3/9: Seasonally Affective, or Why Autechre Still Disappoints Me

Piano Magic is a loose conglomerate of musicians centered around the person of Glen Johnson, whom Allmusic writer Kevin Taylor calls “the most important figure to emerge from the British indie music scene since My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields.” However, as this Wikipedia article points out, the band began as a trio and then progressed rapidly through a number of lineup changes, which reduced their numbers to two at one point, and increased them to seven at another . It was only after the release of Low Birth Weight that the name Piano Magic became associated almost exclusively with Johnson. But, as though his goal were to make keeping up with the band impossible, Johnson has recruited a few new (and constant) members into his band since that time and has employed an even greater number of contributors, many of whom are probably more recognizable than Johnson himself is. These include Alan Sparkhawk from Low (featured on “Saint Maire”), Vashti Bunyan, Brendan Perry, and members of the Cocteau Twins.

They’ve released records on Darla, Important, Green UFOs, 4AD, Make Mine Music, Rocket Girl, Staalplaat, and several other labels, but despite this fact much of their discography remains out of print or difficult to find. A massive chunk of their singles output was released by Rocketgirl on the two-CD compilation, Seasonally Affective. Sadly, I’ve only seen copies of this available at Amazon, either used or in MP3 format. Artists’ Rifles, a concept record about World War I and currently my favorite Piano Magic record, is also very much unavailable, unless you want to spend money on MP3s or close to $40 on a used CD. Maybe someone will reissue them at a reasonable price on a medium other than digital.

Can’t say that I’m in love with the new Autechre despite liking it a hell of a lot more than Quaristice. A friend of mine pointed out that “D-Sho Qub” (one of my favorites from Oversteps) sounds a lot like a druggy or fractured version of the Beverly Hills Cop theme song. I think she hit the nail on the head. There’s lots of melody on Oversteps, and Brown and Booth have finally re-emerged from the algebraic curtain behind which they disappeared several years ago, but there’s an unfinished and almost cheesy vibe to the whole thing, like they put the first melodies that came to mind on the album. One listener over at Dusted Magazine thinks that the Autechre back-lash is undeserved, but I can’t exactly figure out why from reading his review, unless he really believes his claim about their best material is sufficient reason for overlooking their laziness.

I’ve heard this backlash sentiment repeated by other people though.

The claim appears to be that old-school Autechre fans don’t like the new stuff because it’s inhuman (this seems at least partially right) and that the inhuman qualities of albums like Confield and Draft 7.30 have their own underappreciated appeal. I don’t deny that, but I’d like to hear inhuman music that doesn’t involve machines doing 99% of the band’s work for them (or, I’d like music that doesn’t seem that way). Autechre depends upon their machines and software for more than performance, they make them part of the writing process itself, which isn’t particularly new or shocking in itself, just disappointing in the wake of records like Tri Repetae and LP5. Were they participating in some kind of Cage-ian theoretical exercise or openly producing aleatory music, chances are I’d approach their newer records in a different way and probably cut them a little more slack than I currently do. But I’m not inclined to believe they’re producing academic music at all, especially when they still claim rap as part of their heritage and release mixes that feature “influences” like Scorn, Tangerine Dream, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Necrophagist. Still, even if Oversteps (or Confield or Quaristice for that matter) were a theoretical exercise, it’d be a fairly dull one with some cheesy melodies and half-assed rhythms making up the bulk of its content. I know software and hardware manipulation can make random noises that are loosely rhythmic and appealing in their own way. I don’t need Autechre proving it over and over again, especially if the results don’t add up to much.

Also on this show is the entirety of Songs: Ohia’s contribution to the Travels in Constants series from Temporary Residence. Has to be one of my favorite Molina recordings ever. If you look for it hard enough, you can find copies of it out there.

That wraps it up for this week. I’ll have more to say about the new Liars, Ceremony, and Soundpool later. Thanks for visiting. Talk to you next week.

