Autechree's interview from - 2005

Autechre on music, technology and egg custard. In the midst of preparation for their first tour since 2002, and on the eve of the release of their eighth album, Untilted, Rob Brown from arch electro-experimentalists Autechre answers questions submitted to Collective by fans and sceptics alike…

Steve Shaw asks: Why have you decided to return to more repetitive rhythmic structures in Untilted? Did you have dancefloors more in mind for this album?
RB: It’s hard to know when someone calls your stuff repetitive, because you know that it’s not. Compared to the last album, Untilted is warmer. It’s fuller, we’ve got the production a lot better. It’s wider, it’s tougher and more sensitive all in one. Does that make sense? I’ve always been into emotional, hard music.
Evilfons asks: Did you start making music because you think everything else is crap, or not exactly what you want? Is it made out of some frustration?
RB: When we were listening to tunes we had an ear for what we were into. Then we started mixing up people’s music, like DJ mixes that were more customised than the norm. To the point where they were so customised that it was basically our drum patterns, our samples and our scratching and beats all over the top. To the point where were didn’t use anyone else’s material anymore and we realised we were making our own tracks. And I guess it was because we thought there was room for something that sounded like this. Maybe we were listening to Todd Terry and Mantronix, and Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, and loads of soul and stuff that was current, trying to find the best bits for us. It was quite rare to find them. So we were trying to put these bits together – not in a conscious way, but coming at it with no musical training. We just got some kind of results and those results stuck out like a sore thumb to us.
Jefferson Petrey asks: Many listeners I have spoken to have been divided about your most recent work. Half express profound inspiration about their experiences with the recent albums, and the other half seem to yearn for you to return to your earlier sound. Have you encountered this and what do you have to say in response?
RB: It’s funny because it’s one of the things we’ve often had levelled at us since Incunabula, our first album on Warp. The first album was more of a compilation of old material. So when we came out with Amber, which was genuinely the first album we put out on Warp, everyone was like, “Whoa you’ve gone all ambient, what’s happened?” Then two albums after that, when Chiastic Slide came out, they were like, “Oh this is really cold and computery, not warm and lush like Amber.” So basically we get this domino flip every time we release something. We just have to come to terms with it. People are polarised completely. Some people won’t accept the new album until they’ve come to like the last album, and some people say, “Draft was horrible, it was really cold and edgy.” And then a year later when you put a new album out they say, “Oh I hope it compares to Draft cos’ Draft was brilliant.” This time we’ve had a lot of warm responses from critics and the media, or whoever gets in first, I just think you can’t help but divide people.
Alex Maske asks: If you were non-musicians growing up, do you think that had a negative or positive effect on your role as musicians, or approach to composition/listening, now?
RB: It’s got us where we are now. We know things about music now. You find recurring themes and you go, “Why does this seem familiar?” Then you’ll do a bit of research and you’ll find you’ve stumbled across what most people consider a musical rule. When you’ve got no idea about these rules or musical dictates you’re pretty open to anything. My friend Darryl, who helped us start up, gave us the keys to his studio and his music shop, just so that we could use some gear that wasn’t rubbish. We were like, “This guy’s a nut. What does he want?” But it turned out he was a really musically well-trained classical kind of guy, really good on the keys, but at the same time he was like, “You can’t do that, that sounds weird.” And we were like, “This is brilliant, this is the best thing yet”. I guess it’s a good way of keeping things open, not knowing what keeps most people closed. But we do have taste. It’s all quality to us. We like to do things properly, but whether “properly” is the way that people have decided is a rule or not is irrelevant. We’ve been at this so long that we don’t want to skimp on quality, or taste or style. All these things come from a hip-hop, graffiti, BMX background where you’re showing off what you can do. Practising loads. I can appreciate that mentality. You know, when you see young kids skating, falling and getting up again and again in the most extreme environments - speed, concrete, sharp edges - I’ve always appreciated that they’re just trying to get it right. It might mean a few bumps into a few walls here and there, and musically we probably do that all the time. Some classical musician probably thinks, god what a racket – and then other people say, “Oh that’s totally Wagnerian.” It’s got us where we are now and we’re comfortable with the fact that sometimes we don’t know anything, and sometimes we’re exploring areas where other people won’t go because it doesn’t fit black and white textbook stuff.
Akeefee asks: How do you feel about LP5 being on the HMV recommended list?
