Released with virtually no fanfare or hype in 1993, Autechre's full length debut *Incunabla* is now considered the watershed pinpoint of early experimental electronica, `pure' IDM ambient at its finest. Sheffield natives Rob Brown and Sean Booth, childhood hip-hop aficionados and graffiti artists, began with this album a career trajectory in sonic manipulation that, in reflection, is as baffling as it is monumentus, the scope of which must be calculated in non-verbal experience, rather than the usual superlative expressionism (though we try, we really do...). *Incunabula*, Latin for `cradle' or `origin', is a fitting title for this sublime gem; when directly compared to Autchre's more recent releases like *Confield*, very little similarity can be discerned, at least superficially. But when taken in context, record to record, a journey of mind-boggling proportions unfolds, and the seeds of Autechre's eventual exploration of chaos-within-order sound structure can be found on this, the `birth' record, by far the most accessible and least-demanding work of Ae's oeuvre...and, consequently, considered by many as their best.
Whichever Autechre you prefer - order or chaos - *Incunabula* stands as one of the catchiest `cold' albums in existence. The gray tones of the cover visually distinguish the overall color-scheme of the entire album: in the mind's eye, I am constantly reminded of overcast skies, windswept mountains clad in ice; dull chrome and greasy steel; the pall of industrial fumigation and the necroshine of a neon-drenched cityscape. Fans of Autechre often describe this music as the closest aural equivalent to the Song of Machines, all clicks and bleeps and grinding gears, mathematical equations hardwired into sonic representation. There is very little ~human~ element to Ae's music, and yet, therein lies the source of its beguiling mystique: music like this could never find an adequate genesis with organic instruments. *Incunabula*, and especially *Tri Repatae++* and *Confield*, is the soundtrack of our 21st century tekgnosis: a cybernetic evolution of communication: the future, now.
In hindsight, *Incunabula* is perhaps Autechre's most shallow album; but `shallow' is a deceptive term, for the depths of even this birth-record cannot be fully grasped in the first, or even tenth, listen. Tiny, pivotal details surface with constant re-examination, and it blows my mind that this was made by two guys in their early twenties. I also find *Incunabula* to be Ae's most ~fluid~ record: each song flows into the next, there is virtually no filler, and the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. The sonic palate is consistent throughout - chattering breakbeat percussion, supplemented by deep bass currents, are gradually overlaid with Eno-ish synth tones and garnished with precise effects; hooks appear, anchoring the ear, then either attain climatic denouement (as in `Eggshell') or else morph/contort/ and/or drift away in the stormfront haze. Most effectively, the overall soothing consistency of the album is punctured at strategic points, giving a whiplash snap to the ambient flow, such as the opening snarl of `Doctrine' after the aforementioned glide of `Eggshell', or the smarmy hip-hop parody of `Lowride' on the whispering tail of `Windwind's' devastating death-fugue. Other highlights include the almost-giddy `Bike', its shimmering melodies augmented by melancholic growls; the meticulous drive of `Basscadet', its harsh effects-rhythms and moody ambience giving us a brief taste of Autechre's future releases; and finally `444', the closing epic, wherein the evanescence and subtle brutality that has preceded find culmination - truly, a paean to the lonely, disconnected nature of cyberspace and its plugged-in denizens.
Or, to use an organic metaphor, *Incunabula* is the soundscape of winter, of earth subsumed by a cold, crystalline surface of snow, nature buried under Melville's terrifying whiteness - the abyss codified and, at least in this record, made palatable. Initiates into IDM should start here, then progress with the warmer *Amber* (autumn) and *Tri Repatae++*, Autechre's indisputable mechanistic magna opus. I personally like both of those albums more than *Incunabula* - concepts introduced here are simultaneously built upon and deconstructed - but neither are as accessible or as wistfully poignant - in an innocent sort of way - as this birth-record, the first step of a long and perilous journey from order into chaos.
Highly recommended for adventurous ears
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