Artificial Intelligence
June 6, 2014 11:39 AM   Subscribe

In 1992, the then-young independent British record label Warp Records launched a series entitled Artificial Intelligence. A foray into what the label called “electronic listening music”, the seminal chain of albums forever altered the way electronic music was viewed, written, and heard. At the time, most of the electronic music known to the public was club/rave/dance music. Though this had it’s place, Warp’s founders, Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell, had a vision of electronic music that could be listened to and enjoyed rather than only dance to.
Warp's Artificial Intelligence series revisted.
posted by jontyjago (30 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
I like this!
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:43 AM on June 6, 2014

Great writeup. There's so much pretension around "IDM" as a genre but honestly, there's a lot of really interesting music and Warp was a big pioneer in marketing it.

Also a good time to remind everyone of Bleep, Warp's pioneering online MP3 store that launched in November 2003. They were the first major label to sell DRM-free downloadable music tracks directly. Apple's iTunes came in April 2003 and had an enormous mainstream impact, but Bleep showed the way that you could just sell MP3s and FLACs without a bunch of copy protection nonsense and it would all be OK.
posted by Nelson at 11:48 AM on June 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

Buried in the article and deserving more attention: (Motion), the only video installment in the Artificial Intelligence series.
posted by ardgedee at 11:53 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, that article has transported me back to college. The Thunderbirds 2086 vibe of the B12 album art is so perfect.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:45 PM on June 6, 2014

Warp really did a great job of defining what was essential about techno* in those daze, though I did rather overdose on it all by around 1994. It was the second Autechre album. In the space of about a week, it went from being my fave to something I couldn't even listen to anymore.

Too much machine, I think. Not enough human.

Drugs probably had something to do with it.

* please, don't ever call it electronica
posted by philip-random at 1:07 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Now I feel old, but in a good way. This reminds me, I've been meaning to make a post about the 20th anniversary of Global Communication's 76:14 and more broadly Tom Middleton and Mark Pritchard's work generally, because I don't think it's really been covered on MeFi and it should be. I might have to get on that this weekend ...
posted by Len at 1:15 PM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

This came out in 2006 but it's still one of my favorite overviews of the heady Warp era: Eraserhead's Warp Records Memorial Mix.
posted by naju at 1:25 PM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Back in my journalism days, I had the chance to speak with Sean Booth of Autechre a couple times about their music. It always struck me as odd that there was objection to my description of their post-Chiastic Slide music as generative, or programmatic, by them — but also on Wikipedia, until that descriptor finally made its way in a few years later. They are right that Incunabula hasn't aged well, and I'm not sure how much of IDM as a whole managed to survive its brief popularity, but Ae's generative-era work from Chiastic up to Confield is so odd and so novel, in some respects, and so difficult to shoehorn into any other music of the time that a good portion of it will remain effectively timeless. If anything came out of the IDM era, I feel privileged that I got to hear that, at least.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:26 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Around 1994-1995 I had a job at a pre-press place in Champaign-Urbana. One of my tasks was "castoff", going through a raw manuscript and counting each element (text, figures, equations, lists, etc -- we mostly did science and math books) which was a long, tedious operation. I couldn't listen to any music with lyrics while doing this, as it was too distracting. I got the two Artificial Intelligence compilations and they were a godsend. Music that was interesting and propelling without bein overbearing and intrusive. I still have them and still listen to them.
posted by Legomancer at 1:34 PM on June 6, 2014

* please, don't ever call it electronica

I'm curious why you say this--one of the first times I ever encountered the term was with my band, which a lot of retailers and reviewers tagged as electronica. I thought it was a term specifically meant for more electronic-y bands with elements of traditional instrumentation like Stereo Lab, The High Llamas, Broadcast, etc.--basically, stuff that didn't necessarily live or die on the dance floor--sort of a category for electronic exotica (electronic + exotica = electronica). Is that understanding incorrect? Why should it be only "techno"?

(Not snarking or objecting, just genuinely in the dark...)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2014

I think their objection to the term generative was because it pretty much wasn't made through that kind of process. I get the impression it was quite constructed and composed, despite sounding stochastic at times. Generative connotes something more hands off than I think they ever have been.
posted by pmcp at 1:49 PM on June 6, 2014

> Incunabula hasn't aged well

That's interesting, because Incunabula is probably the only Warp Records album from that era that I still re-listen to regularly not that my collection is large, but anyway. If it's not as radical and timeless as Richard James' mid-90s stuff, it's got some of the best sensations of feet-on-ground, head-in-clouds, and a couple times a year it feels refreshing to go back to that.

