Sunday, June 1, 2008

Wolfgang Voigt is a gas gas gas



Imagine you are deep in a primeval forest, fir trees towering overhead. The little sunlight that filters through the thick canopy is already growing dim as dusk approaches. What had looked so beautiful mere moments before begins to take on a mysterious, almost sinister aspect. Twigs and fir needles snap beneath your feet as you turn, looking for a path. Somewhere nearby you can hear the burbling of a stream. And echoing through the trees, from somewhere far away, comes the sound of a muffled yet insistent beat – the rave at the heart of the forest. Welcome to the sound of GAS, Wolfgang Voigt’s ambient masterpiece.

Most people know Voigt as the godfather of Kompakt, the Cologne based distribution powerhouse and home of melodic minimalism. As a producer Voigt has been rather quiet, releasing little since 2000. For much of the 90s, however, Voigt was incredibly prolific, exploring different styles of electronic dance music under a plethora of aliases (Discogs lists 32 of them). As Mike Ink he explored acid, while his classic Studio 1 series is some of the tightest and most minimal techno ever pressed onto vinyl. Other pseudonyms saw Voigt exploring noisy sawtooth techno and inventing Schaffel. But for these ears Voigt’s most sublime productions saw release under the name GAS; four out of print albums released between 1996 and 2000 on Mille Plateaux that are on the eve of a well-deserved re-release by Kompakt, (accompanied by a book of Voigt’s related photography released by Raster-Noton).

GAS tracks are built around loops of orchestral string samples that have been slowed down (and sometimes reversed) and stretched out so far as to become unrecognizable drones. (Voigt has always been coy as to what composers he sampled, but Wagner, Alan Berg and Arnold Schoenberg are usually namechecked.) A muffled kick drum, beating out a pulse in 4/4 time, usually underscores these long gliding drones. Other sounds hiss, crackle, burble and pop as the drones loop over and over, sometimes graceful, sometimes mournful, but always hypnotic.

In this 1999 interview with De:Bug (translated into English), Voigt himself described GAS as, “Music without beginning and without end, cushioned contours that fall softly into the space, that seem to overrule temporal schemes. GASeous music, caught by a bass drum just marching by, that streams, streams out through the underwood across the forest soil.”

The sound is often described as ambient (I did so myself in the opening paragraph), but the word isn’t entirely accurate here, as for many people this means, “relaxing music to chill-out to.” While many of the tracks have a stately beauty to them, others are dark and eerie. Tracks four and five of Zauberberg (Voigt never named the tracks on his GAS albums) are downright sinister, and would clear a chill-out room in moments.

Special attention should be paid to the artwork of GAS, as it reflects something about the nature of each album. The fact that Raster-Noton is releasing a book of Voigt’s photography emphasizes the importance of the artwork. GAS, released in 1996, features an abstract, splotchy yellow cover that on closer inspection reveals … well, nothing but more yellow splotches (and a few red ones). At this point the project still seems to be taking shape for Voigt, and the vague nature of the cover reflects this.



Everything suddenly snaps into focus, however, on 1997’s Zauberberg, graced with a photograph of a forest taken with a blood red filter. This is the forest at its deepest and darkest, and the album sees some of the most sinister GAS tracks.



The trek through the forest continues on 1999’s K√∂nigsforst, but this time the forest is bathed in an amber light. There is a hint of darkness on track four, but the stately march of track five and the light, gentle, beatless loop of track six suggest dawn has arrived.



On Pop, the final GAS full-length released in 2000, the artwork reveals the forest finally bathed in clear sunlight; there are even glimpses of blue sky visible through the leaves on the back cover. The music is similarly light, and five of the seven tracks are entirely beatless. And when the familiar GAS kick drum comes in on the final track, it no longer feels heavy or oppressive – we’ve finally arrived at the rave in the heart of the forest, and it’s a beautiful, joyous thing.



