(03.31.08) During their 15 year tenure at Warp Records Sean Booth and Rob Brown have been at the forefront of the experimental electronic music scene, reinterpreting their sound with every release. Quaristice, their ninth Autechre album for Warp and their first new material since 2005’s Untilted, is no exception. Released in a regular single CD and a deluxe 2CD format, the deluxe version of 1000 copies sold out from Warp in just 12 hours. Resplendent in a photo-etched brushed steel cover designed by the Designers Republic and containing a stylish matt grey gatefold sleeve housing both CDs, the special edition of Quaristice is a lavishly presented release from one of Warp’s longest-standing and most popular signings.
As ever with Autechre, it is not easy to comprehend Booth and Brown’s mindset when they produce the music they commit to disc. Seemingly operating on a whole other conceptual level where chaos and disorder reign, their music is very much in the experimental realm and appears to be a random selection of electronic sounds thrown together haphazardly with no apparent consideration for structure or design. In a lot of ways their thinking is wildly maverick; they create something that to the outsider appears to be a random collection of weird electronic blips, bloops and twisted vocal samples, but somehow the whole disjointed, fractured chaos of sound feels new, interesting and, perhaps
most surprisingly, strangely coherent. It is almost as though the duo have so many ideas and concepts they want to explore that everything just pours out during the recording process. They record a weird concoction of disparate ideas that, once deciphered, become rational on several different levels. Perhaps subconsciously understanding the unspoken code is the key to appreciating the true depth and originality of Quaristice? Pretty much indefinable as a musical style and so far detached from a majority of the music out there at the moment, Quaristice writes another chapter in the Autechre story.
Setting the scene on the first disc – the album itself – is the awkward orchestral ambience of “Altibzz,” somehow uneasily lumbering along but at the same time a gentle and steady introduction that raises more questions than it answers about what Quaristice has to offer. If “Altibzz” sets a seed of doubt, “The Plc” sets things right back on
track with its disjointed and slightly off-kilter glitchy electro weirdness. Stranger still, somewhat deranged and more than a little disturbing are the manic keys and distorted voices throughout “IO.” Who said there is a thin line between genius and madness? “PlyPhon” is one of those tracks that, although it is typically fractured and broken,
also features hard but elastic beats with a certain addictive quality. “Perlence” that follows “PlyPhon” is a further exploration of this theme, almost as though the duo are struggling to decide whether to opt for slick expertly produced rhythms or the weird glitched up chaos they know and love. Ultimately, observing the battle of wits is a
fascinating spectacle where either structure or chaos is dominant but not victorious. Then there is the dizzying industrial throb of “Tankakern” and “Rale” or the dense sifting haze of “Fol3,” even the old school techno energy leading into tense click beats of “Chenc9.” Often completely abstract and disjointed, Booth and Brown’s work balances rhythms, melodies and all manner of complex experimentation, not to mention a myriad of different genres, to concoct an amalgam of styles they make their own. On paper it shouldn’t make sense but in reality it somehow adds up. The more you listen the deeper you go, each time something new seems to reveal itself from its deep layers of complexity.
Showing that their repertoire is wider than just digital abstraction, the pair occasionally throw in a curve ball in the shape of a track that
is stylistically different, yet not out of place, from the others on the album. “Paralel Suns” is one such track; based around deep, languid
drones and soaring digital fizzes it provides a gentle interlude at the mid-point of the album. As it nears its close a similar track appears
in the form of the uneasy yet serene dark ambience of “Notwo”. Interestingly, it is the inclusion of “Paralel Suns” towards the
mid-point of the album that marks a turning point. The fractured digital chaos is still there but smoother, bassier and more rhythmic
structures are increasingly evident amongst the abstract experiments in sound. As it stands, both “Paralel Suns” and “Notwo” provide timely interludes to close/open phases of the album and provide a welcome change of pace without disrupting its flow. To add to the intrigue, the closing track – “Outh9X” – is a bleak windswept ambient piece that is wonderfully executed with fluid drones and edgy atmospherics. Perhaps not the way an Autechre album might be expected to end but it provides a fittingly subdued close to a multi-faceted album.
Those lucky enough (and quick enough) to pick up a copy of the sleekly designed deluxe 2CD version of the album are also treated to a second 68 minute CD containing alternate versions of 11 album tracks. Quaristice (Versions) covers everything from dark ambience to old school techno and industrial through to cinematic atmospherics and beyond, all delivered in Booth and Brown’s own inimitable style. Essentially a series of reworked album tracks, the bonus disc offers a further fascinating insight into the duo’s weird and wonderful world. Arguably more consistent and better realised than the album itself, Quaristice (Versions) presents each track in a conceptually different light, taking
the enjoyment and interpretation of the original deeper still.
Quaristice won’t be to everyone’s liking due to its complex and often random nature but for those who have long been fascinated by the duo’s ability to redefine and push the boundaries of their own sound over the years (although not always successfully) Quaristice shouldn’t disappoint.
Quaristice is out now on Warp. [Purchase]