Review Summary: Cis dudes are doin' it for themselves
If you think about it hard enough- and if you're really desperate to get tenuously metaphorical in order to kickstart a review- Autechre's career bears an inarguable, definite, glaringly obvious, and uncanny resemblance to the history of NASA's Voyager project.
The word of Autechre's humble mission to make fun computer music spread throughout the populace with the release of their opening trilogy of Incunabula
, and Tri Repetae
, fitting in comfortably beside their Warp peers that some cu
nt with a calculator watch, an expensive pair of headphones, and PTSD from being bullied at high school ranted on about being “comparable to dance music, but for more intelligent, discerning listeners such as myself,” thus catalysing the world's most embarrassing genre title in a pocket of music dominated by white British dudes, who, like the humble paradise duck, seem to migrate almost exclusively in pairs, plumage consisting of either North Face jackets, beanies, or both. Like the Voyager project's announcement, launch, and cute little self-portrait of our planet as the two probes zoomed away from the shi
tstorm of earthbound capitalism that created them, the IDM audience was provided with familiar reference points to cling on to for these early releases. As Americans in the seventies could glug down 24 PBRs and sleep peacefully in a pool of their own vomit, content that their tax dollar more or less made them astrophysicists by proxy, Autechre's audience in the nineties could happily eat an eighth of 'shrooms and trip face while listening to Eutow
on repeat for six hours, convincing themselves that these new digital frontiers placed them ahead of the curve of typical music consumption, and right on the edge of their musical comfort zones.
What came next was innovation and discovery. The Voyager crafts' next fly-bys were familiar planets to the global consciousness of the time, yet the discovery of active volcanoes, storms, tectonic activity, ice, a multitude of hitherto hidden moons, and the suggestion of otherworldly phenomena such as seas of liquid methane, and pink-hued nitrogen ice all captured the public's imagination once again, this time in a more meaningful way than a photo of our own planet ever could. This eleven year period of excitement and revelation as the probes traversed our solar system aligns roughly with Autechre's own period of astounding mid-career innovation from Chiastic Slide
through to Oversteps
. The jumping off point for their music remained firmly within the IDM realm, but the variables that they began to fu
ck with differed to artists around them. They began to pile up their very own collection of otherworldly auditory phenomena, eschewing some of the more fundamental tenets of popular music in favour of embracing the perplexing possibilities of the space they had created for themselves, immersing listeners in aural landscapes where melody and rhythm sometimes ghosted you entirely, sometimes visited for dinner, and sometimes flogged you with a cat o' nine tails while pegging you in front of your missus.
You've likely heard this all before- or experienced it for yourself- but it seems to me that the outrageously prolific version of Autechre that's been confronting us for the past few years is getting about as much attention as the Voyager probes get now that they're in the vast stretch of interstellar space, 300 years out from the Oort cloud, the pale blue dot of our home now nothing but a memory. Autechre's releases are like radio transmissions from those lonely vessels, except instead of a metal craft sailing silently into the void, we're presented with another brace of Anglo-Saxon males trying to sell us obtuse electronic music. Their achievements are as impressive as ever, but it's hard to appreciate their journey into the infinite when you've got more pressing matters to face every day, like trying to figure out why everybody leaves the room whenever you start talking about how good Autechre is.
Over the last decade or so, the boiz have adopted a new credo- give these fu
ckers more than they can handle. Many consider these releases to be an exercise in patience for the masochistic, yet the rewards reaped from repeated exposure to this work remains consistent with the rest of their body of work. NTS Sessions
' obscene length- which I don't think warrants criticising in an age where superstans are willing to sift through 18 hours worth of shi
t that Radiohead didn't even want to release- is certainly a challenge. Inevitably, most listening experiences will be broken up between different sessions, different moods, and different environments. I've discovered that these changes in circumstance can have a profound effect on the way that certain tracks hit you. Some make sense in bed with your eyes closed and headphones in, and some (many, actually) make sense in your car at night, gliding down sealed roads surrounded by gleaming lights of countless hues.
If you can't tell by the fanyboyish lilt of my rhetoric creeping in here, I've really thrown myself into a fractal-shaped hole with the amount of Autechre I've been consuming over the past few months. On one occasion recently, I had just put on Plaid's Polymer
for the first time, and was cautiously optimistic that old duo (have a guess at their nationality, ethnicity and sex, the results may not surprise you) might be able to pull another one out of the hat. Well, the album was okay, but in comparison to the three Autechre albums I had listened to that week- wait, since when do I listen to that much Autechre？
- it sounded so rudimentary that it could well have been produced twenty years ago. Autechre had already tread and moved past this ground in an era where people thought that the coming of a new century according to the Gregorian calendar might coincide with their PCs becoming self-aware and murdering the shi
t out of all of us.
Is it worth attempting to provide a highlights reel of the NTS Sessions
experience？Short answer, no. Longer answer, there is so much content here that aims for so many different things that it seems redundant to try and stack any of it up. I could tell you that North Spiral
is a good song wherein it sounds like you're being chased by a giant, malfunctioning, robotic centipede, and, when it finally catches you, it challenges you to a dance-off instead of ripping you to shreds. I could try and guess at what patches were being implemented in what songs, what gear was being used. I could start throwing out words like 'alien,' and 'sound design,' and you could nod along in shared understanding.
I could, but I won't, and the simple reason is the length. It's part of the form and fibre of this album, and any attempt to understand the release means that you're going to have to listen to eight hours of music many times over, when in reality you've got shi
t to do and other artists to listen to. And what good would that analysis be to you anyway？Listen to the fu
cking thing in your own time and see what kinda Rorschach shi
t your mind latches onto. Autechre have had a consistently compelling career, and this release very happily continues that trend. You could try and pore a microscope over each individual moment, but it would be like labeling and analysing each sperm cell at a Roman orgy. You'd be far more likely to get yer bits frothin' if you were to spend some time gazing at Coutere's The Romans in their Decadence
, if you catch my drift.