Autechre loosen up
By SUSANNA BOLLE  |  April 8, 2008

JAMMING: This time, Autechre favored improvisation over calculation.

It’s been three years since Autechre’s Untilted, and it feels longer. But with Quaristice, Sean Booth and Rob Brown — who come to the Middle East this Monday — have a record that sounds dramatically different from anything they’ve done since 1997’s groundbreaking Chiastic Slide (all are on Warp). Like all their work, Quaristice is exactingly constructed, but it’s less dense and byzantine in its structure than their more recent releases. The warm, analog textures and moments of delicate lyricism recall Autechre’s early work in the halcyon mid ’90s, when they emerged at the vanguard of UK post-rave electronic music along with Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, and Plaid.

With 20 tracks averaging some three minutes apiece, Quaristice is a disconcerting work. It’s all sudden shifts and juxtapositions; each track focuses on a specific idea or style, and no single mood or approach dominates. Opener “Altbzz” is an æthereal synth soundscape; the album slips quickly into jittery jabs of oblique electro crunch on “The Plc,” then clicks over into the out-of-phase rhythms on “Lo,” and so on, one quick cut after another, before wrapping up with the endearingly quirky and oh-so atmospheric “Outh9X,” which stretches out to just over seven minutes.

In the studio, Booth and Brown labor over every bit and byte to create their often complex music. This time around, however, they adopted a more fluid approach that allowed room for improvisation and jamming, an approach that derived in large measure from their live set-up. After the release of Untilted, Autechre embarked on an unusually long period of touring in Europe and the US. When playing live, Booth and Brown warp and deform existing material, mutating and developing it into new tracks that bear few traces of the original. With Quaristice, they extended this way of working into the studio. Using bits and pieces of tracks they’d been playing on tour, they reworked the material in a process that they liken to a dub or techno producer’s “versioning” of a track, but over a longer period of time. “This LP was the result of us jamming out ideas live in the studio for about a year,” the two explain by e-mail in a typically terse interview, “and then spending six months editing it down. No initial ideas or concepts, we just followed the trail where it seemed to lead.”

The extended tour that brings them to the Middle East this week began in late February. In the ME downstairs’ pitch black, with the sub-bass rumbling, it will be interesting to hear whether any even remotely recognizable snippets of material from the new album emerge — Autechre’s live sets run the gamut from formidable to frustrating. (Which one you get often depends on the quality of the sound system.) If their past is prologue, however, even the familiar will have been revamped and reversioned into something radically new.

AUTECHRE + MASSONIX + ROB HALL + DJ PARSONS | Middle East downstairs, 480 Mass Ave, Cambridge | April 14 | 617.864.EAST

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