May 31, 2003

autechre :: draft 7.30

I like to be reckless at the record store, to forsake my lengthening to-buy lists and pick up things that even I wasn't expecting from time to time. And so I ended up with my first Autechre disc, their latest, Draft 7.30. This was especially a surprise to me as I've never especially cared for the so-called visionaries, despite having listened to the majority of their work in flurry of guilt that I hadn't really given them a fair chance until then. (I did give them a fair chance. I remained unimpressed.)

So here I am listening to the latest Autechre disc for the 4th time through. As expected, it's cold, sterile, and thoroughly uninviting material, but at the same time intriguing in its way. The detached intricacy at work here suggests an uncommon level of precision, the chaotic timing nonetheless indicates rigid underlying mathematics, the edges of which I can only begin to discern. Yes, I'm intrigued. A bit heavy on theory and light on actual execution, perhaps, but at least it has my attention.

I've heard various rumors about Autechre's techniques. "Autechre finishes each song in a single day," they say, or "It's all just done by inputting parameters into computer programs, all algorithmic." As I've pointed out, I don't actually follow the band so I can't evaluate the truth of these comments aside from through the music itself (Yes, I'm a terribly unqualified ae reviewer. Bear with me please). And what of that music? Well, I'll admit that I do imagine that I can hear the spiraling equations at times, and the arrangements are sparse enough to make the single-day rumor credulous enough, but it's tough to draw any firm conclusions about the processes involved here. What was the question? I'll simply describe what is going on, at some semblance of face value.

This is more or less rhythmic noise. Drawing from their usual arsenal of thumps, whirs and clicks, the band assembles twisted sound sculptures, usually colored by only the faintest traces of melody. Each song is gradually but unevenly engineered - at root, these are loops (it is Autechre after all), but they seem just as likely to spin away in a hiss of noise as they are to loop properly on any given pass. The structure feels decidedly repetitive (don't look for any B sections, this is just AAAA straight through) but the constant variation keeps the listener on his toes. Revision: the constant variation is utterly disorienting and spastic. Herein lies the intrigue.

And at the route of it all lies the mathematics. Whenever the loops crumple into their frequent, obscure timing variations, the sounds fall in ways that are odd, but not unintelligible. The pattern is broken and unpredictable, but never absent. Order lurking in the chaos, like the mandlebrot set, perhaps. At the same time, there's an element of lofty intellectualism that isolates the listener a bit. "We've shattered your expectations of timing consistency," the tracks laugh, "just because we can". The effect is impressive to say the least, but an entire album apparently assembled on that principle, lacking any greater overarching vision, stretches it rather thin. And it's not exactly a new trick - similarly disorienting tracks provided much of both the charm and impenetrability of Autechre's last full-length, Confield.

In the end, it all comes down to the old "Is it art?" debate. Well, that depends on your definition, on your expectations. Those excited by the possibilities opened by Confield will be thrilled to here them executed with such brilliant precision; for others, fans happier with older, more coherent Autechre, Draft 7.30 may mark another step down a path they have no desire to explore. As for me, I take an architect's glee in picking out the traces of the bizarre blue-prints that show through the tracks, but have a hard time developing any greater attachment. Carefully plotted schematics, fine-tuned calculus, intricate programming - these are the building blocks and the resulting music is precisely the sum of its parts and nothing more, or less.

Posted by at May 31, 2003 11:48 PM

"As for me, I take an architect's glee in picking out the traces of the bizarre blue-prints that show through the tracks, but have a hard time developing any greater attachment. Carefully plotted schematics, fine-tuned calculus, intricate programming - these are the building blocks and the resulting music is precisely the sum of its parts and nothing more, or less."

