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Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Autechre, 2000


Of all the mutant sounds littering Britain's post-rave landscape, Autechre's might just be the most singular. Through a dozen albums and Eps, Sean Booth and Rob Brown have created an intricately-knotted music out of alien synth lines, mashed Roland beats, crunched numbers, jeep bass, and system dirt. This, and the noise of various gadgetry, morphed and reduced, are used to build complex synaptic koans that shimmer in your head like crazy. In fact, Autechre fill their soundscapes with so much information that, as Eric Weisbard wryly observed, they "don't so much write songs as program ecosystems." But there's another quality, an obstinate emotionalism, that's hard to separate out. At first you wonder why it's there; later you realize how much the fly needs the ointment.
Sean and Rob talked to me from their rural home/studio near Ipswitch, in southeast England. Not being particularly tech-savvy, I was a little nervous that they'd find me an unworthy questioner. But as the self-effacing-if-mildly-ornery Sean put it, "At least you won't be asking stupid questions, like people who think they know what they're talking about." I tried not to.

STEVE: I'm always surprised what an emotional effect your music can have on me.
SEAN: It has to make you feel something, even if it's not something you've ever felt before. It isn't necessarily going to be emotional, as in what people think emotion means. Because I reckon a lot of people are pretty fucked up over that anyway. As far as we can tell, the whole thing is emotional, just because you feel it more than you think about it — you don't really get time to think about it. I think that's why we like to do certain things musically. Music's one of those things people never worked out. I mean, it was about before language.

STEVE: And between intellect and emotion is mostly a gray area.
ROB: Yeah, and I think you get to a point where you can't divide the two.

STEVE: Do you come from musical backgrounds?
Both: No.

STEVE: What got you involved?
ROB: Music was the hub of the whole collection of things that were about when we were twelve, thirteen years old.
SEAN: Hip-hop was something we could make at age twelve. All you had to do was find a good record, nick a bit of it, loop it over, Scotch over it, and then you had a track. We'd been messing around with tape recorders and Walkmans and butchering stuff, so it was that kind of spray-can mentality. Taking pre-fabricated things and really expressing yourself within a short amount of time. Using things that had taken an awful lot of planning, flipping it and doing something that's totally fresh. Not anything the maker had intended it to be used for, but actually turning it into a tool.

STEVE: Where did the obsession with complex polyrhythms come from?
SEAN: Well, in the beginning, when you would see someone scratching, it was, "Fuckin' hell, check that out." Rather than just playing records backwards or slowly, you could go "chka-chka-chka-chka." I think there's more rhythm in scratching than there's been in any kind of dance music that's come before or since.

STEVE: It's not really been looked into very critically.
SEAN: You can get hold of time and absolutely fuck it over, turn it inside out. You're actually, literally, folding time.
ROB: And the format, being analog, goes quite deep with the different pitches. You can get a massive dynamic range across the rhythmic spectrum.
SEAN: When I was first getting spun out by music, it was things like K-Rob, Kraftwerk's "Tour de France," "Hip-Hop Bee-Bop" by Man Parrish — all Man Parrish, actually — and stuff like Jonzun Crew. They were so loose, but so fucking anally tight as well. All that music back then had so much flow to it.

STEVE: Did you have to really seek this stuff out?
SEAN: No. Every kid we knew was into breaking and funk. It was massive over here.
ROB: Even shopping centers would be a hub. There was space, a floor, and a solid roof. You could go there any time of the day and it was usually lit up.

STEVE: So you were mall rats.
SEAN: Yeah, we used to do a bit of that. I would do tapes, so I could avoid being picked on as a nerd, which is what I was. It was easier to give tapes to the hard kids, and suddenly they're your best mate. If you tried to get on with them otherwise, it wasn't going to work. So I used to just make tapes, hardcore remixes of tracks they already had and stuff. They'd be going, "Where'd you get that from?" and I'd say, "Oh, it's an import." It'd be ammunition.

STEVE: This was when you were twelve? I guess your catalog belies the fact that neither of you are thirty yet.
SEAN: [laughing] Are you waiting for us to psychologically crumble then?

STEVE: Not until we talk about bass. It's fascinating how bass shifts to slightly different frequencies with Autechre. Your album, Evane, seems to have several simultaneous levels of it.
ROB: Well, I think it's pretty subjective what the range is for bass, anyway. For most people, it's anything below about two hundred hertz. For us, bass is just a way of getting across some sense of massive scale.
SEAN: It's like an air pressure change that you feel more than you hear. If we can get on a real good, tight sound system, we can do so much with the low end, especially if it's in a little room. I think bass is the hardest thing for a producer to get his head around, really. If you listen to most people's career, you can hear them working out the production from the top down, because treble's the easiest.
ROB: You can control treble in a directional way. But bass in a club environment tends to be from all around. Even though the speakers might be at the front of the house, you can feel it almost in your bones. It's immersive.