For those who haven’t heard GAS before, the upcoming re-releases present the perfect opportunity to become familiar with what I truly believe is one of the most sublime chapters in the history of electronic dance music thus far. I know that sounds like I’m overstating things, but I’m really not. This is some of the most incredible music I’ve ever heard. I was absolutely stunned the first time I heard GAS, and every time I hear it I fall in love all over again. See you in the forest …

Postscript: Some overly detailed info about the re-releases, which kinda reveals how obsessive I am about GAS …

Details about the re-releases are a little confusing, with new information found here changing things since the first news reports came out. It seems Kompakt has pushed back the release of the four-CD boxset and the double-vinyl to June 10.

We also know more now about the double-vinyl release. It is strictly limited and, “The vinyl features one extended-edit track from each of the albums per side.”

Meanwhile, checking the May 22 news at the Raster-Noton website reveals that the 128-page book of Voigt’s GAS related photography is “coming soon.” Additionally, the Raster-Noton site reveals that the CD accompanying the book does not include Voigt’s 20 Minuten Gas Im November (recorded for Raster-Noton’s 20' To 2000 series), but instead features five tracks taken from Voigt’s “treasure chest” recorded between 1989 and 1998. Confusingly, the site says that, “4 of the 5 tracks have never been released or played before” but then goes on to say that, “all tracks [are] previously unreleased.”

Finally, there’s an excellent feature on Wolfgang Voigt that talks quite a bit about GAS in the May issue of The Wire.

23 comments:

  1. i remember dave introducing me to GAS, probably sometime around the last album came out. and truth be told, i never quite 'got' GAS. and my feeling has been that this is always my fault. perhaps my ears werent quite ready back in 2000. this excellent write up has really inspired me to use the re-release as a chance to try and get the GAS!

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  2. fantastic news really :) also jay haze released a new album. This really is a great week :D

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  3. what i find interesting is how random things like the Gas catalogue get built up by people while being seemingly 180 degrees out of sync with what is popular right now in techno music. why 2008 for the Gas resurgence? what does it say that hits the fans of the music that is out now?

    i can't argue with someone getting props for good music, so i am happy to see these albums getting some love. i just cant help but be very skeptical of the reasons behind it. i guess i can see some connections with the Rod Modell releases of recent, but that is about it in terms of similar projects that i can think of.

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  4. link to another feature on gas from frieze mag penned by simon reynolds (author of "generation ecstasy," "rip it up and start again," etc.) below:

    http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/into_the_wild/

    me, i'm elated about the reissue and already have a preorder in for the vinyl - good music is timeless; gas is one for the ages...

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  5. Re Pipecock: but would the re-release have been timely and appropriate had the artist been from the 313 ;)?

    But I know what you mean – it smacks of a population of listeners becoming middle-aged - I mean, what could be more 'middle aged male fanboy' than a boxed set?

    But this is Gas, after all. One of the greatest musical series by one of the greatest producers....

    ...I'm not sure there's a 'Gas resurgence' though. Well, I can only speak for myself, but the Gas project is one of those I've been listening to intermittently since discovering it/him in the early 2000s. I go for months without, then feel the need to spend a whole weekend gassing myself.

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  6. @ pipecock: perhaps, but one important point is that these all came out on mille plateaux, which is now defunct and their back catalogue is increasingly difficult to get hold of. vladislav delay's reissue of 'anima' is another example of this.

    so how do you feel about old house and techno classics being re-released? do you approve? or should people head to the record bins and start searching for past gems (like you clearly did during your trip to detroit)?

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  7. "Re Pipecock: but would the re-release have been timely and appropriate had the artist been from the 313 ;)?"

    not at all, i wonder the same thing about the X-102 reissue/show as well. why now? at least with Detroit stuff there has been a consistent fanbase for that stuff since day 1, even if it is not the most popular style out there. i can almost see something of rising popularity of Detroit music again.

    has there been the same thing for Gas records? the people i know who are into that stuff are hardcore ambient/melodic techno heads, another group of people who have held pretty similar tastes for a long time but it seems to me a much smaller group of people.

    i really think it is good for WV to get some publicity for this, but i look at what is popular right now and i look at Gas and i just don't see the connection.

