The composer Anton Webern once famously predicted that people would walk down the streets of New York whistling his own music. A bold statement indeed, given the unwieldy contours of his melodies and near atonal harmonies. And while your local bin man might not yet have Webern in his repertoire, the composer’s music has gained far more friends as its reception history grows.
Autechre are something of a modern day electronic Webern equivalent. They may not have the composer’s acutely concise methods of working, but there is a comparable intensity in the way that every sound, no matter how big or small, short or long, contributes to the overall whole.
Radio play will never be something that Sean Booth and Rob Brown are likely to be concerned about – their music needs to be given time, space and due attention to make a lasting impact. Yet on their eighth studio album, they have come close to perfecting an approach that rewards first time listeners almost as richly as those returning for the ninth or tenth time.
So how did they do it? A meticulous attention to detail will have helped. No matter what your grasp of melody may be, it helps to be able to look further afield for sounds that are barely pinpricks on the horizon. That way the sudden surges of foreground detail come right out the speakers and raise your eyebrows without assistance. Then there’s the rhythmic programming, occasionally falling into line as a heavy bass, while other times sounding like somebody pinpricking a ready meal for the microwave.
Initial listens refute the notion that this album might be even remotely human. With deliberately obtuse track titles and sounds that can only be derived from machines, it sometimes feels like the creators are long gone, the music left for a later generation to find. And yet sticking with it reveals a humanity, and even a warmth in passages such as the opening Altibzz, warm synthesized chords the closest the duo will ever come to Balearic flavouring.
Autechre albums have been famously challenging in the past, but Quaristice is an easier way in, and impresses with its structure, its continued innovation in texture and in the way every sound remains vital, even in the course of a seventy minute album. Don’t try whistling this at home, but do marvel at its effective processes and the surprising warmth of their execution.