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Sunday, January 27, 2019

Autechre: NTS Session 2


1) elyc9 7hres; 2) six of eight (midst); 3) xflood; 4) gonk tuf hi; 5) dummy casual pt2; 6) violvoic; 7) sinistrailab air; 8) wetgelis casual interval; 9) e0; 10) peal ma; 11) 9 chr0; 12) turbile epic casual, stpl idle.

General verdict: Messy, unpredictable, unreliable, and ultimately boring — so much more like the good old Confield-era Autechre to which we have gotten used to in this century.

Unfortunately, Autechreʼs second week of residence at NTS seems to have... not exactly drain their inspiration, but rather steer them back into their comfort zone of predictable unpredictability. It is almost as if they suddenly realized that things were becoming way too structured and orderly, to the extent that, God forbid, somebody other than a hardcore Autechre devotee could begin to enjoy their music — and so NTS Session 2 hastily corrects that embarrassing mistake by making the beats more fussy and complex, the sonic effects more percussive and jarring, the programmed melodies more dissonant and disjointed; in short, everything we have known, loved, and hated about Autechre since Confield.

This means that, theoretically, all I could do is try and make a few comments on individual tracks, but even those are hard to come up with, since nothing about these particular compositions sounds particularly fresh or original to my ears. Sometime after the first hour of the usual casseroles clanging against each other in a randomly teleported kitchen, the session begins to chill out: lengthy tracks such as ʽe0ʼ introduce an element of ambience, which is a relief after all the chaos, but except for giving your ears a break, there is nothing particularly interesting about that ambience, either.

Since there is not a single track here that managed to strike a chord with me, I will just say what I think about the five of them that go over the ten-minute mark and, thus, must have been of special importance to Booth and Brown. The first one, ʽelyc9 7hresʼ, is a good example of the general judgement offered above: ten minutes of nearly melodyless explosive electronic percus­sion, with no buildup whatsoever, so you learn all about those festering sonic bubbles in the first twenty seconds and then have to repeat your lesson for ten more minutes. The 15-minute long ʽviolvoicʼ sounds like a fine-tuned digestive system of a stationary android: for fifteen minutes, you get to hear him swallow, digest, burp, fart, and defecate, very occasionally taking short quiet breaks as the next cartload of food is brought in. (If it sounds intriguing on paper, believe me, it will not sound nearly as intriguing once you get the actual hang of it). ʽe0ʼ is the first lengthy ambient track, with a nice swirling, spiraling rhythm track that sounds like nothing Brian Eno has nor already introduced to the world a dozen times. ʽ9 chr0ʼ is fifteen more minutes of messy electronic digestion, except in a slightly more claustrophobic environment.

Finally, the pièce de résistance on the album is arguably its final track — it has the (actually meaningful) word ʽepicʼ in the title, it clocks in at 21:30, and its soundscape is clearly supposed to be the most creepy and intimidating on the record, with a suspenseful vision of some hellish alien environment that, for once, takes you outside the borders of Autechreʼs computerized micro­cosm and transfers you into a parallel dimension. I really wish I could enjoy it more than I do; unfortunately, twenty minutes of an almost unchanging soundscape have largely outlived their value ever since we learned all about the limits of the ambient genre in the Seventies and the Eighties — and, even more unfortunately, the atmosphere in question does not so much trigger any fresh associations in my mind as it reminds me of certain (not half-bad, actually) generic soundscapes in old PC games (say, Phantasmagoria II: A Puzzle Of Flesh, if you ever happen to remember that one from more than twenty years ago).

I can admit that there may be quite a few fans out there who will enjoy the second session more than the first, since it so much less rhythmic and, therefore, gives the riff-raff nothing to latch on. But to me, it seems that at this point, even if Autechre have clearly ceased to be a relevant force in modern music, they are still doing more interesting things when they are doing them to a beat than when they are doing them to a primordial soup.

1 comment:

  1. Turbine is a big beautiful jellyfish propelling itself majestically along in the sea, overlayed with with a midnite beach gathering of witch folk dancing slow motion at a bonfire.