    "so how do you feel about old house and techno classics being re-released? do you approve? or should people head to the record bins and start searching for past gems (like you clearly did during your trip to detroit)?"

    i am cool with things being reissued and rereleased, especially if it helps someone get paid for something that they probably made nothing off of initially. you can look at Clone and Rush Hour for reissues that cater to a specific crowd with tunes that they all want. is there a crowd like this for Gas? or do they think that the people who like 2008 techno will suddenly have a greater appreciation for his music than people of recent years? if that is the case, why?

    i am all about people digging and finding their own things. too many people are limited in the older stuff they like by what is currently being bootlegged, repressed, or reissued. liking Gas records because Kompakt is giving them the royal treatment is one thing, liking it because you just heard it one day and fell in love with it is another thing altogether. if nothing else, it is good to see Kompakt using their popularity to push some great timeless music again!

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  8. Well *ahem* nobody made that much out of Mille Plateaux releases, if the rumours are true. Achim Z's Al Swearengen-style penchant for 'hookers and gin' done did for that like the cocksucking hooplehead he is (apologies to non-Deadwood fans).

    ...and could this also be Voigt distancing himself from his own adolescent juggernaut, with its increasing penchant for releasing dull records?

    Having said that, here's looking forward to Matias Aguayo's newie.

    But re-releases and retrospectives do tend to indicate a slowing down, a need to look back, sum up, collate. Quasi-natural, but also the sign of the times and the accrual of years and wrinkles. But grooves are wrinkles of a kind.

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  9. As a younger techno head i think its really good that kompakt is re-releasing GAS, i probably wouldn't have had access to it/known much about it otherwise. I think kompakt is doing a good thing.

    Also looking forward to the new Matias Aguayo album, i was playing 'are you really lost today' Drums & Feathers is a mad track!

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  10. Yeah, Matias has style. Did you check his EP on Soul Jazz?

    This one:

    http://www.discogs.com/release/1068952

    Chris had a link to a really good semi-live set of Matias' too – Chris?

    Also, did anyone hear this puppy?

    http://www.discogs.com/release/1130317

    Matias' new track that's been getting props is called 'minimal' – apparently it's anything but.

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  11. @ pipecock: i completely agree on the digging. some of the best stuff you find is stuff you come across by accident and take a chance on. re-releasing is a way of slowly editing history by building up a narrative of 'these are the important records'.

    is there a (new) market for gas now? my gut agrees with pete that this is probably more about revisiting the project for existing fanboys (like cam) than it is responding to a demand for it. in that regard, his studio 1 stuff seems much more 'relevant'.

    but as you and others commented it is a good way for the kompakt brandname to introduce it to a new set of listeners.

    as for the matias mix, allez-allez have provided us with many nice sets, and matias' is among the best:

    http://www.allez-allez.co.uk/2007/08/matias-aguayo.html

    hmm. perhaps we should and try to get him to do a ssg mix for us...

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  12. i obviously fucked up the link for the matias set. that should be .html at the end.

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  13. New Matias Aguayo album? Where and when???? Any news?
    The time sent for these Gas reissues really is awkward. Maybe it's because techno is getting into one of its phase of stale-before-the-explosion. Zauberberg is my gaseous favorite cloud of steamy sound.

    Oh, and those reissues of Detroit Techno/ Chicago house are naturally expected. More than 20 years have passed now,so i guess that interest it's pretty understandable. Let the young generations feel the same we all felt the first time a Derrick May or a Juan track came to our greasy fingers!
    Oh well, keep on dreamin'...

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  14. Anonymous,

    Cheers for the link to the Simon Reynold's GAS piece. Great article. Plus, he starts by giving props to the fifth track on Konigsforst, which I've always thought of as the GAS "anthem."

    Like yourself, I'm keen to get the double-vinyl (for the extended cuts). I'm also keen to get the Raster-Noton book - knowing R-N's production values, the book will be absolutely gorgeous. Plus a CD with some "new" GAS tracks for the die-hard fans.

    It's interesting, however, that Voigt's re-release isn't entirely comprehensive. True, he's re-releasing the four full-lengths, which really do form the heart of the GAS canon. But there are actually about 13 other tracks spread out across various 12"s and compilations that are quite hard to hunt down.

