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Autechre-"Quaristice" album review

While reading, enjoy these Autechre tracks, “Flutter” from Anti EP and the others from Quaristice. If you like what you hear and read, support the artist and pick up their material.


Autechre – Flutter


Autechre – Simmm


Autechre – Notwo

When Kandinsky developed abstract art he looked toward music, and intense aural experiences. The result was totally organic expressions of form and color, paintings with no reference to a figurative world. In a similar way Autechre’s music has always been about total abstraction, about pure sensory experience.

I’m a little late on this Autechre review, but with their recent show at the Black Cat, the album write-up should still be relevant.

Autechre’s music isn’t meant to have widespread appeal; it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. This may seem axiomatic, but it’s worth stressing that this is intentionally esoteric music.

When I first heard Autechre many years ago, the experience galvanized my ideals and understanding of beauty. I was young, and had never heard anything in my life quite like the sounds I was hearing. Now being older, and a lot more familiar with music, I miss that sense of astounding discovery. However, I find Autechre’s work so powerful simply because it still sounds so unfamiliar. Though in a weird dialectic twist Autechre’s sound isn’t that new. They overtly reference electro, a style now a quarter century old, if not always sonically, then in their detached sterile aesthetic. The whole digital stuttering effect found in similar glitch/IDM has been around for some time too. But Quaristice still sounds like Sean Booth and Rob Brown are on the cutting edge of music.

When Kandinsky developed abstract art he looked toward music, and intense aural experiences. The result was totally organic expressions of form and color, paintings with no reference to a figurative world. In a similar way Autechre’s music has always been about total abstraction, about pure sensory experience. Autechre reached the point of complete abstraction and seeming chaos with their prior album Untitled. Quaristice is a slight return to a more familiar soundscape. The album is at some points melodic. Unlike the normal Autechre format of a few long tracks that stand on their own, this album is filled with many shorter tracks that not only fit tightly with the following track (Autechre has done this to a lesser degree before), but also seem to fit into a whole cohesive unit. I might even go as far as calling it a narrative structure. A narrative to an Autechre album? Well about as close as I suspect they will ever come. Again to draw the Kandinsky parallel—his abstract paintings aren’t telling a story, but people unavoidably find themselves looking for narratives in his work. The human mind seems to be hardwired that way.

The opener “Altibzz” is a beat less, airy synth piece. The track isn’t a standout, and its only function seems to be in setting up the following track “The PLc.” That track opens with an electro beat, then a lonely wobbly synth moans out. That synth line is classic Autechre, and a highlight of the album for me. Unfortunately the track quickly moves away from that idea and doesn’t look back.

“Simmm” sounds as if Warp label mate Richard James could have made it. Though I think of Apex Twin’s music as retaining some reference to nature, while Autechre brings to mind an alien world driven by technology.

“Paralel Suns” as the name would suggest, conjures up images of a dying world orbiting a red giant star…or something like that. The track has no beat, just haunting synth pads.

For me Quaristice really picks up in its second half. “Fol3” sounds like Autechre’s take on ironic 8-bit video game electro. Could it even be a joke by the duo? The next track “90101-51-1” stays in that electro frame of mind with a deep kick and driving snare. Then a squelchy acid bass and 16th note hi-hats. Though the track clearly follows the well-trod Warp conventions of acid electro, in the hands of Autechre it doesn’t sound trite. Shakespeare didn’t invent the sonnet, but nobody is calling him unoriginal.

The album closes with two ambient pieces. I could envision the penultimate track “Notwo” having served as background music to an X-Files episode. The track is fraught with tangible fear and dread. This is something unusual for Autechre, a group not given to expressive emotional output. The coda “Outh9X” is a true ambient piece, in that it is all about sonic texture, and not melody. It is a quite and understated closing.

Quarisrice is not Autechre at its full potential, but with a group commanding as much talent as Booth and Brown have, the album is still a very strong effort. It was a return to a more classic Autechre sound, and this is a group not known for taking steps backward. But again, paradoxically, this doesn’t sound like a Mid-Nineties Autechre redux, though in many ways it is. Even when Autechre is doing something old, they make it sound so shockingly alien.

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One Response to “Autechre-"Quaristice" album review”

  1. Laura Koontz says:

    The Kandinsky tag is really useful…

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