By taking their programmed music to the next level, what Autechre have presented here is a snapshot of what Brian Eno has been perfecting all these years: generative and constantly shifting music that could effectively just run forever, with every moment unique as a snowflake. You could run most of the tracks on elseq 1-5 and then stream them in perpetuity for anyone to tune in and out of whenever they wished and each time hear something different yet the same.
There was a time when you knew pretty much what to expect from a new release by Autechre even before the slightest of sound snippets were made available. That cold period that began with EP7 spanned ten years, taking in the turning point of Confield, the twisted video collaboration Gantz Graf and the pinnacle of their programmed sound, Untilted.
The thaw began with the release of one of their most eclectic albums to date, Quaristice, marking the start of a divisive period of unpredictability that continues to this day. Nobody saw the laser-cut, stainless steel limited edition with bonus disc of alternate takes or the digital-only Quadrange coming, nor the classical melodic content of Oversteps, and yet they still satisfied dissenters with the more rhythmic focus of Move of Ten and the massive Exai, which challenged even the most ardent of fans.
When they opened their new Bleep store—the first in a slew of new band and label-focused stores of this kind that have begun to spring up in recent months—and dropped an incredible nine hours of AE_LIVE soundboards on us, well… anything was possible after that. But for a while it seemed like that store was going to remain an outlet for the type of more marginal, fan-pleasing material. Then came elseq 1–5, a surprise entity mysteriously teased by the premiering of two tracks, the first on BBC Radio 6, and the second—bizarrely—on the Alaskan-based student radio station KSUA.
That first track (and indeed the very first on elseq 1) was a typical warning shot to the casual-listener, even prompting the DJ Tom Ravenscroft to ask if everyone was alright once it was over. And no wonder. “Feed1” (listen below) is a punishing twelve minutes of pummeling, non-repetitive beats, chopped up feedback, metallic, tinnitus-inducing wail and highly visual, spectrographic patches that takes those elements that made Gantz Graf the twisted homunculus that it was and dials it up to eleven.
It should be borderline impossible to listen to. So why isn’t it?
I have absolutely no idea, but this is the genius of Autechre. If you’re of a mind to open your ears to this kind of work, after a mere few minutes you actually start to find it terrifyingly comforting. The track proved so intriguing, as did the highly unconventional release strategy chosen by Warp and Autechre, that it was difficult to get the release out of one’s mind. And this is just track one, people.
The second piece to get the teaser outing on that aforementioned Alaskan radio station was the markedly different “c16 deep tread,” though this one would prove more familiar to fans as versions of the track—or at least the core patches from which it is formed—appeared as one of the central components on the AE_LIVE series. It’s like a malfunctioning android in a howling ice storm suffering from scorching heartburn, gurgling stomach and trapped wind that concludes with a serious and prolonged gas attack.
A constantly shifting focus
After those first two distressing pieces, Autechre ease the pressure a little with the post-rave, rhythmic workout “13×0 step,” the first sign that elseq 1–5 is going to be an unpredictable journey at best. The constantly shifting focus of the utterly spellbinding elseq 1–5 poster-boy, “pendulu hv moda” is given familiar form by the comforting predictability of its hefty, rhythmic slam. What begins as a random series of squirting electronic teats slowly morphs into one of Autechre’s most grandiose and majestic tracks yet, featuring epic pads, patches and cinematic, soaring washes never before heard from the duo.
The four-hour duration of this beast is in part accounted for by three tracks clocking in at between twenty and thirty minutes, all of which appear on the second and third entries in the series that represent its most difficult and alienating material. “elyc6 0nset” is arguably a little self-indulgent, a convention of crazed computers competing in an extended series of frantic e-sports, but it descends into a total mess of malfunctioning noise that pushes its luck way before the halfway mark. It can work as background noise, but good luck making heads or tails of it if you actually pay close attention for the full twenty-seven minutes.
Describing the “eastre” as ambient does it a great disservice, the peculiarly organic sound of digital posing as analog coming off more music concrete than anything, and is likely to induce migraine before you get anywhere near its closing, twenty-second minute. “mesh cinereaL,” on the other hand, fondly evokes the circuit-board salad days of the oft-overlooked and transitional Chiastic Slide and LP5, taking the twisted metallic girders that formed the architectural foundations of the latter and crushing them up with the core elements of the former, creating a silicon granola you just can’t stop eating.
If you can make it past the barricades erected by elseq 2 & 3, just skip them completely or leave them unceremoniously un-purchased, and you’re a fan of their more melodic and laid back material, you’re in for a treat as you enter a realm of Autechre accessibility not heard perhaps since Tri Repetae. Oversteps may have possessed a more melodic and composed focus than their more programmatic material, but broadly accessible it was not.
“Acdwn2” is a funky as fuck floor workout that acts as the precursor to the utterly essential to everyone on earth “latentcall.” That Autechre can bend so many different musical archetypes to their will and shape something uniquely theirs is just one of the things that makes them such an important and enduring act, and this head-shredding, drum-and-bass style monster is a testament to that.
The frozen panorama—put up or piss off
Booth and Brown return to borderline ambient territory on a number of occasions, most notably on elseq 4 & 5. “foldfree casual” tips its hat to the mesmeric, crystalline cloudscapes of Amber with chilly strings swooning through shafts of sunlight causing a glacial thaw of splintering, forked cracks that becomes subsumed in a storm of pounding fists. That thunderous sound is carried over into “freulaeux,” which plays out like an extended “y7” from Move Of Ten with the carbonated plinkety-plonics excised.
The frozen panorama of “oneum” takes things to ambient extremes and must rank as one of the most straight up “beautiful” Autechre tracks in existence. Again a nod to the days of Amber and Incunabula, this closing track pierces cathedral-reverb drenched organ keys with razor-sharp ice chips in a freezing gale.
There’s a modicum of fluff and nonsense here and there too, however. “TBM2” might as well be an airless, deconstructed cover version of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and does precisely nothing for six minutes, and shorter tracks like “7th slip” or “chimer 1-5-1” come across as lightweight cousins to some of their more well-developed siblings. Then there’s the unrelenting sonic booms of “spTh” or the impenetrable, skull-crushing “c7b2” basically screaming at us to put up or piss off.
A criticism leveled at many parts of elseq 1–5 is that tracks lack progression, are too long or fail to evolve, but personally I think that misses the point. By taking their programmed music to the next level, what Autechre have presented here is a snapshot of what Brian Eno has been perfecting all these years: generative and constantly shifting music that could effectively just run forever, with every moment unique as a snowflake. You could run most of the tracks on elseq 1-5 and then stream them in perpetuity for anyone to tune in and out of whenever they wished and each time hear something different yet the same.
It was a turn of brilliance on Autechre’s part to market this as a series of EP’s than an album. That they’ve poured all of their considerable experience into a mammoth release that contains something for almost everyone, that spans and references their entire career and frees the listener to consume its content in many different ways is quite an achievement. I know it’s fashionable to rave about Autechre releases, but there’s a reason. Yes, it’s quite expensive for a digital-only release, but really… it’s worth it.
elseq 1–5 is available on Warp.