Though i find it a bit hard to believe, today marks the 20th anniversary of one of Autechre‘s most dazzling creations, Gantz Graf. It was the opener on a 3-track EP, but the other two tracks, Dial and Cap.IV, though significantly longer than Gantz Graf‘s mere 4-minute duration, were utterly outshone and outclassed by it. This wasn’t only because they lacked its audacity, but primarily due to the track being accompanied by one of the most breathtaking videos ever made, created by Alex Rutterford. (In this respect, it’s similar to Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker, also the opener on a 3-track EP, and also accompanied by a remarkable video.) It didn’t take long for Gantz Graf to become legendary, though discussion of the piece, both at the time and since, invariably revolves around the video rather than the actual music. In celebrating its 20th anniversary, i want to correct that a little, and examine properly what’s going on under the hood.
During the latter half of the 1990s, Autechre’s tendency was to create more lengthy, expansive tracks in which the foreground beats and the atmospheres around them would gradually change and evolve (something they would extend considerably further in the years ahead). This approach also applies to Dial and Cap.IV, but Gantz Graf is a compelling contrast to this, in terms of both the clarity of its structure and its relative tightness, compressed down to just under 4 minutes (over 90% of Autechre’s output prior to this date was longer than this, averaging around 7 minutes).
On a first listen, it’s easy to feel confused and overwhelmed by the track’s intense approach to beats, slicing them up into slivers and firing them out like a chorus of interlinked machine guns. It perhaps explains why a contemporaneous review of Gantz Graf – written by Sarah Dempster and published in that most unlikely of places, the NME – embarrassingly failed so completely to make any sense whatsoever of what Autechre were doing. Yet Gantz Graf‘s volatile, rippling surface is just that, a surface, being merely the outer level of an altogether more coherent and engrossing object.
It’s not immediately obvious, but the entirety of the piece is structured around 8-bar sequences, beginning with an 8-bar Introduction that establishes the pulse (123BPM) and the nature of its rhythmic complexity. (For years i heard the beginning of the intro as an upbeat, which throws off the pulse completely; it begins on a downbeat.)
This is followed (0:19) by Section A, comprising 8+8+9 bars, which presents what amounts to a pointillist, pentatonic melody, with one note per bar:
A – C – A – Bb – Eb – C – Bb – Bb – Gb – C – Bb – A – C – Bb – Eb – C – Bb – Bb – Gb – C – Bb
Throughout this sequence, the underlying beats, though complex, don’t meaningfully change at all, working to support this melody. Though low in the mix, Autechre tease it out slightly by putting just a touch of reverb onto each note. Considering that, for the most part, Gantz Graf could almost be described as being in mono as it’s so focused on the centre of the stereo field, this tiny reverb makes all the difference, while also implying a broader musical environment than is at first obvious from the muscular gyrating going on right in front of us. i call it a ‘pointillist’ melody, and while that’s true – the notes appearing staccato, one at a time – the way that the five pitches are used throws emphasis onto the intervals, strengthening their connectivity. What’s immediately obvious from this is that the melody systematically utilises all of the smaller intervals – minor and major second, minor and major third, perfect and augmented fourth – while avoiding suggesting any particular tonality. This emphasis on intervallic movement also highlights that two large chunks of the melody (beginning Bb – Eb) are a strict repetition. So for all its superficially relentless movement, this opening section is actually extremely simple.
The last portion of the section, starting on the final note of the melody, begins a 5-bar bridge. Here the unchanging beats are captured and repeated, first sped up to a high point that happens exactly halfway through (2½ bars in) before unravelling the other way, slowing down to lead into the next section.
Section B (1:08), comprising 8+8 bars, is a truncated and varied version of Section A. Having previously been stable, the rhythms are now continually erratic. Only the downbeats are clear, everything else is a wild mess of jittering and juddering beat fragments, becoming so contorted that they start to form exotic metallic pitch shapes that squall and drill into our ears. The melody returns, same as before, but is much harder to make out due to being in the midst of such rhythmic ferocity (plus the fact no reverb is used here). Halfway through this section a hi-hat can be heard; it’s not clear whether it’s been present before this point, but it continues from here as a kind of semi-present locus for the pulse, which would soon otherwise become hard to keep track of.
After 16 bars, the melody and beats are interrupted by Gantz Graf‘s most lengthy section, which functions as a Development (1:39). Comprising 8+8+9 bars (the same as Section A), Autechre take further the convolution from Section B, splintering the sounds even more, resulting in piercing blasts and spasmodic squelch. They also play with the track’s rhythmic cells, occasionally breaking up their regularity with dotted rhythms. During the last 9 bars, there’s a recurring dyad (E – Ab) that crescendos but is silenced twice before eventually climaxing on a strong Bb on the final beat of the section.
This is an upbeat to what i’m going to call the Middle 8 (2:27), though it actually lasts 8+8+6 bars. It goes in the opposite direction from the Development, doing away with hyperrhythms and rendering the pulse moot (though it never truly goes away). Instead, the music focuses on a more drifting exploration of its beat fragments, along the way becoming increasingly filled with pitched rather than percussive sounds. A small melodic idea materialises (Bb – Ab – Bb – Gb – Gb – Ab – Bb), and the track becomes briefly hypnotised by it. This is abruptly interrupted by an 8-bar Transition (3:11) where Gantz Graf‘s engine convulses back into life again and the pulse is emphatically restored by the return of the hi-hat.
Section C (3:26), 8+7 bars long, is the shortest and simplest of all, featuring wild, rapid-fire percussive breaks that play out after the downbeats, each of which is heralded by a preceding fanfare-like blur of glitched pitches, Gb – Bb – E; this blur resolves on D on each downbeat, a pitch reinforced in the bass (all these pitches are admittedly a little hard to make out). In the final bar the metric pattern is finally broken as the fire driving the engine blows out, bringing Gantz Graf to an end.
It’s amazing that such a wealth of intricate musical invention and variety can be packed so clearly and concisely into just four minutes of seemingly chaotic music. Though Autechre have since returned to smaller-scale structures on occasions (most significantly on 2008’s Quaristice), large-scale evolutionary / generative forms have dominated their music, making Gantz Graf a wonderful miniature oddity in their output.
Gantz Graf was released by Warp Records on 5 August 2002, as both a standard CD single and a 2-disc edition including a DVD. Copies of both can still be found via Discogs, and downloads are available from Autechre’s Bandcamp.
Over the years, several unofficial video rips of Alex Rutterford’s stunning video for Gantz Graf have appeared on YouTube, but the visuals have often been poor, and in the most prominent version on there at the moment, the audio is horribly out of sync. My own (in sync) version can be watched below – but listen to it first, then watch it.
Bravo for this post, which provides a great analysis of a track that I always thought too fast and furious for clear description.
“My own (in sync) version”….whot doo u mean… yer own?
i made it a while back, as there wasn’t a decent version available online. Took the best available video i could find (presumably a 1080 upscale) and resynced it with a fresh CD rip.