Sunday, March 21, 2010

GAS - Discography (1995-2000)

GAS-Zwei (B Side)-Oktember E.P. by m.r.t

Anyone who talks to me about 90's electronic/dance music knows that mentioning Wolfgang Voigt's GAS project is unavoidable, as is talking about him in general with regards to minimal/dub techno. For me, nothing in the 90's sounded and still sounds like this body of work that saw its first release on Voigt's own Profan label--one of the best labels ever--in 1995 with the Modern E.P., and then four album length CDs and one more E.P. followed on Mille Plateaux, one of the few labels that Voigt has released music on that is not his own label. Upon first listen, these works come off as ambient techno, which it is, but the music is much more than that conceptually and musically. If you care at all about the conceptual aspects of music, then the GAS project is full of them. Also, the artwork for Zauberberg, and every release after, is some of the most conceptually fitting album artwork around.

GAS-Eins-Pop by m.r.t
GAS-Funf-Pop by m.r.t

To give some background context as to what Voigt was aiming to achieve involves his attempt to embody the surreal and epic scope of the German Forest. This was not so much a stab at nationalistic pride, but rather in Voigt's own words, "I only tried to make a propostion of how to express German culture in a correct and acceptable way in an international framework" (Mono.Kulture #08). Voigt further explains that, "I had an image in my mind of a gaseous and nebulous sound, of an exhilarating streaming music which literally flows over, which has no beginning or end, no hard edges, only softness. My association was this music drifting through the coppice of a misty wood in vast sound spheres, a very elegiac sound repeated over and over in the far distance, held together by an invisible bass drum that comes marching by somewhere hidden in the woods, coming closer and fading away again. It was an acid experience, basically. It's drug music" (Mono.Kulture #08). Also, many point out the overtly German sound sources that have been woven into and are apart of the music including, but not limited to Wagner, Berg, and Webern samples, although I have no idea what the samples are, to me they are completely removed from their original context and identification, and Voigt elaborates on the usage of these German music samples by saying that, "Gas is not about Wagner, Gas was about Gas. It never is about the source, it is about me. It doesn't matter where a sample comes from, the question is, what is the result? I grew up with nature. Ever since I was a child I have had a weakness for the classic cliche of the German forest, I was blown away by Hansel and Gretel" (Mono.Kulture #08).

GAS-Heller-Modern E.P. by m.r.t
GAS-Zwei-GAS S/T by m.r.t

Well, okay cool, but what does it sound like? The German forest analogy seems to definitely be present in the two albums Zauberberg and Königsforst as well as the E.P. Oktember, but I will touch on those last because they are my favorite releases of the project. The first two GAS releases don't seem to embody his intended point as much, but are still rewarding listens. The Modern E.P. (1995) on Profan feels like a shimmering drug induced dream steeped in minimal techno that Voigt was already known for with aliases such as Mike Ink and M:I:5. The first album on Mille Plateaux, S/T (1996), is the most resembling of dub techno and Basic Channel mainly due to its heavy, wet rhythm and blissful ambience while also using many of the same beats that Voigt used on his M:I:5 project albeit with different edits; basically it set the bar for what was to come. The last album, Pop (2000), is the hardest for me to describe. All the lucid dream associations are present, especially with the drifting ambient tracks, but rather than the overwhelmingly tense sensations heard on Zauberberg, Pop deals with the idea of a claustrophobic forest that emits an enclosed feeling with great subtlety. Pop feels more like a romp through a forest in the morning rather than the dusk imagery evoked through Zauberberg and Königsforst, and also missing, for the most part, is the four-on-the-floor kick drum pulse that had characterized the majority of the past GAS releases. Pop is still eerie, but more dislocated and melancholic than the epic strokes of the previous two albums. Also, Pop probably makes the best argument for what was to become the Kompakt Pop ambient series. A Series on Kompakt (Voigt's label) that collects like-minded musicians who share Voigt's attention to detail, ambience, and abstraction.

GAS-Eins-Zauberberg by m.r.t
GAS-Vier-Zauberberg by m.r.t
GAS-Sechs-Zauberberg by m.r.t

Zauberberg (1997) and Königsforst (1998), as well as the Oktember E.P. (1999), are among some of the greatest statements to ever grace ambient techno/dub techno territory, and in my opinion, are up there with, and rival, the best techno of the 1990s, if not of all time. Zauberberg is simply haunting, and although book-ended by two gorgeously delicate ambient pieces, the tracks within the center of the album are pretty, but ultimately tense and epic (in the large forest sense), while feeling simultaneously claustrophobic. This does not mean that they are not rewarding listens in the least bit. These elements not only characterize the music, but also offer immense emotional depth because the tension and spaciousness are points to draw you in rather than to push you away; they create unique atmosphere. Zauberberg feels like the dark passageways of all the light-less forests in Tolkien's books (yeah sorry for the Lord of the Rings reference, that's as far as that one goes though). Königsforst and its associated follow up E.P. Oktember are much more uplifting, removing much of the fear and darkness of Zauberberg and replacing it with a summer/autumnal glow seen only at dusk when the sun is setting behind trees. Also, all three of these releases seem to utilize the characteristically GAS element the most; the pulsing, varied four-on-the-floor kick drum (with other subtle, backing rhythmic elements too) that sounds like it is coming from a party three doors down, drifting in and out, not always upfront, but definitely there. Some might think this is cheesy, but if you listen to these tracks from start to finish, that beat becomes a pulse; something akin to the imagined heartbeat of a forest teeming with life. I guess the reason why these simple drum beats are so effective is not only because of the music going on in the tracks, but also, they serve as a gesture implying that simplicity can be a means in itself. That, one need not make interesting music based on the notion of complexity alone, and that music can be complex with the simplest means possible. A notion that I see all too often with IDM in regards to making things more complex for the sake of complexity, which can be great and sometimes the point, but can also be trite and banal, which the same goes for a lot of minimal too, although in the opposite extreme. Basically, these records are the equivalent to dropping acid and running through a forest at dusk with only occasional sunlight shining through the mass of leaves.

GAS-Drei-Königsforst by m.r.t
GAS-Funf-Königsforst by m.r.t
GAS-Sechs-Königsforst by m.r.t

Highest recommendation possible. This music has not only touched me, but I hope it will go on to influence others interested in the possibilities of ambient/dub techno/electronica as it has influenced and impacted my own life. Oh yeah, another interesting point is that, in regards to following music trends of the 2000s decade, after these works premiered, although Pop was from 2000, these releases all foreshadow the Kompakt label's ambient releases (specifically the Pop Ambient series), Markus Guentner's work, Yagya, The Field, William Basinski, Ulf Lohmann, Kaito, Klimek, Deepchord/Echospace, Tim Hecker, and too many others to list. Also, you can purchase the reissued 4-disc box set, Nah und Fern, on Kompakt that features the four albums only, no E.P.s nor the alternate mix/extra tracks of the Königsforst vinyl release on Mille Plateaux from 1998. Also, many of the remixes and extra GAS tracks spread about on Kompakt releases are not present either. Try downloading the Königsforst vinyl and the E.P.s because they are very out-of-print/expensive/hard to find.

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