Autechre AutechreEPs 1991–2002
Is it a strange idea these days that this kind of product should attract excitement? Sure, the CD box set in question (or alternatively the bundled download) comprises 47 musical pieces of known quality; sure, the former comes in desirable packaging. The thing, though, is the ease of laying one’s hands on the material regardless. There are legitimate, pre-existing downloads, there is the ever-more convenient market online for second-hand CDs and records, and then there are other means: these aren’t to be condoned, but realistically they will already have been taken by curious listeners.
On its own terms at least, “EPs 1991–2002” has a selling point in taking material long out of print from Warp’s own catalogue. Perhaps a juicer coup is the release on CD (and digitally) for the first time of Autechre’s hoary, pre-Warp debut. Originally released on Hardcore Records, “Cavity Job” and B-side “Accelera 1+2” are just the kind of thing fans have traded extensively through file sharing. (Perhaps some of the same people will prove good enough supporters to buy the collection anyway.) Being two enjoyable bubblers from the dark side of rave (engineered loosely according to 4hero’s prototype) the tracks’ inclusion is more than a mere documentary gesture, though it serves that function too. Over the duration of both it’s interesting to hear rough exteriors unpeeled to show slivers of the harmonic and timbral palette that would soon make Autechre distinctive.
By the time we come to the “Basscadet EP”, the amoebic squiggle of their early signature has already bloomed into the abundance of their first two albums. This sense of an artistic identity having arrived puts them in the thick of a stream of “electronic listening music”, codified for the period by Warp’s “Artificial Intelligence” series. “Anvil Vapre” plays off this situation (whether intentionally or not) by exemplifying a theme: the EP format as steam valve or sand box, more direct and perhaps less self-conscious. Thus the duo thump bracing, dungeonesque malice out of their gear, in the shape of rasping metallic parts and heavy machinery.
The thread pops up on the “Anti EP” and some years later in the fabric of “EP7”. A chewy proposition the length of an album, the latter sounds like an extended scratch pad for impulsively worked ideas. It’s sketchy too in the sense that its sonics are almost carelessly frayed at the edges. Autechre have apparently never been dogmatic users of the methods associated with drier computer music, but at this point their stock in trade is at least informed by its aesthetics. Here, hints of geometry are disrupted by hazy, subatomic chaos full of absorbing, unpredictable detail.
There are exceptions to the overall feel of EPs: “Cichlisuite” is a more colourful addendum to the luxurious monotone of their full-length “Chiastic Slide”. “Garbage”, unusually, makes a more meditative impression than much on the albums. Four long, delicate mixdowns pinpoint gestural sound events and dub processes, with a mindfulness somehow far removed from the fascinating but knotty puzzles typical of their best known work.
Often, part of this compilation’s value lies in how close it comes to stepping behind the mirror. Over the period covered, Sean Booth and Rob Brown’s project has been one of electronic music’s most consistently engaging, as it is today. Their EPs provide a further perspective on something widely perceived to be enigmatic; if it’s now convenient for more people to take a look, it will no doubt be appreciated.
Autechre - Basscadet (Beaumont Hannant Womx)