Autechre, from SECONDS Issue #31

by Jason Szostek transcribed by Brian Gause

Artists on the frontiers of sound have preferred to defy classification, mindful that an association with an established genre of art might stymie their creative process. Progress in the evolution of music as an art form is often made by narrow- minded visionaries whose absolute disinterest in the trends and fashion of the day serves their creative ambition, allowing spontaneous originality to flow unencumbered by the expectations of a ready-made fan base.
Autechre make music with electronic equipment; their music has been called "Techno". Techno artists make music with the same equipment Autechre uses. Some of them embrace the term "Techno," others simply accept it.
To Autechre, that classification of their music is a death sentence. It insures that the listener approaches their work with the baggage of preconceived imagery. This approach is fraught with the biases formed by tastes lingering on the listener's musical palette, left there by experience with the work of other artists given that same classification. Such a preconception is rarely fair to an experimental artist.
When a genre's hot, the record company loves this process; when it's not, the artist suffers.
Either way, Autechre would like to avoid all this. When you were a child you knew what you liked. Some sounds gave you pleasure, some sounds gave you pain or discomfort. Autechre play together in the sandbox, as children would: no schedule, no agenda, no expectations. They are two friends, making music together, preferring to play with electronics so that they are freer to explore to the limits of their imagination. In the process their only guide is their own judgement. They know what pleases them. You are free to listen to Autechre's music and decide whether or not it pleases you. It might please you because, like me, you love Techno. It might please you because you love experimental music, or Electronic Music. But hopefully, if it pleases you it does so simply because it pleases you. If you spend no effort in analyzing it, you have truly enjoyed it. If you don't enjoy it, the members of Autechre, Sean Booth and Rob Brown will carry on. Following on the heels of Incunabula, their second album is entitled Amber and is available on TVT records in the USA.
SECONDS: What does "Autechre" mean?
Brown: It means nothing actually. It's kind of a mistake. With a lot of computer sequencing programs, you have eight characters to name a track. We had a name for a track that was kind of descriptive of the track --- it was a couple of words. When we decided to randomize it by messing around with the computer, it actually freaked out and came out with this word "autechre". We decided that you could pronounce it, so it became the name of that track. Then about six months later we decided to adopt it as the title of us.
SECONDS: Is there willful randomness in your approach to making music?
Brown: Often, yes. SECONDS: If you were forced to, how would you classify your music?
Brown: Autechre. If it's a file name, that's it, basically... that's what we insist. I think anything other than that prevents us from being anything other than what people have heard before. And we're constantly changing or evolving one way or another, we like to think that if we're gonna change, it's still gonna sound like us --- just different from the old us. It can only be Autechre.
SECONDS: Are you conscious of trends in Techno, or do you mostly avoid them?
Brown: When we started making music we were total outsiders anyway, and we had to make music for ourselves in this insular musical environment. I think we're trying ot keep that the way it was, so I'd say no. A lot of people think our music is cool at the moment; so that's just their shortcoming. I think we're always going to be writing tracks that we like. That's the only reason we like to give. Why we write our music? We write it for us and if other people can get into it that's cool and if they can't then we're still going to be doing it.
SECONDS: Do you feel comfortable being put into the "Techno" superheading?
Brown: I guess we have to live with it. Techno, to me, remains the fact that we use this type of equipment that is techno- logically-based and is not acoustic or hand crafted like guitars and stuff. Guitars have become Electronic, but I think we have to draw the line somewhere and I think "Techno" is about as far as we'd go.
SECONDS: How is Techno part of the continuum of Electronic Music, and how is it different?
Brown: We use this term "Techno" personally, to define anything that's good --- we call it Techno. If it's good Electronic Music we call it's such an arguable area. I mean Electro was Techno before Techno existed and now everything is Techno. I'd rather just call it all Techno. If anything, we could just call it Electronic Music.
SECONDS: What advances in technology have made Techno possible?
Brown: I'd say samplers, because they give you the power to have any sound that you've ever heard before, if you're willing to spend the time to get it there. A sampler can create anything if you know what you want. A lot of people press a button on the keyboard that's a preset and say: "That sound's alright, I think I'll use that." With the samplers, it's different because you have to put something into it to get anything out of it.
SECONDS: There's also a lot more people making Electronic Music today because of the inexpensive gear.