STEVE: At times, Autechre soundscapes seem to be in mono, although on that tiny horizon any number of spatial events will be occurring. Are you not so interested in traditional stereo?
SEAN: Scapes, in stereo ... I think we used to do them to an extent, but found that it was usually just a layer that needed to be preserved. And we'd end up just trashing it in order to cock time up, and mess with scale, rather than the scape. And scale can be a mono, one-dimensional thing.
ROB: In our really early days of pissing around with tape machines, we'd cut tape up in as many different ways as you could to make beats. You were basically editing together sounds that were as solid left and right as they could be, all to one level on the tape, to try and make the tracks kick. The best way of doing it was to have just one sound on at a time, not to layer anything. The whole thing would be mono. That was the best way of getting maximum levels. So I guess it's that mentality just being carried through. I mean, stereo's been considered an advancing quality in sound since the '50s and '60s ...
SEAN: But it's almost superficial, really. It's like gloss.

STEVE: You think so? Phil Spector used to call stereo a "distraction." But, I mean, it is based on having two ears.
SEAN: But if you're in a room, then you're using them both even if there's only one speaker.

STEVE: You're more keen on digital over analog, right?
ROB: There was a point where we figured analog was much better than digital, because analog tended to preserve waves in an arc. But no one was developing a super-analog system. So with 48k digital we knew it would double over time, and then quadruple, and exponentially get back to analog in the end.
SEAN: The thing is, we don't really know how much detail we need. It might turn out that 48,000 a second is a ridiculously low amount. We just don't know.

STEVE: I always get the feeling that Autechre is investigating some Area 47 of sound. A point beyond which lies utter mystery. [laughs] So I was wondering if you'd ever experienced the high-frequency "music" of a DMT trip.
SEAN: Not that a DMT question doesn't make sense. It's interesting, you know what I mean? But we can't talk about drugs.

STEVE: Okay, let's get to this. The artwork that accompanies the CDs is extraordinary. But there's never information about who creates it.
SEAN: Us. Since Designer's Republic stopped about two years ago, it's been us. We'd ended up working so closely with them that we were practically doing it anyway. In the end they said, "You should do these yourselves."

STEVE: After all they've done, Designer's Republic is still pretty exciting.
SEAN: They're brillant. Especially Ian. We've known him for years and he absolutely knew what we wanted every time.

STEVE: Is your graphic work a distinctly separate pursuit?
SEAN: We're quite visually oriented. I mean, you can't really help it, it's your first sense. We used to think of the covers as parallels, but now I think of visual art and music as all the same thing. Just the fact that time is involved with music is the only real difference.
ROB: But there are certain aspects of graphics that change over time as well.
SEAN: I think "animation" is ... you could apply that word to everything we do. But loads of people end up packing music in completely and doing something visually oriented. Individuals who start out with sound and work into visuals. It's almost a sign of getting old and lazy.
ROB: Basically it's just accepting the fact that it's all the same thing.

STEVE: You seem comfortable with the older traditions of art-making. Living quietly and getting it done.
SEAN: That's a pretty black and white way of looking at things, and there's a lot of grey area that you can work in. I don't know any traditions. I don't even know what that means. I mean, that's the fucking problem. We're really uneducated.

STEVE: You think so?
SEAN: Well, we're collectively educated. But I don't think we ever know anything about the things we're supposed to know about.
ROB: Our upbringings weren't very traditional, either. Not to be too specific, but for someone in America we must have had a massively different upbringing.

STEVE: How do you mean?
ROB: We're talking about kids who were born after the '60s, but basically just before the '70s. There were a lot of people doing quite socially radical things — it was almost second nature. Their kids didn't fit in anywhere until there were more of them around.
SEAN: We're part of the lineage that doesn't fit anywhere else. Kids under eighteen now don't feel any pressure to fit in, because everyone's a freak. That's what's expected. When we were freaks, we would get our heads kicked in. And a freak then could just be someone with a slightly elongated nostril.

STEVE: The generation you're speaking of were the kids who invented the British rave movement. You had a slim connection to that when you first appeared on Warp's Artificial Intelligence compilation back when. The landscape's got to look awfully different now.
SEAN: What was left over after they kind of butchered it has been swallowed up by a few corporations. Now club culture in England is pretty divided. It's either really small clubs that sustain themselves, or massive corporate halls — like Cream and Ministry of Sound. It's basically just a few companies calling all the shots, making all the money, and getting all the punters, so it's pretty crap. I mean, there are a few little clubs that have survived and that always will.
ROB: I think all these major club companies absorb all the fat, really. The lean stuff, it's still quite interesting, and it does get left alone.

STEVE: Do you still do your radio show, "Disengage," in Manchester?
ROB: Once in a while, yeah.
SEAN: There was a load of us doing it. It wasn't just us.
ROB: It's great, like doing a session at home with your mates.

