Autechre, Confield

Released: May 2001

It's been two years since Autechre's last full-length release. In those two years, Autechre's patented esoteric rhythms and fractured melodies have become the blueprint for intelligent electronic music. Autechre is, in short, The Beatles of IDM. While this is good--Autechre deserves all the credit in the world--there is a down side: every kid with a computer and a copy of Cubase thinks she or he can become the "next Autechre." The result of this is a laundry list of shitty music that tries to pass itself off as intelligent by making the beat sound all fucked up. It's no wonder that most good electronic artists search for ways to avoid the "Autechre-like" label at all cost. But it is a bit of a problem for Autechre itself. After all, it's not their music that is the problem--it's the bland imitations of their sound. Still, most listeners don't listen carefully enough to music to understand the difference between quality music and shitty music that tries to imitate quality music. I mean, look at Puff Daddy, for christ's sake! So what is Autechre to do? Well, these were the thoughts rolling around in my head prior to picking up my copy of Confield. I wondered whether Autechre would alter their sound, push it in new directions, or if they would continue along the rather stark path that they've followed ever since lp5 (or the one most commonly called, simply, Autechre). Well, the answer I discovered was as murky and complex as the music itself. This disk certainly resembles ep7 in its use of churning, elliptical grooves that bend and twist and reshape themselves across a song, or in its sparse (less melodic) synth wails, or in the way the songs tend to take a single musical idea and break it down, examine it, rethink it, and rebuild it over the course of six or seven minutes. But there is another element to this disk, one that seems to add a new facet to Booth and Brown's oeuvre (though I could be mistaken on this). This new element is a claustrophobic feeling that permeates even the densest and most obscure passages here. It is the same sort of claustrophobia I hear on many of Mille Plateaux works, or on Zammuto's Willscher, or even some of the more densely-packed Pan Sonic tracks. It is a claustrophobia that is not really a product of the music itself but of the music's minimalist structure. Each song on Confield is arranged around a central, circular rhythm, which churns and bubbles across the entire track. All other sounds revolve around this rhythm, in much the same way a tether-ball revolves around a pole as it is being hit and spun by ten-year-old boys. To put it in geographic terms, each track here is like a playground surrounded on all sides by immense walls. The rhythmic structure is at the center of this playground, and the other sounds are like children running or jumping or twisting or turning, doing anything they want within the playground's limited space. But remember those walls: there's no escape here, so each sound is stuck inside the playground, destined to roll around until it tires and falls over. Hence, songs like "bine" take a cachophonous rhythm, which is added to and modified by a stream of heavy synth noises and crunchy, blistering effects. But the song doesn't go anywhere; rather, the wild sounds simply move in and around the rhythm base until, at the end, everything just stops. Most of the tracks on Confield follow this pattern (though there are exceptions, such as the weird, lilting keyboard line in "eidetic casein"). While this claustrophibic feeling is in evidence on earlier Autechre tracks ("Left Bank" on ep7, for example), there was always a flight back into a structured, organized songscape. But that flight is continually negated on Confield. Here, then, Autechre have reached sobriety: a point at which Autechre finally kills "Autechre" once and for all.

Updated: May 5, 2001 (updated again May 6)

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