Any connoisseur of electronic music knows that Autechre, an English tandem once associated with the IDM trend, is a must. For three decades, the duo has been offering major works and performances. Here we are at the 14th studio album from Rob Brown and Sean Booth, and… Sign requires several listens before any conclusion can be drawn. We start in electroacoustic abstraction, sensinga beautiful spirit of research, and… the more we advance through the 11 pieces on the program, the more the proposal becomes short of breath. Why this impression? Nobody’s reproached Autechre for over-complicating things for at least a decade now, and many will be delighted by the return of melody, of convivial motifs, of the reduction of textural exploration in favour of more digestible ambient compositions. On the other hand, others will be chilled by what they consider a return to the past or, worse still, a stroll down easy street. Here we are again in the midst of the enduring conflict between pop culture’s rejection of sustained attention to structure in the listener, and the advocates of fundamental research and historical advances in composition in the digital age. These days, the first trend largely prevails over the other, and it can be assumed that Autechre have taken note of this, hence the return to more consensual forms. The harmonies and melodies presented here are rather banal, strings of motifs repeated on the synthesizer, accompanied by synthetic ornaments serving harmonic progressions no more complex than those of instrumental pop intended for mass audiences. The problem here is not so much the return to melody and consonant harmony as their slightness and triviality. A balance between accessibility and exploration was probably desired, but the predictability of the forms persists. A sign of the times?
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