Autechre / The Hafler Trio
Die Stadt Music
t its heart, electronic music is all about space. The genre originated in the popular imagination through science fiction films like Forbidden Planet, both as music accompanying space voyages and as sound effects to populate the aural frame. As much as electronic music has grown and developed into countless different sub-genres, each with its own aesthetic, most electronic music is still founded on blips, bleeps, whooshes, and other “spacey” sounds. That’s true whether you’re talking about Moby, Aphex Twin, Autechre, William Basinski, Tim Hecker, Taylor Deupree, Radian, ISAN, Frank Bretschneider, or even Björk.
Of course, every one of these artists interpret that concept of “space” differently; some, like Autechre and Deupree, focus on examining space at the molecular level; their music often resemble the nuanced chaos of a particle accelerator at work. Others, like Basinski, take electronic sounds and stretch them out to their breaking point; the effect is to imagine space as something infinite, ever-expanding. What’s fascinating about Autechre’s most recent collaboration with The Hafler Trio is that, on this work, Autechre seek to merge their chaos-spewing collisions with The Hafler Trio’s recent infinite ambient drones. So what you get here is music that seems to float effortlessly along in a sea of quiet contemplation until, well, your silent spaceship runs into solar flares and the pops and noise overwhelms everything that was once so still and peaceful.
Listening to this two-CD set is, I must admit, a little like being on a transatlantic jet that flies halfway from New York to London in the upper stratosphere before encountering turbulence that rocks and rolls and otherwise jars the passengers awake for a few minutes before the air calms down and everyone can go back to sleep. It’s not particularly pleasant for your peaceful nap to be interrupted in this way, but it’s such an unusual and frightening adventure that it’s certainly hard not to appreciate it.
Now, my analogy makes the music sound at once both boring and annoying; it’s neither, actually. It’s also not nearly as two-dimensional as I’ve implied. The silent bits have their share of sputtering, warbling noise and the noisy bits are never true noise (there’s structure there). But the overriding response I had while listening for the first time was one of surprise, some confusion, and a bit of irritation when the chaos arrived and a pensive satisfaction when the quieter bits re-emerged. Of course, that gives away my penchant for soft sounds over noise; others might have the opposite reaction.
I don’t really know what this music means or what its significance in the larger musical world might be (or even how it fits into the oeuvres of Autechre and The Hafler Trio). That stuff is boring, anyway. What counts is how I felt when listening, and, as I suggest above, I really enjoyed the soft, stretched-out, eternal passages here more than the noisier, particle-accelerator stuff. I guess that suggests I’m more of a Hafler Trio guy these days than an Autechre guy. Still, the two sides of the electronic universe need each other, so it’s good that they meet on occasions like this, if only to exchange email addresses.
Reviewed by: Michael Heumann
Reviewed on: 2005-07-29