Versions, versions everywhere (plus a red herring): Autechre – Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae

Early yesterday morning, after a number of the wrong kind of glitches at Bleep.com, the final tracks of Autechre‘s Quaristice.Quadrange.ep.ae became available. Versions, versions everywhere: and with this—after 44 tracks, totalling almost 5 hours—i think one can assume that the Quaristice project is at an end. i, for one, have found it to be a fascinating and thoughtful journey. As a whole, the project poses the question of whether any of the tracks from the original release should be regarded as ‘definitive’, or instead that all of the versions are different but equally significant expressions of a common (or even an uncommon) idea. My impression is that both contain some truth; there’s clearly some connection intended to be made, as the track titles bear similarities that invite comparison. Like its predecessor, Quaristice (Versions), then, this album may be heard both in its own context, as well as the wider one encompassing all three Quaristice releases.

It’s a spectacular, if overwhelming album (Autechre refer to it as an “EP” but—at 2½ hours’ duration, it’s only that in a conceptual sense, i.e. in relation to the original album; does that suggest (Versions) is one too?). Its structure is redolent of Pansonic’s Kesto (234.48:4), being in four parts, the first three of which (titled Quaristice.PPP9.ep.ae, Quaristice.9T9P.ep.ae, Quaristice.c9Pn.ep.ae) contain four tracks apiece, the final part (Quaristice.Subrange.ep.ae) containing just a single, extended track. Overall, the track lengths are significantly longer, akin to Untilted, many of them over ten minutes long. The album makes explicit the connection to ambient music that the previous two releases treated more flirtatiously. Nonetheless, the first couple of tracks find Autechre pursuing their avant-dance concepts rigorously; “The Plc ccc” shuffles along briskly in curious cycles, while “Perlence range 7” is positively bursting at the seams with rhythmic pulses, all evolving and shifting in a beautifully organic way. and then, the first slab of ambience, “Perlence Suns”, which is also the first of a number of tracks seemingly to reach their conclusion about two-thirds of the way through, only then to continue with something unexpected. After some more intense beats in “90101-51-6” comes “9013-2”, a baffling lo-fi miniature, bringing to mind the early electronic studies of Stockhausen. “Tkakanren” is exceptional, its dark rhythms underpinned by the impression of a drone; fragments of electronic melody materialise in the mix eventually, subsumed in the powerful bass textures that recur like black waves on a midnight shore. “90101-51-19” doesn’t live up to the version heard a few tracks earlier; the lack of discernible evolution through its 12-minute length makes it sound far too static. “Perlence subrange 3” is perhaps the archetypal track of the entire Quaristice project, melding deep bass pulses beneath laconic percussion, all contained (albeit drifting) within a soft, dark ambient soundscape. Mercifully short is “chenc9-1dub”, a tedious little track sounding a little too much like one of Aphex Twin’s cast-offs. Not much longer but a world away in quality is “9010171-121”, its hectic percussion shot through with stings before a curious, halting conclusion. “Perlence losid 2” picks up where “Perlence subrange 3” left off, sublimating the beats even more into a drifting beat-scape, before coalescing into a deep rumbling rhythm that slowly fades. The ambience continues into “notwotwo”, with the same strange, softly strident chords; like the original, it culminates after about 5½ minutes (and even appears to end), only then to continue in a new direction more akin to “nofour” (from the (Versions) disc), with its ominous twitching bass appearing towards the end. i drew a parallel with Pansonic’s Kesto before; but whereas their final track, “Säteily (Radiation)” explores a fascinating dense noisescape, Autechre’s 58-minute “Perlence subrange 6-36” is both a profound disappointment as well as (dare i suggest it) something of a red herring. The original “Perlence” rhythm has been slowed to a crawl, and while that idea holds all kinds of fascinating potential, all Autechre have done is let their computers meander gently for the duration; the beats never waver, the enclosing ambient wash gently shifts infinitesimally, like clouds on a windless day. i’m used to music of lengthy durations, but i confess this final track became a chore—no, more, in the end it was a pain—to listen to; i shall continue to listen to it, but i suspect this is fit for little more than that most dead of fates: musical wallpaper—played in the background, but not actively listened to. (No doubt Autechre’s army of brain-dead drug-addled “listeners” will find it the perfect vehicle for their narcotic escapades).

All in all, notwithstanding this vast floppy edifice with which they’ve concluded it, Autechre’s Quaristice project has been revelatory and marvellous. If anything, the plethora of versions now available (and how many others, dare one ask, have not been released?) is a testament to the quality and richness of the material. All tracks can be previewed from the Bleep.com website, where you can also purchase the entire album for £10 in FLAC format (or £8 for mp3 – but why would you do that?). It’s also available from the iTunes Store, as four separate EP bundles, but you’ll end up paying more than if you’d bought the FLAC files, and for lower-quality audio.

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