Very nice review! I am not familiar with their music so I cannot comment on that but your closing statement is quite interesting. This has always been an argument in the arts, what is emotionaly satisfying as opposed to being intellectually rigurous. To me , both can co-exist together. Emotion is so subjective anyway. What is emotionaly powerful to some will have no effect on others. Usually people who are indoctrinated in certain sounds principles, tones, melodies, etc can detect the emotional, programatic content. For examaple, Indian Ragas are to be played only on certain days, times, etc as according to the notes of that particular would never play a morning Raga in the evening. The converse is this, to most "western" listeners, would a morning raga feel wrong if it was played and listened to in the evening? Probably not. Sometimes a piece of music sounds too complex and unemotional because the listener is waiting for certain "cues". Many times, the composer will disagree with what is thought of as unemotional or other misrepresnetations of intent. For example, many people view the music of John Coltrane as a statement of anger and revolution. According to what Coltrane stated throughtout his life, his intent was much different. He was trying to communicate love and spiritual questing and he never understood why his music sounded angry to many listeners! So you see, there is always much confusion. Charles Ives said:

"It is conceivable that what is unified in form to the author or composer may of
necessity be formless to his audience."

So whose to say a seemingly obtuse, mathmaticaly precise, intricate piece was really the intent of the composer unless we ask them!


Posted by: jbenzola at June 1, 2003 10:56 AM

this blog is soooo intellectual..

*runs away

I agree with your review. I like draft 7.30's sound design.. there are a few emotional moments but overall it's not that interesting.

Posted by: Ludo at June 1, 2003 12:07 PM

Good review! I'd say that Draft 7.30 is most certainly a step back from Confield (which, personally I find a shame), and certainly back into the realms of consistency. It's amazing to watch the development of Autechre's sound - each record is becoming more and more alien, broken down, fuzzy and mechanical. It's just a shame the force of the wall they hit at Confield has thrown them back into...

Oh, I don't know. This album is boring as fuck. It has no character; it's very samey - a blend of EP7's dirt and Confield's weird, but 10 tracks over. This is the first time I've ever had to use this: Predictable.

I hope I don't have to again.

Posted by: devon at June 3, 2003 12:10 PM

Mercurial, do you know of any online articles which describe their compositional process? I've read that the use this and that and custom software, but I'm curious about how they go about constructing these types of pieces.

Posted by: jeff at June 4, 2003 08:38 AM

I'm also wondering exactly how this music came about. If anyone does know the precise process involved, please post...

Posted by: Mercurial at June 4, 2003 10:09 PM

Autechre, contrary to popular beleif, use a lot of hardware. I read an interview with them in Future Music where they basically went along the lines of:

- Hardware. And software, but not so much. Whatever gets the job done, really. Some hardware, especially their old old old gear like the SK-1 is circuit bent to hell. They like Nords lots.

- Lots of different sequencers; Cubase, Logic, ProTools. Some are modded. They don't seem to be a big fan of soft synths; I expect they've made a few of their own though.

- Generative programs made in software like MAX/msp e.t.c. Reluctant to talk about generative techniques, really. I think it's their secret ;)

I also read something about having an Opcode software proggy holding the whole system together, but I dunno.

Posted by: devon at June 5, 2003 12:09 PM

On the hardware comment, I remember hearing that they're big users of the Yamaha Physical Modelling Synthesizers. (I think in a VL1 news group).

Found this FAQ - from the newsgroup: - Autechre FAQ

Posted by: jeff at June 5, 2003 01:17 PM

I was very put off by Confield at first. Lp5 was more my speed but that time when the beats were less sporadic and with a melodic tinge gave way to many copycats. I listened to Confield a few more times and that is where I began to really *enjoy* what autechre were really aiming for. Draft better exemplifies the reality of Confield and takes it to more of a sparse and rhythmic dynamic. So i wonder, where will they go from here?

Posted by: Mage at June 10, 2003 01:29 AM

Check out the reading section of this page: I found it to be an excellent source of info on Autechre. The site brings together a lot of interviews, so you get the scoop straight from the horses mouth...

For example:

From this ariticle (,37069,) is a great quote that deals with the whole superstar mimicry in electronic music.

"You could say. But that`s different. You´re not so tied to it. It does not sound like anything. I would never be offended if everyone went out and bought Max. A few years ago i might have been if everyone went out and bought R8 Drummachine because we used them."

The interviews are great because they go into both the technical and compositional side of their music. I got the sense that they do not care for pure academic music and that everything they do comes back to hip hop.

Posted by: sem at June 21, 2003 11:18 PM