quick comment, but I was amazed while reading this discussion to see how little the featured commentators enjoyed any of Autechre’s output since Cichli Suite or even the Tri Repetae era. Personally, my enjoyment of their work dropped off a little later (loved LP5/EP7, Confield was ok, found nothing memorable after that). It just strikes me as odd the level of attention paid to the artists, given that the most recent 2/3 of their career seems to have few fans. It must speak to the power of those early-mid 1990s records. Mind you, I will be dutifully purchasing Move of Ten like the rest of you.
For me, as much as neither Oversteps nor Move of Ten has proven anything I plan to listen to in the long run, something about the two releases suggested at the time when we were planning this particular discussion at least a turn of events for the duo, something worth focusing on.
Sometimes, to get back to what I mentioned earlier in response to Tom’s question about the nature of these discussions, something that isn’t that great is still interesting in some way. My goal is neither to overpraise great albums nor to pile on to lacking ones, but to discuss ones that enough people seem to take interest in.
It is intriguing that many people who posted here lost interest in the group after a certain, relatively early point, but time is an odd thing — the older one gets, the shorter those periods of time sometimes seem to be. Tri Repetae is so bright in my own consciousness, that the diminishing returns following LP5/EP7 are just like footnotes.
Oversteps seemed like a welcome opportunity to get back into Autechre, and the quick subsequent appearance of Move of Ten supported the sense that something’s up with them. Perhaps we started this off with a bit of wishful thinking — not for no reason is this by far the most-frequented MP3 Discussion Group yet (42 comments as of this one, and a heap of page views).
I’m wondering what people might want to discuss next, with a start date of Tuesday, August 3rd.
Marc, Dunno what you think – I know it’s not ‘new’, but might there be some mileage in a Thomas Köner triptych yap? I’d say one of this year’s highpoints – for Deep Listening Ambient Heads at least – has been Type’s reissue of these superb early albums. 15-20 years on from their original release, a whole new group of listeners is being provided with the opportunty to discover their arcane majesty. Permafrost, possibly my favourite, is the latest:
These are the previous two:
Have been enjoying listening to and talking about this later, Wonkoid work (Untold, from bart’s list, is also on Hessle Audio–will pay more attention to this label!) Brown and Booth should listen to it more and try to divine its magic.
If someone had posted this without the label and said “this is one of those Wonky tracks” it would be noteworthy for how fresh it is:
(Or maybe I just like all drum and bassy things from that period.) (hat tip pd)
I reckon the end of the thread and Tom’s harkback to the freshness of some of AE’s backpages might signal a certain latitude, allowing me to post this:
Dug the album out last night when following up on electronica artists who took on the early AE torch forward when Sean&Rob disappeared up their recta. Arguably the best album Autechre never made.
I think Untold is f***ing awesome, but I wouldn’t want Autechre to become one of those bands who just copy whatever’s fashionable in some kind of bid to stay relevant. I like that they wander around doing their own thing, that’s one of the interesting things about them. They really don’t seem to care what anyone thinks. Even at live shows they barely seem to engage with the audience, despite all the apparent improvising they do.
Very good. Thanks, Alan — let’s plan on this: tryptich by Thomas Köner it is. That’ll be the subject of our next MP3 Discussion Group.
It seems a good opportunity not only to discuss a valued musician, but also to continue some recent conversation threads here. In particular, since Type makes all its releases available for free streaming, we’ll have the opportunity for everyone to have ready access to the audio. The historical aspect is something that frequent participants to these discussions already shown an aptitude in.
I’ll get in touch with people via email in advance to get our plans in order, and anyone else who can commit to participating for that week (technically starting Monday, August 2, but going live on Tuesday, August 3, which happens to be my birthday), feel free to get in touch with me at [email protected].
Good stuff, Marc. Yeah that option is a a nifty one for the streaming hordes. And, since I know this, on the one hand, and the waxy stuff, on the other, is not for everyone in a contending media carrier world, I note a Third Way, with Type also planning to follow up the vinyl format releases with a 3-cd version:
I thought I was finished commenting but the discussion over “sloppy” above merits a response. “Purposefully sloppy” is in the ear of the hearer (in this case Marc) and could be influenced by many factors besides just the timing grid used and whether it beat-matches with other recordings in a DJ’s library. Attack/decay times, the amount of reverb (which creates subtle ripples), how the beat interacts with other sounds could all contribute to something sounding “purposefully sloppy.”
There might be a bit of confusion over my use of the term quantization. I was referring to prepackaged algorithms that allow a producer to shift notes off the grid to give a song “swing” within my definition of quantization. What’s been under discussion here are the many ways producers can mess with the timing grid (manually, playing two out-of-sync tracks simultaneously, using various off the shelf and customizable programs).
As for “defaults” I would include any software or hardware you didn’t program yourself, used more or less as intended. MAX/MSP and Reaktor give the user quite a bit of latitude to build instruments and tweak but I would say they are basically defaults. People say there is a “MAX sound” (even though I didn’t recognize Autechre’s use of it, if they did) and a “Reaktor sound.”
Nothing wrong with using defaults–now we are back to those subjective factors. A default could sound just right in a heavily tweaked production–like a familiar quote or sample. The question is what will it sound like to other people? People will make qualitative assessments–you can’t stop this process.