NTS Sessions 1-4 by Autechre

NTS

Autechre
NTS Sessions 1-4 (Warp; Box Sets – 12×LP + 8×CD; DL)

DAYSTREAMING: Over several discs/platters and thirty-six tracks Autechre (Sean Booth & Robert Brown) celebrate their 31st year in business with an 8-hour long, epic box set of all new livestream material, from a radio residency broadcast live back in April, however the physical formats are just out a few days ago. The stark b/w graphic design is spectacularly minimal, reminiscent of classic Raster-Noton box sets. And though this is filled with incredible content I will do my best to skim randomly through this lengthy future masterpiece without Pitchfork-type click-bait superlatives. That said, there is some similar to what we last heard on elseq 1–5 (2016) and 2012’s Exai.

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LISTEN HERE.

And right from the start T1A1 is not without drama + circumstance. What begins in a cocooned ambient space slowly rocks itself open and into a dimensional disturbance. This leads to a signature alienated wooziness that’s not just relatable, it’s darn funky. Bass driven choppy beats are mated with percussive thwacks with sluggish time signatures. On Debris_Funk they incorporate an echo chamber and spacey breaks into the mix. It’s almost a meta take on their first few records that helped birth the whole Warp empire, with similarities to brothers-in-arms Squarepusher, but it’s a slowed down variation on that theme. All the same it plays on soft/hard imbalances in timbre. The atonal skiddishness also has the blank stare constructionist attitude of mid-career Einstürzende Neubauten. It’s a multi-armed machine methodically destroying itself slowly from the inside-out.

North Spiral brings the broken bounce of beats back. It’s as though they are taking cutting room floor edits and making the best of them by re-feeding them into the machine, spitting out the lemonade with a tart insistence. This is freek-flag-funk in the best possible way. They then overlap beats building a beast that defies description, but it’s the crunch and left-of-centeredness that keeps the rhythm chomping along. The final cut on the nine track Session 1 is 32A_Reflected and its sparse layers are somewhat glassy with a bright ambient feel embedded with free-range strands of open sources.

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Next up is NTS Session 2, and I’ve flipped to track two which is Six Of Eight (Midst). In what seems like a complicated structural layout this might never become a blueprint for architecture, but as music it has an off-beat timing that runs on a few slippery tracks. The beats are strident and quasi-modish, and the astral gaming effects are effectively playful, but together become an idiosyncratic earflossing. Sinistrailab Air is under three minutes, but it’s broken glass motif caught my ear immediately. It’s microsound re-invented, filled with a gaseous complexity and finite half-beats. The sunction-like effects are completely infectious.

The concluding Turbile Epic Casual, Stpl Idle runs for 21.5 minutes and offers a space opera soundtrack of sorts. Honestly, if the duo released this as an EP unto itself the impact would be that as a sound project the two were taking on new multimedia stages in scope, in possibility. It’s intriguing as a drone/ambient work as it simply floats with an enigmatic harmony. The volume grows with a cosmic artifice, an act of machination until the final minutes when there’s an apparatus sorting through the digital debris.

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NTS Session 3 kickstarts with their classic sparse electronics on Clustro Casual. The veneer is an intelligible balance between beats and float. A long-ended silky synth plays in the background against the crumbling percussion, yet the whole thing remains self-contained and mostly even keel. The rave edge of Acid Mwan Idle has an outdoor feel, perhaps it’s the cicada-like effects and muzzled low end. Running just about a dozen minutes the structure only changes very subtly throughout bringing about the only semblance of incidental music to these sessions thusfar.

The quiet boing of G 1 E 1 is a welcome break from the harder edge of part of this particular side. With minor reverb the track finds its way between tuning instruments, playing with springs and finding it’s psychedelic side. The playful thematics are sensitive, unlike anything these ears have heard from Autechre in the past. The final cut here, Icari, runs for 20 minutes and employs a ready-to-pounce stance. It has an exploratory feel, almost like a Fluxus jazz free-form atmosphere. It’s dramatic with steps and rocking knocks, flustered electronics and toy beats. The final five minutes are delightfully suspicious.

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And finally, on NTS Session 4 there is a space age track that spoke to me immediately, Mirrage. Once it takes flight there are starry-eyed nuances like we are going back in time to re-do the requiems from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This may be one of those slip-stream pieces by the band that needs more traction. It’s similar to works by S.E.T.I. and even some of the more obscure Eno & co. It’s sci-fi decadence and flows into the more obtusely melodic Column Thirteen. With it’s tick-tock beat, colorful synths and assorted effects there is a fine line between hop-along American Western and stylish European thriller in the making. The chordal structures morph throughout, making the repetitive beats cogently more (and less) pronounced at varying points.

The fleeting spirit of livestreaming a concert or radio broadcast has infinite connotations and possibilities. At just under an hour the finale to the four sessions is the anthemic, and pragmatically entitled All End. It’s a vamped up, amped-up lengthy church organ keystroke with modified shortcuts and subtle insertions. To me, it’s a wry send-up of a ‘big finale’ or extended gusto-infused peak that only starts to dissipate after nearly eight minutes. It’s enjoyable to hear the beginning of a track treated like the startling conclusion, and then proceeding with unyielding caution from there. It gets loud in the center, and tapers back off with wiggly interference. The big piece starts to emulate the illusory impact of  ocean waves at low to high tide, and back again, and repeat.

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