STEVE: Do you enjoy performing in front of an audience?
ROB: Yeah, definitely.

STEVE: I know you've spent a lot of time developing an organic approach to playing live — retooling equipment, etcetera.
ROB: Well, it's loads different than doing a record. There's no sense in trying to reproduce tracks that we've already released. We find ourselves every night doing a different gig and just totally wanting to re-invent every time.
STEVE: It's possible for you to be improvisational like that?
ROB: It took a few years, but we ended up honing what we use down to such a basic system that we can build really elaborate structures every gig that we do.

STEVE: A friend of mine wanted to know what you think of this trend toward old school producers. Prince Paul, Kool Keith ...
SEAN: Amazing. I've fucking got so much respect for Kool Keith. I've loved him ever since "Ego Trippin'" came out.

STEVE: Man, that was way back with Ultramagnetic MCs, right? And you mentioned Kurtis Mantronix before.
ROB: Ah yeah! "Music Madness" and the Just-Ice LP. I still play them continuously. Funny you should mention Prince Paul though, because I still don't think of him as an old school artist. He's beautiful, though.
SEAN: I don't like all of his stuff. He's a bit cheese sometimes, or a lot cheese. But with Gravediggaz it's all right, because RZA's got so much weight that it kind of holds itself together. I think RZA's the toughest producer going. Even the really duff ones are good.

STEVE: What producers are you listening to right now?
ROB: El-Producto. Shit like that.
SEAN: Company Flow, man. Fuckin­ Thirston Howell III as well. And have you heard the new Req stuff? You should check him out. He's wicked, and he's British. It ain't just hip-hop, but it is at the same time, know what I mean? Kind of more hip-hop than anything you've heard for years, actually. But hip-hop's like — every week it's different, innit?

STEVE: Do you think hip-hop is as avant-garde as academic electronic music once was?
SEAN: It's really weird how in the mid-'70s, while academic music began to stiffen and repeat itself, there was at the same time a complete overturning of any kind of rules going on in the Bronx. Everything was upside down. You could nick anything you wanted, you could use any means, down to using a fucking turntable. How bent is that?

STEVE: Well, it's interesting, the idea of what constitutes "experimental" music has widened so much. It used to just mean, like, Stockhausen.
SEAN: Ah, but he's grand-dad, y'know?

STEVE: I think he's lost his mind.
SEAN: He's wicked, though. He's crazy, but you want a crazy old bastard, don't you? You don't want him to fucking go normal, stop wearing his robes and thinking he's God. You want him to go mad, to actually get there.

STEVE: Pierre Schaeffer?
ROB: Not too much.
SEAN: We're pretty select, see. A lot of the newer stuff I've been listening to is Canadian and French.

STEVE: Such as?
SEAN: Oh god. I'd have to do my Concrte top ten or something.

STEVE: Aaargh, what a cheap shot. Getting you to list your faves.
ROB: You almost got away with it.

STEVE: Okay, tell me about the project you're doing with Coil.
SEAN: We might do some tracks together. We're all up for it, but we're on different sides of the country. They're similar to us in that we're both sort of holed up in little retreats. I think we might have to get together in one of them and try something. But there's also a lot of network possibilities because we're constantly in contact.

STEVE: I'd be excited to hear a remix of Coil by Autechre. The remixes you've done for other artists, especially the ones for St. Etienne and Softballet, are legend. The're so radically mutated from the original, seemingly without adding any new beats or tracks.
ROB: When we used to get right into a remix, we'd take their source material and use it as if it were our own — the stuff that we would have selected out of a broadband of sound.

STEVE: You've gotta spend a lot of time on them.
SEAN: But I think the more we do, the less patience we have as the years go by. We just end up doing our own tracks all the time now. There doesn't seem to be time for anything else, and it's all we really want to do anyway. The only time we want to do a remix is when we get sent something that we can't do ourselves. Plus, we don't need the money.

STEVE: Glad to hear that. A lot of good musicians stay broke.
SEAN: It might be short-lived, though. You never know, we might be swallowed by some other media giant.

STEVE: Like AOL/Time-Warner?
SEAN: How fuckin' scary is that? But see, there'll always be a company, and there'll always be a scab on whatever it is. That'll always be us and our equivalents, whoever they are. Somebody you can't get rid of.
ROB: We're not as hooked up to the main industry as it might appear. We've always managed to stake our little bit and not ask for too much more. And no matter what happens, if we're not able to release music, we'll still have a way to create it — that was the original starting point anyway.
SEAN: We're just making what we like. We're working on the assumption that in the world there's probably enough people who like the same things, and that will be enough to support us. We've got pretty much everything that we want or that we need for a lifetime. That is, unless life expectancy changes.

© index magazinegelatin1
Autechre by Juergen Teller, 2000
© index magazinegelatin1
Bob Brown by Juergen Teller, 2000
© index magazinegelatin1
Sean Booth by Juergen Teller, 2000
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