    In other words, there's not much about the Kompakt re-release for the die-hards at all. The double-vinyl is the only real concession to those people. (It's Raster-Noton that is offering up more for the GAS obsessives.)

    Which then curves back to the questions Pipecock and others are asking. Why now? And who is this directed at?

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  15. the matias aguayo set is cool, thanks! looking forward to the new album.

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  16. PS. on that Aguayo set, though not really relevant to the discussion about GAS i really like it how the flute (that Aguayo played) from Superpitcher's "lick the pipe" appears every once in a while.

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  17. my favourite bit of the aguayo set is when he drops klein vs mbo. what a bomb. now they are someone who really, really need some kind of compilation or rerelease. everything from them i've heard, i love.

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  18. what time does the Klein vs M.B.O. track come in?

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  19. i think it's more due to the fact that the mille plateaux versions had got so out of control expensive. and so mr voigt owns kompakt and decides to repress them because of the continued popularity?

    i don't think there's any great meaning to it... the boxed set aspect is probably just because of the conceptual/artistic aspects that tie the four records together.

    i've always thought the four releases sort of tie into seasons... i'm sure everyone will have varying ideas on what record it what season. but with the artwork etc, they've always seemed like something that's meant to be considered as a series or as parts of one thing.

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  20. Is this the same Gas that wrote the Gas 0095 album, because that's one of my favorite albums ever?

    I have a feeling this is a different Gas, but I'll check it out anyway. Which is the best album to listen to first?

    I'd highly recommend Gas 0095 too btw. Class.

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  21. Great article. As far as GAS is concerned, I think it is the right time for Kompakt to re-issue the GAS series. I agree with Will, if Kompakt wouldn't have released this new box-set I'd probably haven't had access to GAS either (The first GAS album was released in 1996, I was 12 at that time).

    I came across this type of music by accident about two years ago, but I was sad when discovered that the originals were out of print and that there were just a few originals being sold for $270 on Ebay. This time you can get the box-set for less than $40.

    I welcome the re-release and I am really looking forward to Voigt's book published in August.

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  22. Some of my thoughts on the release which I posted on Residentadvisor.net ( http://www.residentadvisor.net/news.aspx?id=9242 ) :

    --

    The music exists needless to say ; it is extra-ordinary and exceptional. We all know that.

    Months ago, I was so pleased to read that these albums would be reissued. I only had a copy of 'Pop' and some stray samples and downloaded (*groan*) tracks of the others. ..And the money they were fetching on the internet ... good grief. Anyway, with such a hyped reissue, I must say I'm a *little* disappointed. I feel that because this oddly seems to be marketed as a new album ('Nah und Fern') - with new artwork and no historical credits - much of the grandiose original artistic intentions are lost. Not referring to the music, but to the garish blue-tone artwork which graces *all* the CDs. I feel that the respective original artworks reflected the music within, and this is now lost. I wonder why Voigt chose to present the reissue in this way.

    Especially with 'Pop'. That album is so drenched in saturated sunlight and discordant afternoon atmospheres ... it deserves the faded orange and blue and green photographs from the original album. It's a shame that new-comers will miss out on such artwork.

    In terms of this review, I believe it's spot-on. I do indeed hope that 'younger listeners' will find this as a catalyst to explore 'techno's more exciting peripheries'. The very fact that Pitchfork highlighted their 9.2 review is indicative of how Gas may change many young perceptions of the validity of techno and electronic music.

    I currently live in Chicago and unfortunately witness a perpetual lack of interest in dance and "dance"-oriented electronic music. However, upon this re-release, folks all over are snapping it up and exhausting the independent stores of their stocks, which is great.

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  23. Voigt's work as "Gas" is truly epic. He doesn't even need to title his tracks -- that's how epic the music is. It stands alone.

    I agree with the poster above, Cam, -- the fifth track on the King's Forest CD is "the" track. I can think of very few other songs that match that magnitude of expression. All of his songs are very psychedelic.

    Can not recommend it enough.

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