for the columbus date autechre (with russel haswell and rob hall opening) was scheduled to perform at wexner center for the arts.
the location of the venue put the whole show in a different context (at least in my mind). this is why I had no idea what kind of crowd to expect for this show. to tell the truth, I was curious to see many people that would not attend "ordinary" shows, since they do not carry the snobbish "artsy" status.
but it turned out to be a lot simpler. the crowd consisted of young kids obviously interested in electronic music, as well as of many raver kids that were completely out of place, but at least it was fun for many to watch them trying to dance to russel haswell's dj set, and eventually leaving once autechre started.
all 450 tickets were sold out before the show - which makes me wonder who all those people were, since I never saw this kind of attendance on any of the other electronic. undeniably, autechre is probably the most well-known electronic band to visit the city (at least in my memory), but still, it is sad to see local ele-mental crew of djs and musicians suspending their weekly events because of the lack of interest.
ever since the initial announcement of this show my expectations for it steadily went down. starting with disappointing "confield" that I still cannot get into, and continuing with many negative and simply apathetic show reviews on mailing lists. at last, I merely wanted to see autechre play, and prepared myself for a bleak and boring performance.
for first half an hour or so russel haswell treated the crowd to a very interesting mix of broken idm tunes, drum&bass, heavy rhythmic workouts in best acid techno traditions, as well as some amusing additions of death metal or pop tunes. his set was broken down and disarranged, and even though at times it became simply irritating, for the most part it sparkled with ingenuity and energy.
all in all, I was very impressed with his set, and it would probably be a compliment to mention that initially many people perceived him as autechre (I do have to say he used some of the "trademark" autechre sounds which might have caused the initial confusion).
in between two huswell's sets rob hall occupied the stage, presenting a mix of standard dance club tunes that soon drove most of the people out to the fresh air (which definitely raised my opinion about the crowd).
finally, at 10pm the lights went out and autechre took over the stage. the whole live presence basically consisted of both guys almost hidden behind the equipment, twisting knobs and nodding along with the music. the performance space was almost in complete darkness, only lights from the mixer and powerbook lighted the stage and the audience around it.
before the show I perceived the whole performance in the darkness merely as a cheap trick, an attempt to do something avant-garde and original. a minute or two after into the first song, and I realized how necessary it really was.
when autechre started I was sitting down, looking at the scene from the balcony. and even though it was dark, the darkness was not complete. I still could make out the crowd and the band themselves. interestingly enough, this quickly turned out to be a nuisance, when I simply could not follow the music closely, distracted by those seemingly subtle details.
ideally, the room would be indeed pitch black, without any trace of light, except for the duo itself. and even that (at least in my case) proved to be distracting. I guess at certain point it is the music for the sake of music, and there's no use for the visual part. it should be removed for being unnecessary. the music that is pure improvisation is only true representation of the band.
this is actually a point taken to the extreme - the best music show for this kind of "music for the mind" that requires an intense concentration and undivided attention should be performed in such venue where the audience could not be distracted by anything from the sole purpose of listening to music. which, at first, might defeat the whole point of the live show to begin with, but this is when improvisation and unpredictability of the musicians comes into play.
almost unconsciously, I closed my eyes and made myself comfortable. and then, finally I was able to truly listen to the music and follow all the little intricate elements that make up autechre as I used to know it. I have locked everything else out but the music, and then tried to follow every little detail, shift, and sound that appeared. starting with the second song, i realized why i liked autechre in the first place. it was a complete sensory overload, but somehow I managed to keep up. their performance was pure music for the mind - once i was able to focus upon the music only, it has transformed and revealed itself as a beautiful, intricate entity that was simply breathtaking.
I was able to follow each song in its entire 10+ minutes, and at any point of the concert I was never bored. most of the audience, especially those that came to "feel the groove," would visibly grow uneasy after first few minutes of each track (of course that does not relate to any of raver somnambulists that would dance to anything that has beats). it appeared that at some point they simply could not keep up with the music any more. their mind would start drifting, distracted by the crowd, or the band itself. later, I have been told that the beats quickly became boring, and all the intricacies that make up autechre, simply appeared to them as "muffled noise" and "static."
I was lucky enough to be seated down, with speakers positioned above and below me. the sound was loud and remarkably clear. at certain points I could actually feel the floor vibrate with deep bass, which afterwards made me wonder about the biological nature of autechre rhythms synchronizing with heartbeat.
autechre performed for about hour and a half with average song length running well over 10 minutes. each track had a solid percussion part with steady unchanging beats that served as a foundation for incredibly layered refined bouquet of sounds. arrays of small pops and clicks, dropped in at random, followed by tweaked frequencies, bleeps, scratches, skips, rattling noises. it was a fascinating, rich mixture that was completely unpredictable. and on top of that it was *fast* - nothing near the pace of "confield" - a stream, a waterfall of incredible density, constantly changing, evolving and morphing. its depth was only accentuated by aggression of straightforward percussion.
I was completely exhausted after the show, as if I was moving around the whole time, instead of sitting down comfortably with my eyes closed. maybe my ears were not that "fine-tuned" and it took me a lot of energy to keep up with the music. in retrospect I wonder how much of the show I would have missed if I did not have a chance to sit down and concentrate. I wish recent vromb/orphx/silk saw concert in NY was held in a similar, more comfortable venue, where everyone would have had a chance to fully get into the music.
this is why any autechre concert should never become a glamorous performance, simply because it would be distracting for the music that is complex enough to occupy audience without any room for anything else. it is complete in its entirety and does not need any visual help to conceal any weaknesses.
I am not sure how often I can listen to music like that, it does require so much from you. of course my ability to hear and "comprehend" music is something that can be improved and developed, so given enough time and desire, it gradually would become easier to follow autechre into its world, that each time seems to be a few years ahead of its listeners.