RB: That’s five or six years old that album, and it’s true, a lot of people have sighted it as a classic Autechre album because it bridges the gap between the guys who liked our old stuff and the guys who got propelled on to our new stuff. Back then there were fewer elements that were dictating quite big things. Now there are more elements that are dictating small essences of the vibe, but in concert there’s a really nice collection of things going on for us.
Fudi myo asks: When do you work best? Late at night? Afternoons?
RB: It’s changed over the years. We’ve been doing well lately. Getting down to it in the afternoons but really hitting the spot early evening. Not wearing ourselves too thin till six in the morning like we used to.
David Atkinson asks: When you write a track do you have preconcieved ideas about how you want it to sound, or do you just jam it out?
RB: I used to the love the idea that you could capture the ideas in your head. You know, when you’re going to sleep and you’re just about to drop off, I used to hear the maddest music. You could imagine it flowing, everything seemed to segue into the next really well, and things would fold, really nice yet intricate and clever and impossible at the same time. I used to think you could get those ideas down. But it’s really hard. Using words to describe stuff is always quite difficult. When we’re in the studio we’ll just turn on a bit of gear that maybe we haven’t used for a while and try and explore it, see if there’s something left, something latent that we can get out of it. We’d rather not let our minds dictate before we get to the equipment. There are loads of possibilities when you turn on an old sampler or an old drum machine. Some things stick and you can feel your way through, and a path starts to develop and you get little branches and ideas that make it better. It’s never about saying I want to do a beat that goes like this.
Brisk asks: What is your current ringtone on your mobile phone?
RB: One of our own. It’s called Maphones - Meldrum.
Fudi Myo asks: Are you trying to be innovative or do you just do what you do in an Autechre bubble and ignore everything else out there?
RB: No matter what we say or do, we are essentially pleasing ourselves. We can’t please everyone because we’d be doing something other than what we’re doing now. We wouldn’t have started doing what we did then for the same reasons. We’d have been trying to get on XL recordings on the back of Prodigy or something. We went to a label in Manchester that distributed XL. The guy there was like, “Yeah, you need to measure it up more squared like every 16 bars, maybe get a vocal loop in there, maybe a rock stab would be fresh.” And we’re thinking, “Shut up! This isn’t what we do.” The best thing he said was, “It reminds me of Brian Eno.” But that was an insult from him. We’ve always been up against this kind of “it’s great that you do it your way, but it’s not great because you’re too self-indulgent” attitude. You can’t have it both ways. You’ve got to be your own best critic because if it all implodes then at least you were doing it for the right reasons. And you’re not being led up the garden path by a sycophant or somebody who couldn’t care less, or who just wants to go with the flow. The only bearing we have against what’s happening elsewhere in music is the latest Apple hardware or Akai samplers, or the latest speakers. When you really boil it down we’re in a very contrived technological environment, because there’s a board of directors in control of, say, Yamaha or Akai or whatever, and these bits of gear are probably pre-empting a certain kind of music because they are filling it with certain kinds of behaviour. I guess we’ve always tried to circumvent that as well. We know there is a latent possibility in all this equipment.
cichly_bass_tard asks: Kalpol Introl is part of the soundtrack for the excellent Pi, directed by Darren Aronofsky. If you could choose to compose a soundtrack for the re-release of a movie, which one would you choose and why?
RB: Some of the films would be untouchable simply because of the soundtrack. It would be blasphemy to want to do it again. Can we redo Pi but keep the soundtrack the same? I’d like to collaborate with someone like Angelo Badalamenti. He does some great music for David Lynch.
Sixtyten asks: Would you ever consider producing instrumental tracks for a hip-hop artist. If so, who?
RB: Sean’s really into Sensational (ex-Jungle Brothers), but he’s got his own production down. There’s guys in Britain like MC Alkaline. We’ve always thought it would be nice to work with someone with his kind of character. It’s difficult because they’ve got so much persona embodied in their voices and their words. You could do a nice 16-bar loop and just loop it with cuts, in and out, and you’ve got a rap instrumental. That seems to be the norm. But I think ours would be more involved than that, so I’d worry that what we’re doing is an Autechre track with a guest vocalist. Then you end up in Two Lone Swordsmen land, and that’s not really our bag. I really like Saafir, he’s down with Hyroglyphics. There are a few, we’re quite open. We’d like to work with quite a few vocalists as long as they are open as well, as long as they don’t just want a dope backing track. They’d get that, but they’d have to work a bit harder than just laying a few doubletracks over the top of it.
Frog-v asks: I really think your music is very “architectural”. Do you think there is some kind of connection between architecture and your music, or electronic music in general?
