Every year, the schism that divides electronic music into two very distinct and easily recognizable halves seems to grow larger and larger. On one side, people dance on a hardwood floor polished so finely that it doubles as a mirror. But the other side does not cater to the kind of kinetic physical movements that arise from a good beat and some warm bass. The other side is an almost unchartable terrain of angular cliffs, post-apocalyptic cities, fissures, and scrap metal that often have neither entrance nor exit.
Autechre's Gantz Graf is an epilogue to the far-reaching ellipsis that was last year's Confield. This new EP/DVD release on Warp digs much deeper and stacks sounds exponentially higher than any of the duo's earlier releases, and in the process, it bridges the gap between the danceable and the absolutely cerebral.
Where there was hyper-algorithmic minimalism before, there is now a flowing contrast of precisely constructed and layered tones that often leave no room to breath. Where an ambient breeze once set an ostensible mood much like a candle-lit dinner does on a first date, such simple luxuries have, on Gantz, given way to cryptic games of sonic cat and mouse.
On the title track, rich and impenetrable bass, which at times almost wheezes from the speakers, grinds up against wiry rushes of kicks and snares as intermittent pinpoints of melody pepper the soundscape throughout. No rhythm remains intact for too long, no sound is repeated more than a handful of times; yet somehow a hip-hop groove whitewashes the fence surrounding the entire piece. Not moving your body becomes impossible. And as the sounds fizzle out through twice-sterilized distortion, a single high frequency keeps the tempo straight while individual tones are highlighted on an aural catwalk before the whole piece finally gives up in with a thick puff of air.
It is these exactitudes -- that is, the perfect placement of every sound and the erasure of anything that might be mistaken as extraneous -- which set a precedent for the other songs on the album (as usual). Precision becomes the theme of the record, and as if this didn't create enough pleasure, the supplemental DVD -- Warp Records' first -- adds sights that offer formidable opposition to the Wonders of the World.
The video for "Gantz Graf" is a computer animation accredited to Alexander Rutterford. And while I have personal issues with visual representations of electronic music, I must set them aside to pay respect to Rutterford's masterful creation.
I can't tell which required more scruple, the music or the animation, but together they accentuate each other so well that them even when listening to the track in isolation, Rutterford's sharp, chromatic images still flutter through my head.
Taking place in a universe void of any other existence, the animation follows the birth and ultimate demise of a geometric and architecturally based living organism. Reread the above paragraph about the title track to get an idea of what this animation actually looks like. It is perfectly synchronized with the music and has fully succeeded in dropping to the floor the mouths of every one of my friends for whom I've played it. It is a truly incredible example of digital aesthetics.
And to put the icing on the cake, when you check out the 'Special Features' section on the DVD, there are two more videos. One of which is for Autechre's "Second Bad Vilbel", as directed by Chris Cunningham -- he's the guy who has not only worked with Squarepusher and Aphex Twin, but also Björk and Madonna, and has even had his videos screened in the UK gallery circuit.
Breaking from his general method of sound = movement choreography, Cunningham has become less intent on finding new ways to incorporate each and every sound into his images and instead opts for the build up a tense mechanical pornography both inside and outside of a robot. Rather than giving a narrative about a little girl escaping from the hospital (see Squarepusher's "Come on my Selector") or following a super-star and his dancers through the Los Angeles wasteland (Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker"), the video for "Second Bad Vilbel" focuses on the basic elements of movement and color in the same way that Autechre's music focuses on the basic elements of tone and timbre.
The Gantz Graf EP/DVD is certainly a lot to chew. Autechre has, as usual, surpassed anyone's expectations of them. And although the EP is only about twenty minutes worth of music, there is enough detail to entertain for a long while. Plus, the videos included on the DVD bring a very new light to their sounds, both old and new.
This type of sound/sight release has already become another landmark for Warp, and I have a feeling we will be hearing/seeing many more like it in the future.