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Autechre - Quaristice

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Artist: Autechre

Album: Quaristice

Label: Warp

Review date: Feb. 8, 2008

Music is, at its root, a social construct. Historically – which is to say, before the recorded medium – the purpose of music was to enliven social gatherings. Whether serving a ritual function, as a diversion, or as the reason for the gathering itself, music was part of bringing people together. Not to mention, of course, people gathering in order to play music together.

Recorded music naturally hasn't entirely done away with music as social grease, but there's no doubt that its effects have been widely felt. While a family may have sat around their Victrola in the olden days, after the advent of the LP it's become regular practice to listen to music by oneself. The evolution of the Walkman into the iPod has extended this practice out into the wider world so that now many of us, particularly the younger generations, carry around a continual soundtrack for our day.

While musique concrete is hardly new, the rising popularity of electronic music and its ability to render sounds of a completely artificial nature has coincided neatly with such increasingly hermetic listening habits. While the rhythmically simpler tunes have fed into an ironic return to music as social gathering (raves, dance parties, Studio B), the less accessible electronica is left in a unique position: where exactly does it belong?

Autechre's Quaristice is decidedly not dance music, even though many of its songs are based around some sort of rhythmic construct. It's also not blissed-out drone music of an ambient nature. The sounds are at times friendly, at others ominous and threatening, but always artificial. Autechre makes no attempt to mimic natural instruments, and in fact there's a seemingly intentional avoidance of identifiable sources beyond the basic percussion. Every sound is tweaked and treated, chopped and lowered, from the cartoonish amalgam of cheap blips and splats in "Simmm" to the flanging scrapes and space-age twangs of "Steels." With few exceptions (such as the aforementioned), the song titles are similarly tweaked into meaninglessness and intentionally-poor spelling.

So, while asking the actual purpose of any music is a fool's errand, it's interesting to contemplate the act of listening to Quaristice in today's modern world. As a late night bedroom listen, the rickety beats of "The Plc" seem oddly out of place, though the Lustmord-like cavernous drone of "paralel Suns" [sic] might lead to suitable nightmares. As social music, the album may doom you to another Saturday night alone, unless the partygoers are particularly open-minded. Those who listen to music in the office also might want to avoid this record. You won't have a productive day.

In fact, Quaristice seems most comfortable amidst the modern scrum, a soundtrack for mundane urban maneuvers. Its robotic creaks speak of faulty machinery. The elastic groans suit the everyday grind. The stuttering beats blend with the vehicular polyrhythms. Music and metropolis exist mutually enhanced, leaving the listener alone amid the madding crowd.

By Mason Jones

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