If it's stuck in time, it got stuck in a really good time.
posted by ardgedee at 1:52 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Every Autechre fanatic has very strong opinions about what albums are masterworks and which are merely good. I'm convinced each era has something really compelling to offer to someone, but not everyone is on board with everything they've done. #TeamConfield
posted by naju at 1:56 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I associate the term electronica with "omg electronic music is the next big thing and rock is dead so let's treat electronic musicians like rock stars". The examples I think of are hugely commercially successful big beat stuff like Rockefeller Skank, Block Rockin' Beats, and Firestarter.

If all you mean is "electronic music" then I like the term "electronic music" a lot better, because it doesn't have the baggage of breathless 1990s journalism. Some people just call all electronic music "techno" but that's also the name of a specific type of electronic music so that can get confusing.
posted by aubilenon at 1:56 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Exactly - if you lived through the hype of ELECTRONICA IS THE NEXT BIG THING then hearing that word gets incredibly tiresome. And more than a little embarrassing. Then there's IDM - "Intelligent Dance Music" is snobbish and certainly has a whiff of racism/classism, so screw that term too. Electronic music works fine with me. It's all cross-pollinated enough that who knows what anything is anymore.
posted by naju at 1:59 PM on June 6, 2014

I remember seeing IDM in two, sometimes three, sets of quotation marks on forums by about 2001. It all became a bit daft, but I think the initial thing of braindance was quite a nice term to differentiate from electronic music that was pretty unlistenable out of a club context.
posted by pmcp at 2:08 PM on June 6, 2014

Only objection I have with using "electronic music" in this context is that it's a very large term meaning the means of making music, and using it as a subcategory classification (synthesizer-created music that you might/won't dance to, made some time between the late 1980s and late 1990s) locks out a lot of stuff that is very literally electronic music.

Unless you don't mean to use it as a subcategory classification of music-formerly-known-as-electronica-and/or-IDM and really intend to mean it in its expansive sense, in which case it's too vague to be useful. There really were some particular genres music being produced at a particular time that have suddenly gone nameless.

"Electronica" and "IDM" are useful terms that are directed exclusively on what they denote, and it's awkward to not use them in lieu of useful substitutes.
posted by ardgedee at 2:09 PM on June 6, 2014

* please, don't ever call it electronica

I'm curious why you say this

pretty much what aubilenon said, and then naju.

I like techno because that's what we were calling it before some guys in marketing decided they needed a different term.
posted by philip-random at 2:17 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

My dad bought me Artificial Intelligence II for my birthday when I was 16 and it was like nothing I'd heard before. It set the direction of most of the music I listened to for the next decade. I'd listened to a bit of electronic music before that, mostly from techno and house DJ mixes my uncle made, so he knew I liked that sort of thing. I think my dad just went into a store that looked like it catered to DJs on a trip to Vancouver and asked for a recommendation. I'm so glad he picked the place that catered to the IDM crowd!
posted by Emanuel at 2:21 PM on June 6, 2014

"Blender music". That's what my partner calls the IDM sound. His musical tastes run cheerfully to Edith Piaf, the Four Seasons, and Willie Nelson, so fair enough. But I like the term, both for the mechanical nature of so much of the music and also the notion of putting sounds into a blender and pressing "whiz".

Amber and Tri Repetae++ are my favorite Autechre, much like a triple cream is sometimes my favorite cheese. It's a bit cheaty to favor such fat luscious sounds but it is immensely satisfying. Their first album I heard is Chiastic Slide and honestly that opened up a whole world to me, never heard that kind of precise concrete music outside of experimental classical. It was literally the Designer's Republic Cover art that drew me in, at the Harvard Square Newbury's.

Warp (and Bleep) has brought me a lot of great music. The only other label I feel such loyalty to is the late lamented Thinner.

Now is the time with Autechre when we dance.
posted by Nelson at 2:24 PM on June 6, 2014

I think Chiastic Slide may be my favorite Autechre, perhaps just for that moment between Cipater and Rettic Ac where you're plunged into a frothing sea of noise.
posted by aubilenon at 2:40 PM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

> 1992 [...] a vision of electronic music that could be listened to and enjoyed rather than only dance to.

Huh?! What?!

It takes something of a lack of perspective to say something like that, because electronic dance music didn't appear till late in the electronic music game.