RB: It doesn’t make us want to write tracks, put it that way. I studied architecture and we love lots of architects (he later cite’s Felix Candela, Santiago Calatrava). I can appreciate when some people say our music gives them a sense of space – it would. Mine and Sean’s senses are developed to know from a sound what kind of space we’re in, and that gives us untold amounts of freedom. If we can make things sound spatial for a reason then we will, but it’s not directly influenced by architecture. It’s just an aesthetic.
jonharttrup asks: Autechre’s live shows seem to attract two types of people. The ones that stand still, stroking their beards and really “getting” the music, and the ones that leap about spasmodically in a vain attempt to dance. Which do you prefer?
RB: I guess we want people to dance. We’ve asked for danceterias for this tour, so we’ll try and get people moving. There will be people who just stand and watch but maybe their brains are doing all the work, maybe they’re dancing in their heads. I’d do both. We’re very complex organisms, aren’t we? Although I guess me and Sean are quite hardened to it. I think it’s terrific dance music. I do get excited by it physically. And we don’t have any visuals. We’ve always kept things to a minimum, we’ve just been concentrating on the music. People take if for granted now that you need an AV live set, but I hate the way people just stare at the front. It seems to immobilize people. If we were doing a lush ambient piece and everyone was going to lie down then maybe we’d project it as a cine-360, like Alton towers or something. But for us it’s just a stereo live set. No distracting visuals.
Chris Hopcroft asks: PC or Mac?
RB: Both. Mostly Mac, just for convenience and quality. The build is better. But it’s not as customisable. With a PC, if you're a real geek you can get ahead of everyone with loads of components. Apple is cased in concrete, but it is concrete nonetheless and you can rely on that sometimes.
Toni Ahvenainen asks: How do Autechre know when their idea is “finished music” ready to be published, and when not?
RB: We try and see a track through to its end. Some tracks just end up getting shelved if we can’t agree, and some tracks will stand the test of time. We’ll pull them off the shelf and say, “Yeah that’s really good.” But it’s unlikely that tracks like that will end up on the album. Albums tend to be tracks worked on from one day to the very end, even if it’s over a period of a year or two.
Birgir asks: Do you care about getting praise or not for records? Do you care how it's gonna do in sales and reviews?
RB: Praise is a funny one because some people love it who you wouldn’t have expected to. So to aim your sights on something like praise or respect is a good way to undermine yourself I think. It’s hard for us to get dirty with these kinds of attitudes when we’re on the other side of the public line. And we’re pretty ambivalent about sales. We don’t find out what our sales are. It’s pretty hard to get any idea of what your sales are going to be. I have no idea whether this album is going to sell well or not. There’s been a really warm response to it, but that never counts for CD sales. It might matter whether a guy in a local record store likes it or not, he might swing against us because he’s got a rose-tinted view of what we used to be like. We’ve got no control over that and that happens all over the world.
Amorphy asks: Do you see your music as political? and should music be political at all?
RB: It’s hard to do it with instrumental music. We did it with the Ante EP, where we managed to make a track that wasn’t repetitive, against the Criminal Justice Bill, that cited repetitive beats. But without words and pictures, and literal stuff, it’s hard.
myriad asks: Was the sixth track on your album EP7, Dropp, created during a time that was difficult for one or both of you? This particular song evokes a great sadness in me.
RB: No, I think we feel that Dropp is a nice fat little, “train” kind of track really. It’s quite emotional, but it’s a bit more of a “diesel” track to me. More of a linear design. I don’t honestly think we put that much direct emotion into tracks. We don’t go, “I feel sad, let’s do sad.” We obviously take every mood seriously in a track, because that’s part of capturing the track and making it work really well. But we try not to undermine the strengths of the track to portray something that’s in our heads. I almost feel that it’s a bit cheesy to put something in a track that almost transcribes my emotions. We’d rather explore hybrid emotions. I feel quite comfortable when people say, “It’s dead sad but dead hard.” With instrumental music it’s easy to tap into emotions, but it’s not easy for people to know which feelings are being tapped. Without lyrical content, saying this song is about being lost or whatever, even our titles are left open.
teledynepost asks: Do you like egg custard?
RB: I love egg custard. Sean would probably puke, but I love it. I nearly bought one today. That’s a great question. We’re not as serious as people think we are.

15 April 05. Autechre - Untitled, released 18 April 05 on Warp Records. Tour starts 14 April 05. Check for details.