Technologies of sound

Lee Billings

For more than a decade, Autechre (pronounced ‘aww-tek-er’) has charted the frontiers of electronic music, traversing the bleeding edges of technology and art. The group is a collaboration between Britons Sean Booth and Rob Brown, who formed Autechre in early-1990s Manchester after discovering their shared love for graffiti, breakdancing and hip-hop.

Since then, Autechre has come a long way from the Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash-inspired sounds of yesteryear. Though their music retains hip-hop aesthetics, the sounds have mutated: as computing power explosively advances, the complexity of Autechre’s sound increases in lockstep. These days, the duo uses algorithms and custom-made programs to construct their sonic wizardry, leading some to wonder who’s really at the controls – Booth and Brown or their machines?

Autechre’s latest full-length album, “Draft 7.30,” follows in the footsteps of 2001’s “Confield” by further blurring the line between the biological and the mechanical. Like its predecessors, “Draft 7.30” continues the annoying tradition of cryptic track titles – this time with names like “VL AL 5” and “P.:NTIL.” These inscrutable titles bear a message: Easy listening this is not. Expect to be baffled, simply because there’s so much to hear.

The songs unfold over multiple listens, gradually sinking subtle hooks into the psyche. Perspectives and scales constantly shift – at one point the music is so thick with sounds that every space seems filled, but then the focus seamlessly expands or tightens as more details emerge from the void.

Each track provides unique mental imagery: Schizoid beats grind like an engine roaring through ten hairpin turns a second on a subterranean speedway, sprouting wings and soaring into space, belching diesel fumes (“6IE.CR”). A mist of bristling static sheds molten silicon to clog a sputtering tape deck playing a Brian Eno soundscape (“IV VV IV VV VIII”). Dueling drummers are swallowed by a deep-sea leviathan, pounding organs and ribs in time with the beast’s beating heart, finally excreted through an extended sphincter-squeezing jazz solo (“Surripere”). Or maybe it all just sounds like shoes clunking around in a clothes dryer.

Two things are certain by the time “Draft 7.30” grinds to a halt: Booth and Brown have forgotten more grooves and beats than most musicians ever dream of, and the standard for thoughtful, innovative electronic fun has been set once again.

Lee Billings welcomes comments at [email protected]