Electronic music dates to the first years of the twentieth century and was a going concern by the 1940s. "Popcorn" in 1969 is often considered to be a "dance track" but I remember that it was sold as a novelty track - electronic dance music didn't really get going till the mid-70s with Kraftwerk and Moroder.

And electronic music for listening was always a presence in the stores and on the charts in the 70s - Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Tomita, Synergy, and a host of other groups.

Heck, by 1992 I personally had already made quite a lot of electronic music to be listened to and enjoyed, so I rather take exception to the idea that Warp Records invented this concept...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:09 PM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

although rightfully succesful, Warp was hardly pioneering.

if you want to explore what Warp's AI was about check out artists like Cluster, Neu, Harmonia (with or without Eno), early Kraftwerk and basically anything that Conny Plank produced, including his exceptional work with Moebius.
posted by Substrata at 3:40 PM on June 6, 2014

I remember this old stuff, and some of it was great. Generally, twenty years later, people only talk about the great stuff, which is as it should be. But a lot of electronic music back in the early nineties was rubbish. If you (say) wandered into a trendy music shop on Berwick Street and bought a random electronic music CD by a band you'd never heard of and took it home and listened to it (as I often did), often you would be disappointed and find way too many simplistic repetitive tracks.

I have a simple diagram that explains why:

The Recent History of Electronic Music in One Diagram

There is _so_ much more good stuff around these days.
posted by memebake at 4:48 PM on June 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

And electronic music for listening was always a presence in the stores and on the charts in the 70s - Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Tomita, Synergy, and a host of other groups.

Heck, by 1992 I personally had already made quite a lot of electronic music to be listened to and enjoyed, so I rather take exception to the idea that Warp Records invented this concept...

This. And so much more. Yanni, Vangelis, Terry Riley, entire swaths of what would soon be called "New Age Music"...

I went to a summer music camp for 10 years starting in the last 1970s and it was a hotbed of discovery for recordings of electronic music, none of it dance-oriented in any way.
posted by hippybear at 7:03 PM on June 6, 2014

Yeah Warp clearly didn't invent electronic-music-for-listening. In one particular decade they sortof helped package it up into a nice thing that music journalists could then talk about. The same music journalists had probably already talked about similar things in previous decades. But if you make it look like there's some sort of 'movement' and some sort of 'new thing' happening then thats a good marketing strategy.

With electronic music the access to the equipment has increased over the years.
I guess in the 90s we got to the 'reasonable amounts of people can afford the equipment' stage and Warp were around at the right time to marshall that. These days we're in the 'everyone has the equipment' stage, much more interesting in my view (as I mentioned above).
posted by memebake at 3:07 AM on June 7, 2014

Isn't there a case to be made that Warp ushered in the first "post-dance" or "post-club" electronic music for listening, though? I mean even though it was well-suited for headphones, this was music that was nevertheless heavily informed by everything that went on with electronic dance music prior. It's not enough to say that electroacoustic, minimalism, kosmische et al preempted Warp and thus there was nothing new here. There was something new here. It wasn't just packaging it into something journalists could hold on to.
posted by naju at 11:46 AM on June 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

yeah, naju's onto something ... though it wasn't just Warp. There were various ambient dub and techno chillout collections popping up care of various labels. I also recall the Order To Dance series being of interest as it was usually stuff that was as good for straight listening as it was for the dance floor (and disregard the release date on the link -- I remember this particular CD showing up in Vancouver in 1992).

It wasn't a scene I was following that closely at first but it quickly became very hard to ignore for someone like me who was always checking out the latest European imports. True, there'd been some form of electronic music for decades but suddenly, in a brief window of time between about 1989-92 (and accelerating all the time), there were magnitudes more options than you could track, everything quickly fragmenting into various sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. How "house" did you want your techno? How deep did you want that house? How trancey? How HARD? How fast?
posted by philip-random at 2:05 PM on June 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah thats true Naju, Warp was post-rave. And perhaps post-80s-hiphop. Those two things made electronic music a lot more familiar/acceptable/cool. Whereas 70s electronic music was somewhat like this.

I think The Orb had a lot to do with it all too. As in, showing people that you could listen to electronic music while seated/prostate.
posted by memebake at 6:16 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think The Orb had a lot to do with it all too. As in, showing people that you could listen to electronic music while seated/prostate.

Tee hee.
posted by pmcp at 9:36 PM on July 3, 2014

« Older Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a...   |   70ème anniversaire de la libération de... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments