How do headphone-friendly electronica adepts Autechre keep their music "solid but easily liquid"?
The leading lights of the "intelligent dance music" scene, Autechre have turned the raw materials of electronic dance into something entirely their own: dry, detailed, abstract, and gorgeous, aimed at individual, headphone-wearing listeners more than the club floor. Sean Booth and Rob Brown have been working together for more than a decade and talk as if they've melded into one entity. Booth and Brown don't just finish each other's sentences; they finish each other's words, talk at the same time without any suggestion that one's interrupting the other, and describe things in the same nearly abstract metaphors. Amazon.com writer Douglas Wolk spoke with them after a rare American live show to promote their spacious, idiosyncratic album Autechre.
Amazon.com: Unlike a lot of other electronic performers, you make a point of playing in real time onstage rather than relying on preset recordings. What do you use when you play live these days?
Sean Booth: The show the other night was MIDI, sequencers, and synths. Sometimes we strip down to a really old-school setup, and sometimes we take computers out and do a really unstripped set, just from two black boxes. It's a bit weird and quite contradictory, but we feel most comfortable with massive control and immediate interfaces.
Rob Brown: We like to get it sort of easily solid, but easily liquid.
Booth: There's no point trying to be instinctive on something when you don't trust the framework with which you're working. We manage to raid a lot of old sounds and sequences, but the way we work all the time is so adaptable--it's like Lego. You just rebuild it all the time.
Brown: It's all changeable. It depends how much we want to subvert it on a given night.
Booth: We can emulate tracks we haven't even got in our source material, just with mixing techniques and effects. It's a really gray area, what's legitimately an old Autechre track being played for the live audience and what's just made up on the spot that points toward what we did two years ago.
Amazon.com: What kind of methodology do you use with a remix such as Stereolab's "Refractions in the Plastic Pulse" or the Tortoise remix you just did?
Brown: It depends largely on what we've been given--sometimes we'll get something that doesn't really inspire us directly, but we've got some sounds to work with, so we just work with them, and something within the structure will be interesting.
Booth: The mathematics in the structure of the Tortoise track--that's totally something to get your teeth into. And the Stereolab mix is like a song, with loads of parts and loads of variations and loads of chapters, and at the time that was totally ideal for what we wanted to work on as well.
Brown: This past six months we haven't done that many remixes at all. Knife and Phoenicia and a few small sorts of releases--that's about it. We did a Skinny Puppy one as well.
Booth: It's like a default, for a lot of people, to hand over a track to someone like us. It's interesting to work on a song-based band with loads of instruments, like Tortoise, or the track on the Neu tribute, which was kind of a novelty, but we wanted to do it at the same time. In the meantime, we've been offered lots of little British dance remixes, and it feels really normal, in comparison, to be doing that--it doesn't seem exciting to do.
Amazon.com: Is there new American electronic music you especially like?
Brown: Right now? There's older stuff that we like, but I don't know if there's anything right now. Strictly in America?
Booth: There are obvious Detroit people that will always be shining.
Brown: Carl Craig's just done some wicked stuff, actually. And Rawkus is probably our favorite label.
Booth: Yeah! Company Flow!
Amazon.com: W hat do you think of the way you came off in the movie Modulations?
Brown: Our mate was saying it's a bit of a weird one. We've got a mate in England who's an art critic, and he completely slagged it. And then there's a load of people who said it was entertaining, but they're all people who don't know anything about electronic music. Everybody I know that knows anything about the artists on it says it's misleading. We haven't seen it.
Amazon.com: Is there any kind of division of labor within Autechre?
Booth: There used to be onstage. Never in the studio.
Amazon.com: Do the records have any pieces that are just one of you solo?
Booth: Oh, yeah.
Brown: The last album was 50 percent both of us, and the other 50 percent was either one of us on our own.
Amazon.com: Do you want to say which ones are which?
Brown: We can't even define it ourselves. Just to think about which one was playing, and when...
Booth: And to think about whether we were doing something to imitate the other one who wasn't there at the time, just to fill in certain realms--it gets really, really fluffy.