Records Revisited – Autechre – Chiastic Slide (1997)

With their fourth album as Autechre, the two Mancunians said goodbye to the reference set and began their singular journey into unheard sound and massive grooves.

»It’s kind of impossible [for us to return to previous works], we’re not the same people, it would be a pale imitation«. ✽

Autechre’s trajectory has always been that of a progressive continuum, striving away from the familiar without losing the memory of its origins. Each album contains the roots of their creativity and fragments of memories of past works. Each album pushes its predecessor forward. On their 1997 album »Chiastic Slide,« their genre-defining 1995 predecessor »Tri Repetae« clearly resonates. At the same time, it is light years away from it. On »Tri Repetae« Sean Booth and Rob Brown had begun to concentrate on what was to become their outstanding trademark in the following years: taking sound design to the limits of the decipherable. An exploration of sound to its microscopic possibilities. And the continuous searching for new perspectives on the familiar.

Every now and then, individual fan community clusters are disturbed by the fact that Autechre often take this journey in leaps and bounds. People are suckers for habit with a tendency to deep blue fears of loss. In 1995 Autechre had already reached the fringes of our solar system. Two years later, with »Chiastic Slide«, they went full warp, wormhole, world discovery. The listener who dared to follow was up for a lifelong journey of re-learning music perception.

Continuum and…

»We just ended up here by moving point to point, occasionally hopping branches.«

On »Tri Repetae« Autechre had begun to teach their machines the principle of evolution. What seemed like loops were actually constantly mutating ideas. The fixed structures became drift ice. Sometimes they covered several hundred kilometers in one track. »Chiastic Slide« (and many of the albums that followed) continued this compositional approach, which goes far beyond the kit-and-match mentality of popular music from rock to techno, as a continuum. On superficial listening, the pieces seem repetitive. However, those who dedicate their entire concentration to the music find themselves in constantly morphing spaces whose walls remain intangible. Sometimes it takes months to feel at home in one of Autechre’s worlds.

What seemed like loops were actually constantly mutating ideas. The fixed structures became drift ice. Sometimes they covered several hundred kilometers in one track.

Beside this continumm, the nucleus of (almost all of) Autechre’s work remains intact: Hip Hop. Autechre has been hailed as a representative of IDM for decades. As always, no one asked them about it. And at the latest with their EP »Anvil Vapre« from 1995 they had left this music field far behind. For good. To the naive question, which elements belong to IDM, Sean Booth once answered tersely: »Ask someone who makes IDM«. That they are nevertheless held captive in this genre probably has two reasons. One is that they landed at Warp Records at a time when the label was just launching their »Artificial Intelligence« series, which still serves as the blueprint definition of IDM. On the other hand, even after 30 years, fans and journalists are still struggling to find a suitable style classification for Autechre. Perhaps here, too, one should simply listen to Sean Booth when he notes, »we didn’t even make a style, it just seems that way from over there.«

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Hip Hop by Autechre has nothing to do with a Dr. Dre beat. Nor with Push Button Objects or Danny Brown, who have already been quite far out. Hip Hop literally acts as the nucleus, the essence of a groove. As an avatar in virtual reality, Autechre certainly would drift through space and time as a glitched head-nodding. And that essence runs from Autechre’s apparent beginnings as Lego Feet in the early 1990s to the residue echo chambers of »NTS Session 4« (2018).

… Quantum Leaps

At the same time, Autechre made an enormous leap on »Chiastic Slide«. While »Incunabula« (1993), »Amber« (1994) and »Tri Repetae« (1995) still moved along familiar reference sound scapes, »Chiastic Slide« opened a new horizon at that time. Not only did Autechre manage the incomprehensible balance between claustrophobia and boundlessness (due to missing reference lines), dense darkness and hope, aggression and meditation, cold mechanics and organic warmth.

Their sound design became increasingly intangible. The origin and processing of the individual sounds largely eluded (and still elude) any traceability. At best, hihats can be recognized as such. But then the familiar terrain ends. Even the geeks in the relevant forums are still speculating after 24 years. What remains are mere onomatopoetic attributions.

The fact that Autechre don’t wind up in the completely experimental, cerebral corner of music, where it’s all about sounds for the sake of sounds, is Booth & Brown’s real strength. »Chiastic Slide« pumps, mesmerizes and grooves like a beast, even on the loose »Hub« and the gravel-eating »Rettic Ac«. It remains a monolith of mystery and beauty. There are few musicians and none better than Autechre who so perfectly channel their childlike, curious thirst for experimenting with sound and structures into music that is full of emotion, groove and the will to kick ass.

»Chiastic Slide« was their first testimony to this.

Chiastic Slide
Warp • 1996 • from 29.99€