Music: Tri Repetae++ (Autechre)

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-03-19 17:00:00-04:00 No comments

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In his wonderful little book on electronic music, Paul Griffiths wrote "Far from being 'inhuman' or 'robotic', as was often charged in the early days, electronic music is thus a profoundly human art. It is also one that seems peculiarly appropriate at a time when electronic means, the radio and the gramophone, are the principal sources of musical experience for the vast majority of people in technologically developed countries. We may even reflect, with Herbert Eimert, 'whether perhaps it is not the symphony recorded on tape or disc that is the synthetic, and electronic music the genuine article.'"

Lines like this, and the sentiments they evoke, seem best to describe my response to a group like Autechre and in particular the record Tri Repetae++, which repackages the Tri Repetae album plus the Garbage and Anvil Vapre EPs into a two-CD set. Many recommended it to me as a good default entry point for the band, and I have paid that notion forward myself. Maybe there are better individual Autechre records, but TR++ is as close to the Compleat Autechre Experience in a couple of discs as we are likely to get. The duo of Rob Brown and Sean Booth released a good deal of other music after this, and are still hard at work, but somehow every gesture of significance, every aesthetic of importance they have manifested to date, is reflected here.

I found my copy of Tri Repetae++ in a used bookstore, and I didn't realize at first someone had mistakenly swapped the second disc with the first one in the case. By the time I had started ripping the second disc (which collects the EPs), it was too late, but I decided to start there anyway. "Inhuman" and "robotic", for sure: "Second Bad Vilbel" opens with blasts of brown noise, echoing off into silence, and then segues from that into a convulsive, twitching rhythm that sounds like something robots would breakdance to. (And, in Chris Cunningham's music video for the song, they did, sort of.) Only gradually does a mournful, plaintive two-note melody cry out over all this, hinting at actual emotion. Then at about the two-thirds mark, the music drops in tempo by nearly half — which makes each blip-and-boom of the percussion track land even harder, and gives that wail of a melody even more of a contrast. Not inhuman, not robotic. It just sounded that way, until you actually listened.

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The same went double for "Garbagemx", the fourteen-minute opus that might be the single best place to start with Autechre. It also begins mechanically, with a pulse that sounds like flickering radio static, later joined by resonating chords that resemble a drawbar organ, and which long to be heard as whispered or murmured words. Then a beatbox rhythm kicks in, one with the clattering swing of Spanish castanets, and the organ chords we heard earlier become a proper melody. It grows more melodic and plaintive as it goes on, somehow finding a way to reiterate and strengthen every element it introduces without becoming redundant or repetitious. One of the dangers of electronic music is how putting everything on a perfectly BPM-ed grid makes it run the risk of becoming boring, but Autechre find ways to push against that, to make what should be metronomic and dull into something propulsive and textured. And again, that strangely Spanish flavor — something I felt Miles Davis was evoking in a lot of his own work — rises and pervades everything. "The soundtrack to a de Chirico painting" was how someone else described it, and given how I love my music to be cinematic, I could close my eyes and see for myself.

People use the term minimalist to talk about music like this as the easy way to describe it, even when that's not at all what is actually heard. I would never describe "Garbagemx" as minimalist — there's so much going on, so many textures shifting and interacting like moiré patterns, that it's as rich as any symphony. The one track I might dare to call anything like "minimal" is "Vletrmx21", eight and a half minutes of a simple six-note sequence, but subjected to a broad array of slowly evolving filters and reverberations — sometimes bright and piercing, sometimes distant and muffled. The changes are not merely aural; they suggest movement of emotion, too, in the same way the guitar solo in Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" was allegedly inspired by the guitarist being told to play like he'd just discovered his mother had died. For me the most striking change is one of the very smallest — it's at about 3:33, when the filters spike and produce a strange chiming note that is not repeated anywhere in the rest of the song. It sounds to my ears like hope rising against the odds, and then, over the course of the song, never completely dying away, just finding a new place to live.

Then there is the Tri Repetae album itself. The album is far sparser and "glitchier" than their previous full-length releases on Warp, Incunabula and Amber. Both are good, but TR takes more decisive steps into its own freefloating space than those records did. For one, there's a marked harshening of the sound here and there — more use of what sound like ring filters or other ways to give the sound a plangent, metallic resonance (the creepy closing track "Rsdio" in particular). That also gives it an aura of mystery — that emotional component always pulsing below the surface of this music finding one way or another to surface.

I mentioned before how all Autechre's later work seems echoed here. I'm thinking specifically of the extreme abstraction and arrythmia they came to embrace (see: Draft 7.30, which sounds like an Autechre record someone left on the radiator), and which at first to me felt like they had lost the plot. Then I realized that stuff has its own emotion, too — just not the obvious kind — and that hints of it had been there all along. The track "Gnit", for instance, has this weird offcenter rhythm to it that you can't really dance to, and which forces you to really listen to what's going on instead of just respond to it. Ditto "Stud", where at times it feels like three different songs are all playing side by side with no connection save for a common authorship.

Most people I know born before a certain point in time cannot listen to music like this and think of it as music. That's fine; there's plenty of music out there, and much of what they like, I also like. But when I listen to this music, I also know I do not hear what they hear. Or rather, I do not hear only what they hear — not just blips and jitters. I hear a profoundly human art, the genuine article.

Tags: Autechre electronic music music review