DOWNLOAD: HOUR 1

DOWNLOAD: HOUR 2

01. Piano Magic “Saint Marie” from Saint Marie EP (2004) on Green UFOs

02. The Notwist “This Room” from Neon Golden (2002) on Domino

03. Mouse on Mars “Hetzschase Nailway” from Glam (2003) on Thrill Jockey

04. Autechre “D-Sho Qub” from Oversteps (2010) on Warp

05. Polygon Window “Quixote” from Surfing on Sine Waves (1992) on Warp

06. Bjork “Pluto” from Homogenic (1997) on Elektra

07. Meat Beat Manifesto “Acid Again” from Acid Again (1998) on Play It Again Sam

08. Xeno and Oaklander “Vigils” from Vigils (2007) on Xanten

09. Silver Apples “Oscillations” from Silver Apples (1968) on MCA

10. Laika “Red River” from Silver Apples of the Moon (1995) on Too Pure

11. Pit Er Pat “Scared Sorry” from Shaky (2005) on Thrill Jockey

12. Songs: Ohia “Untitled” from Travels in Constants (Vol. 14) (2001) on Temporary Residence

13. Do Make Say Think “War on Want / Auberge Le Mouton Noir” from Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn (2003) on Constellation

14. Ceremony “Leave Alone” from Leave Alone/Walk Away (2010) on Killer Pimp

15. Soundpool “Mirrors in Your Eyes” from Mirrors In Your Eyes (2010) on Killer Pimp

16. Chapterhouse “Falling Down” from Freefall (1991) on Dedicated

17. Liars “Proud Evolution” from Sisterworld (2010) on Mute

18. He Said “Com’era Dov’era” from Hail (1987) on Mute

19. Monster Movie “Silver Knife” from Everyone Is a Ghost (2010) on Graveface

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4 comments

  1. Were they participating in some kind of Cage-ian theoretical exercise or openly producing aleatory music, chances are I’d approach their newer records in a different way and probably cut them a little more slack than I currently do. But I’m not inclined to believe they’re producing academic music at all, especially when they still claim rap as part of their heritage and release mixes that feature “influences” like Scorn, Tangerine Dream, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Necrophagist.

    This is the silliest thing I have read all day. Pray do elucidate the origins of that big wall between ‘academic’ and ‘non academic’ music you refer to. Generative music is not, and was never, some kind of quirky experiment, it is a legitimate and prophetic praxis. Ask the people at MAX/MSP what they think of Autechre. It seems like you have really missed the point on this one.

    I actually found ‘Oversteps’ quite disappointing, but can’t bear to not call you out on this.

    1. Why should I have to elucidate the so-called big wall between the two? I don’t think there is one and I don’t think I said that there was. I don’t believe “academic” music is just a quirky experiment either, but I do believe that context is integral to the appreciation of a lot of art, including generative music. And while I’m not suggesting that all bands and musicians should provide the proper context for their audience, I do think it’s helpful when they do and I often find myself appreciating the music more for it. Whether or not one can draw a fine line between what is “academic” and “non-academic” isn’t really all that important, common sense tells us there is at least some reason for the distinction and that Autechre have at least partially abandoned the former for the latter. Perhaps I should use the terms “popular” and “experimental,” but I actually think that’s both less helpful and less descriptive. That generative music inherits at least some of its qualities from academic thinkers and from an academic tradition isn’t very controversial. My point wasn’t that there is a big wall between one and the other, my point is that academic or experimental music is often much more difficult than popular music and for that reason benefits from a little context. If Autechre really are moving into that realm and believe their process to be as important as the end result, I do wish they’d speak up about it!

      Thanks for the comment!!!

  2. I’m actually inclined to agree that art is best digested in context, however my main concern was that you did appear to delineate a clear distinction between, to take your text literally, Cage and hip hop, or Scorn, for example.

    For one, Autechre are quite open about the generative/aleatoric process, in fact correct me if I am wrong but I believe they have even openly distributed max patches of their creation to the public.

    Secondly, ‘common sense’ has long been guilty of drawing some of the distinctions I initially accused you of doing. At some point I believe we must abandon this notion of ‘common sense’ and take a more measured stance. Ask John Zorn or Fred Frith, both benevolently situated behind that invisible line as ‘academic’ musicians, about Scorn, or Napalm Death more specifically, who their Naked City project was greatly inspired by and even collaborated with on a 7″ way back when.

    It is true that there is often a cross pollination between the imaginary silos of academic and non academic music, but I am inclined to believe that is exactly because those divisions are wholly imposed.

    Reading over my post again I actually didn’t mean to come across so heated, I just really disagree with what I read to be a familiar and unnecessary argument, particularly in light of the fact that you are evidently one of the good guys!

    I will keep reading!

  3. i get where you’re coming from, but i don’t think the bulk of their post 2000s work is particularly reliant on generative processes in some set-it-and-forget-it sense. some of it is wacky (untilted) or not my tea (draft 7.30), but oversteps is the most approachable thing they’ve done since confield, or even ep7.

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