As a part of a celebration of reissuing the four Gas albums – originally released on Mille Plateaux in the late 90s – as a “Nah und Fern” boxset on Kompakt label, we present a short mix of this magnificent stuff.
“In the music of his techno project Gas, Wolfgang Voigt drew on Romantic landscape and classical music as much as technological minimalism. It starts with a dilated fanfare, a canopy of sombre sonorousness that could be the distant lowing of massed alpine horns. It makes you feel like you’re on a mountain path looking down on mist draping the lower slopes. When the bass-drum pulse kicks in, it’s like your heart starting up after being stopped with awe.
This is the titleless and 15-minute-long fifth track of Königsforst (King’s Forest, 1998, named after a wood near Cologne), part of a remarkable tetralogy of techno albums released in the late 1990s under the name Gas by the prolific and critically acclaimed producer Wolfgang Voigt. Today he’s best known as the co-founder of Kompakt, the Cologne-based label that’s contributed more than any other to Germany’s dominance of electronic dance music. Voigt’s decision to reissue the four Gas albums as the de luxe box set Nah und Fern (Near and Far) along with the publication of a book of photographic work, Gas: Loops, which includes a CD of unreleased music, is an intriguing gesture. It’s a statement of belief in the durability of (some) electronic music, at a time when the volume of output and turnover of micro-fads in post-rave music contributes to a sense of, in Voigt’s words, ‘growing ephemerality’. The monumentality of the box set asserts for techno what is a routine claim for rock: this music will stand the test of time.
The core of the Gas series resides in Königsforst and 1997’s Zauberberg (Magic Mountain). Although partly bidden by Voigt’s overt framing of the project – colour-treated cover pictures of sunlight dappling through trees etc., drawn from the photographic stockpile that makes up the accompanying book – the music does irresistibly conjure up mind’s-eye imagery of rugged natural grandeur: the deep forest’s rustling shadows, alpine vistas of altitude and remoteness. Gas is the by-product of a ‘lab project’ that involved putting Austro-German classical music (Richard Wagner, Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg), brass bands and the schlocky middle-of-the-road pop known as Schlager under the microscope in order to find a sort of audio-cultural DNA. The Gas sound is spliced together from small samples of classical records, which Voigt has subjected to processes of ‘zoom, loop and alienation’. The music’s provenance is instantly audible from the rainfall-like hiss of old vinyl and the orchestral sonorities of grave cellos and tingling violins. There’s a wonderful irony here that one of the signal triumphs of techno, that most future-fixated genre, is sourced almost entirely from music from the latter decades of the 19th century, when classical music scaled its summit of portentous majesty before swerving into the angst-wracked realm of Serialism” – Simon Reynolds