As a reviewer, I like to assume that each recording I listen to has at least some conscious meaning and design behind it, and that the released recording is—generally speaking—approximately what the artist intended. So that’s my first working assumption: Quaristice is intentional. It’s not the product of label meddling, a lack of talent, a creative block or just laziness. So what could explain this album?
Quaristice has none of the internal coherence or conceptual clarity that made and framed Autechre classics like Amber and Tri Repetae++. So what’s the concept, then? Maybe this bits-and-pieces work is some kind of statement about the demise of the ‘high concept electronica album’ in the age of BiTTorrent, amid the datasea of dodgy rips, no cover art and incorrect track listings. The ‘bitsy’ cover art—which is super-stinky by the high standards set by Warp, Autechre and the Designer’s Republic—reflects something like this. But why ‘say’ this? I mean, these are people whose previous efforts made the CD jewel case sexy (or came as close as anyone could) with incredible design concepts like LP5 and EP7. From the cover art to the album content, I was left wondering whether this was a deliberately average and dull piece of work…or a creative failure.
With a few enjoyable exceptions, Quaristice contains ‘one idea’ sketches with very little progression. There’s very little that hasn’t been heard before, either on Gescom releases like Minidisc or, for that matter, from the bubbling, growling depths of your Nord Modular or Reaktor. Does the fact that Autechre are generating the cacophony make the din any more special? The similarity between Quaristice and Minidisc also makes me wonder whether the former was intended to be shuffled or looped, instead of played sequentially (which was the deliberate concept behind Minidisc). By this logic, placing tracks from Quaristice cheek by jowl with something completely disparate might bring forth the revelation that sequential play resists—but I tested this theory myself with the aid of shuffle for a couple of hours, and came away mostly unrewarded. The Quaristice tracks remained conspicuously uninteresting, almost displaying an unwillingness to get beyond their self-involved swirling, tumbling cacophonies, such as in ‘Fol3’ and ‘Simmm’. Weirdly, it’s as if the tracks themselves are uninterested in being listened to—which actually is quite interesting. There are exceptions to this, like the excellent ambient intro ‘Altbizz’, the hyper/spazz and slightly Aphex-y ‘chenc9’ or the two longer outros ‘Notwo’ and ‘Outh9X’. But sonically, it’s like the past ten years haven’t happened, and compositionally there’s nothing here to match highlights like the arching ‘Nine’ on Amber or ‘Eutow’ on Tri Repetae++.
Perhaps listening to Autechre as a ‘reviewer’ is part of the problem. Maybe the last thing anyone should be doing is taking Quaristice seriously. Perhaps it’s precisely this po-faced bubble of humourlessness—formed around the idea that Autechre are artistically ‘important’ and worth indulging—that needs popping. But, by even raising this as a possibility, have I just proved that I’m not a ‘real fan’? I hope so. If this is the cutting edge, then it has become a blunt and pointless object.