Autechre‘s elseq 1-5 is a four hour anthology consisting of five individual EPs, each compiled together loosely upon conceptual coherence between the constituent tracks. elseq 1-5 is an exercise in release format rather than just content; the artists behind Autechre seek to utilize the immediacy of the digital age, releasing tracks “as they go” without traditional limitations imposed by the “album.” Granted of course this collection appeared as a hulking and impenetrable dump rather than a sequence. This point bears worth remembering as this overview proceeds as the temptation to view elseq 1-5 as a complete work, or works, is ingrained in popular habits.
Each track is comprised of non-repeating linear progressions pushing onward nearly without melody while advancing timbre, rhythm and space. The contrasting voices bubble and surge, causing the music to take on a character more equitable to shape and structure than human emotion in the abstract. While the songs as wholes unfold via generative programming, the actual compositions are driven by conditional logic packets created by Autechre. Thus one finds a marriage of intentionality with the near improvisational aspect afforded by computerization whose offspring share in a distinct lineage.
The result draws from the artists’ discography as they’ve written decades of experience into the building of long form narratives. It is difficult to pinpoint an overarching subgenre within which elseq 1-5 may be categorized. Ambient music is as likely to develop into blistering Drum and Bass as it is to linger in deliberate minimalism before destroying itself not unlike their watershed Draft 7.30; that album’s chief concept was in taking fully complete songs and tearing them apart piece by piece. Here on elseq 1-5, there is a unity to the creation and deconstruction where elements seem to fall out of favor but have merely mutated while falling into background importance. Impermanence is perhaps an unintentional concept that finds its way onto these tracks.
As noted early, the use of space is an emphasized aspect of this music which in a way fulfills the predominant western weltanschauung as the infinite expansion into said. The stage of these tracks are filled with sounds near to the listener and at a distance which creates the impression of a vast expanse whose endpoint is merely the artifact of the limitations of human senses. This is most evident on the spherical liquidity of “c7b2.” The track “freulaeux” is constructed over four to the floor acid techno whose throbbing pulse is subjugated by airy chords lending to a synaptic rather than somatic waltz. “acdwn2” by contrast is heavily dependent upon helical pillars of rhythm which rise and fall to the ebbing waves of a primordial, haunting chorus. Within that world the strange speech of contorting lifeforms comes through only as lines of vibrating static which crinkle and crack as if they we are witnessing their birth and death occurring in mere instants. Next “spaces how V” places sound at different spatial locations with a rhythm patterns being played above the center plane out of which synth transmissions arise beneath, swelling upward and cast out horizontally into the void. Other tracks “foldfree casual,” “pendulu hv moda,” and “eastre” deserve special mention as the most viscerally emotive tracks who deserve their own lengthy delineations.
Package three and five are the most ambient with five chiefly focused upon stark minimalism over three’s more full and lush explorations. Four is perhaps the best purchase for the metal audience as it is the most extraverted, energetic and forward moving of the bunch. One and two are more enigmatic by displaying the most abstract and confrontational material. It is difficult to ascertain who the second selection is more at odds with: itself or the listener. The approach taken to create this vast collection of music does not always produce aesthetic value but Autechre do manage to produce a hand-full of their greatest tracks.
As can be intuited by the preceding sketches, Autechre craft individual worlds which slowly change as the life within adapts to pressures exerted by itself and its environment. Unlike other forms of narrative composition, these tracks are not marked by dramatic swings or logical conclusions. The run times are merely snapshots within a timeless unfolding. In a way this method of linear composition is not unlike the experience of human life which undergoes subtle changes from the day it is born to the day it dies, dying without reaching a true apex or climax of purpose – the greater story of the universe remains forever inaccessible. What is interesting is that the moment to moment experience of these tracks feels consistent in the same way we perceive our character to be persistent throughout our life. The changes become pronounced through recollection or dream where the chapters of the story are view out of sequence revealing changes and contrasts more clearly. This becomes clear when skipping to various points in each song to deny suspicions of stagnation.
Listeners are free to compile the work in an order they feel appropriate or simply dive in to any singular track at will without doing a disservice to the artists’ intent nor the music itself. elseq 1-5 is a sacrilegious not only in terms of offending the sanctity of the cohesive album but also in the expectation that the listener is to engage emotionally with a progression of chords or notes. It does this by stressing other musical elements. Beyond such transgressive measures, Autechre have supplied work which rewards patient and attentive listening which is commendable if not sorely needed in our times.