"It's like looking at gene cycles, who inherits what. You've got your X and your Y, and you mix them." Autechre's Rob Brown is attempting to conjure an apposite image to describe the electronic duo's impressively symbiotic musical partnership, which stretches back almost two decades. "The things that Sean's comfortable with are X, uncomfortable Y, and the same with me. I can be going through my Y phase while Sean's in his best X phase, and vice versa, but then there are moments when we're both on X, and that's when it really works. We try to catch those apexes." As metaphors go, it is, like the duo's music, convoluted, slightly odd, but somehow completely logical. Sitting in a Manchester bar, the duo spark off each other with the same infectious enthusiasm they had as callow 80s electro obsessives in their original hometown of Rochdale, and complete each other's sentences in much the same way that they elaborate on each other's musical contribution onstage. "Disagreements only happen when you enter the conscious world, when you try to consider things", explains Sean Booth. "It's more about our knowledge of what the other likes - though we try to push that as well - 'Have a bit of this'"
The slight distaste Booth evinces for the word 'consider' might seem odd coming from one of the architects of such groundbreakingly complex and painstakingly constructed albums as Confield (2001), Draft 7.30 (2003) and Untilted (2005), all of which are nothing if not 'considered'. With their new album Quaristice, however, Autechre have traded scrupulous construction for spontaneity, looseness and improvisation. Since the turn of millennium, a gap existed between their ever more experimental album releases and their (slightly) more straightforward live sets, in which their uncanny rapport reaches its fullest expression. The new album draws heavily on this live methodology. "We were putting live tracks down in the studio, messing them up, making them into versions, which eventually became new tracks," explains Booth. "We put down loads of hour-long jams of bits of the live set that we were going to edit later. But we found ourselves just writing new tracks on the same set-up. We'd got to the point where we were fluid enough for stuff to just come out." Brown elaborates: "Anything that existed from the live set we'd already been changing for a year or more. We were totally adept at getting stuff from nowhere. So the new tracks are like ghosts of what we'd been doing live." Bearing in mind their famed meticulousness - by Booth's own account they are "incredibly anal and precise people" - it seems remarkable that they made the decision deliberately to limit the scope for tampering with the fine details of the tracks. "I wish it were that romantic, but basically we'd barely set our studio up after I'd moved to Manchester," admits Booth. "It was just convenience. We can't resist temptation; it's more that we've learned to remove it. Once you record something as audio, two channels, you're pretty much stuck with it. So we've learned to prevent ourselves from being able to do it." The resulting album is their most relaxed and multifaceted to date, each of its 20 short tracks showcasing a particular mood of approach, from Ambient drift to tangles of distorted beats, rather than morphing from one extreme state to the next. It cuts back on audio sleights of hand and trompe l'oreille extravagances. By Autechre's standarts, it's almost throwaway, but that's not meant as a criticism. Rather, Quaristice is as aesthetically rigorous as you would expect, but its immediacy also reflects some of the rough charm that the duo exude onstage.
A romanticised view prevails of Autechre's supposed background as B-boy scallies terrorising the streets of Rochdale, tagging the local bus shelters before retiring to their rooms to devour mixtapes of the most obscure Stateside hiphop and electro. From there it's tempting to imagine them discovering acid (the drug) and Acid (House), half-inching some equipment to make their own tracks and then discovering that not only were they musical geniuses, but they'd magically invented 'Intelligent Dance Music' to boot. There's a raised-eyebrow snootiness to the notion that their early influences are too unsophisticated to be anything other than mere juvenilia, an assumption that such music should be disowned by the duo now that they are Serious Artists. The enthusiasm with which Booth and Brown discuss the music of their youth makes it clear that this is far from the case. They're far happier discussing old Man Parrish and Mantronix 12"s than the latest advances in MicroHouse or minimal Techno, It's more useful to assume that they heard the music in a different way to their peers, imagining phantoms inhabiting the wide-open spaces in the stripped down production, decoding the mathematical formulae underpinning the beats, revelling in the textural minutiae of the synthesized stabs and grainy samples. Perhaps it's not overly fanciful to conclude that their own music represents their attempt to reveal the secrets they had unearthed in those apparently simplistic early tracks: Autechre as a musical representation of the engaged imagination.
"Sometimes you have to accept that you're a product of your environment," muses Brown, "and no matter what input you want to put into that environment, that's just your personal taste, the culmination of all your influences, being creatively voiced one way or another, like a painter might do." "With 80s hiphop," says Booth, taking up the theme, "I was too young to understand what was going on but I knew it was amazing, I knew which new records were good , and i still think the same ones are the good records." The first music the duo made at he turn of the 90s was ostensibly hardcore, but even then their unconscious musical instincts were pushing them in directions that didn't endear them to their peers in the movement. "When Hardcore started, it offered a lot," recalls Booth. "It felt like a collision of Acid and hiphop, everything. But people said our Hardcore tracks weren't obvious enough." Once they had found a sympathetic label that actively encouraged them to follow those instincts without compromise (Warp, to whom the duo remain signed some 15 years later), they shed the outer husk of their straighter dance influences - partly because Warp favoured the weirder, more Ambient tracks that were compiled for Autechre's debut album Incunabula - but you get a strong sense that they're driven by the same urges even today. It's evident in their terminology - a world of "mad sounds" where the most impossibly intricate passages of their compositions are called "bits" and byzantine programming results in tracks that are "proper intense" - as well as their deep suspicion of any analysis or dissection of their methodology.
From 1997's Chiastic Slide onwards, Autechre's music has provoked ever more polarised opinions. Naysayers accuse them of abandoning the sleekness of line and engaging depth of their previous work (1995's Tri Repetae in particular is still senn as an IDM primary text) in favour of a hyper-complexity that can become convoluted and inaccessible. "I usually ask people what they do when they sit on a train, look at every single blade of grass that comes past window?" bristles Booth. "That's bogus, that line of conscious appraisal, it's led by previous programming of how to appraise product. Some people are so tied up with the whole issue of understanding - they think you need to understand something in order to like it. People have been programmed by American advertisers and various other cultural forces throughout the 20th century. They feel they have to be rewarded on their terms. The want you to hold the mayo. That's very much where this comes from in my opinion, this idea that 'We're an audience, and we've got various expectations that you're supposed to fulfill'." Neither are they happy with the line of argument that characterises them as white-coat-wearing eggheads conducting sonic experiments in their studio-cum-laboratory. "That's when you get these bogus theories, because they've used one to explain what should be a basic feeling," complains Booth, Brown is slightly more forgiving: "Our music is there to be analysed if you want to," he concedes, "but there are so many events to consume, you shouldn't tie yourself down to worrying about whether one event is material to the one before it. you should let it come at you like a wave, not look at every bit of froth of a wave that breaks on a shore."