Brown: It can be a hindrance because you're wading through so much absolute shit to get to the gems that were obviously much more prolific years ago. Whereas there were one or two Electronic tracks being made, because they were Electronic they were different from everything else, because the people who wanted to do your average-everyday-whatever-was-happening-now kind of music wouldn't be doing Electronic Music. I think the people who were looking forward were using electronic gear and stood out. Now there's so much Electronic stuff around only the truly amazing stuff stands out and all the good stuff can get washed in with the crap.
SECONDS: But now there are far more types of Electronic Music, from Ambient to Jungle Acid and House.
Brown: I can't imagine people being into one and not the other. They should be into what's good from one genre and what's good from the other. They have a personal filtering system that says, "this track is no good, I won't listen to it." Personally, our record collection spans all sorts of Electronic Music. I don't think we'd be doing what we do now if we just thought Techno, Techno, Techno. I don't think any real person has just one classification of music in their pile.
SECONDS: How does your music relate to the Rave scene?
Brown: Absolutely nil, not at all. We might use some of the same equipment they use, but I don't even go that far anymore. I think there are a lot of inspiring Rave tunes that were from what we call the original Raves, from the late Eighties, the early Nineties, but I don't think we've ever gone deep enough into that area. I don't think we'd like to. The way we see Rave is that if you make tracks for a particular audience then you're constantly giving yourself barriers. As soon as we come across any constraints we like to push it down. I think we wouldn't have enjoyed being a Rave artist, had we tried.
SECONDS: How do you appraoch making music? What inspires you to make a track?
Brown: I think elementary sounds, basically. We never go into the studio and say "lets do an Ambient track, lets do a Hardcore track, or whatever." We'll just go in and get some sounds together. There might be a certain something in a sound that suggests what it should do, rhythmically or melodically. Nine times out of ten we'll put it into a rhythm at first. All these sounds we totally create from absolutely nothing. Then we'll build it from the rhythm, and melodies come from the rhythm in many ways as well.
SECONDS: Do you guys ever work alone or are you always working together?
Brown: Autechre is basically three people: me, Sean, and me and Sean. The tracks that we do, we can tell the difference but many people can't. Because obviously they have insolent features that are less developed from each other. There are many occasions where we'll do a track on our own. But also, we can start a track and the other guy will finish it, or both... It's totally freeform. I like to think that we go about our music in the same way that we enjoy music.
SECONDS: Do you have any desire to collaborate with other people?
Brown: I don't know. As far as collaborations go, I think because me and Sean have been together so long and started from scratch together, we've leared a lot about each other and how to write tracks the way we like it. I think if there's a third party involved, it could cause problems, tenuous moments... me and Sean can argue as well about what we believe can happen with a track. We believe that we should express concern over parts we're not sure about and not let egos get in the way of like: "I did this, I want it here." Or, "I did this and I think it should stay." If it deserves to stay and fits in musically and we both agree that that's fine. I think if there was a third party, it would swing the balance one way or another and it would become unfair. We have to keep it tight because that's the only way we can get what we want from our music.
SECONDS: Who are your favorite producers?
Brown: Well, from years ago, Mantronix, Juan Atkins, Coil, Sean likes Spiritualized a lot, and Dead Can Dance, that kind of stuff. Each one has their own production techniques that I think we've learned a lot from.
SECONDS: Techno in the United States has not taken hold as well as it has in Europe. Do you have any ideas on that?
Brown: When we toured in America with DJ Louis, who is part of a group called Bandulu, he was spinning all our favorite tunes that we like to hear when we go out to a club, and all these kids were coming up to him and asking, "Who is this? Where can I get it?" He was getting so annoyed because the records were from Detroit and New York and places like that. And all these people were like: "Where can we get this cool European Techno?" And he was going: "God, get a life!! This stuff is from your own backyard and you don't even know it exists!" People are too busy looking to Europe for influence, when those influences in Europe have switched across the Atlantic so many times in the last few decades. The same thing happens to people like Cabaret Voltaire, Depeche Mode and Human League when people like Juan Atkins are citing them as influences and at the same time places like Sheffield, Nottingham, and Manchester up north are pumping them up with these Acid tracks from Detroit. Then, three years later a group called Autechre is taking it back to America and people are asking where they can get this European techno from. And we say look, we've been inspired by this American country in many ways and you don't even know it exists!
SECONDS: Seems pretty grim, then, for America.
Brown: I think it should be left to just happen naturally. I don't want it to be a cool happening thing --- just develop and not outgrow itself too soon.
SECONDS: Are you optimistic about the future of Techno?
Brown: No, not really in any the point where it's hopeless.
SECONDS: Well, I'm sorry to hear that.