Whereas many artists are intent on forcing human cultural forms down the throats of innocent machines, making them play reggae, merengue, banjo music; making them do all kinds of things they would rather not do, then amusing the world with the sicko-comical output of these abusive experiments, Autechre have always let the machines do what they are naturally inclined to do: click, buzz, screech, spin, crash and work at complex mathematical problems. Autechre's predilection for breakdance-era hip-hop, combined with their "We don't know what music is" approach to music, has produced a string of recordings that are equally appealing to the most eggheaded music theorist and the baggiest-pantalooned beat fiend.
Something has changed, however, with Autechre's latest releases -- Ep7 (a misleading title for an hourlong disk) and Peel Session 2, a genuine EP. A new course is being plotted, and on the latter recording the listener can hear this change from one track to the next. The first, "Gelk," is firmly in the territory of what has come before. A vaguely Middle Eastern, accidental-seeming melody is joined by the requisite blips and blorps; a bass line plays counterpoint against the chimes; and the pattern is established. The piece lopes along like a camel caravan through an aluminum desert. The next track, "Blifil," stops this meandering with a purposeful thump. Pure rhythmic noise with robot voices bubbling up, it's one of those Autechre achievements in which the separation of the whole into parts such as notes and drums and melodies is impossible and irrelevant. The barrage of synthesized percussion is not merely something to accompany something else; it is the song itself.
The next two tracks, and the last in particular, show Autechre's new thing. The most striking aspect of this new thing is the impression it gives of carelessness, something you'd never expect from the creators of the precise, exacting works found on previous records. On "With 19 Headaches," it sounds as if the ornery elements that Autechre always managed to coerce into playing nice with each other have gotten out of their control. There is a spastic sequencer churning out meaningless clicks and rushes, something that sounds like someone banging random piano strings with a knitting needle, and intermittent ejaculations of brown noise. Here we are completely in the new territory, the territory of Ep7, which forgoes the melancholy melodies and intricate genre-proof rhythms that were Autechre mainstays in favor of ungrounded, weightless flutterings. Peel Session 2 documents a brilliant group exploring foreign ground -- exploring, but not finding much.