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Gas - Nah und Fern

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Artist: Gas

Album: Nah und Fern

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Jun. 5, 2008

Though he's dialed back his musical output in recent years, the influence of producer Wolfgang Voigt on contemporary techno can hardly be overestimated. In the mid-nineties, using a dizzying and ever-changing array of monikers (Mike Ink, Gas, Freiland, Auftrieb, M:I:5, and dozens more), he helped lay the foundations for Cologne's extraordinary minimal techno scene. More recently, as the senior co-founder of the Kompakt imprint, he has been one of the principal agents responsible for spreading the Minimal gospel and building the label into one of the most important electronic music imprints in the world.

Of his own voluminous projects, none has proven as enduring as an ambitious series of ambient techno experiments that he conducted from 1995-2000 under the pseudonym Gas. The project itself was an expansion of Voigt's long-term fascination with the German and Austrian musical forms of his youth - classical music (Wagner, Webern, Berg), Schlager (a peculiarly Northern European form of schlocky pop), oompah brass band tunes, and polkas.

The fundamental sounds of Gas are all taken from old records, but Voigt chops, loops, reverses, and decontextualizes them almost beyond recognition. In an interview with The Wire, Voigt explained that his goal was to evaporate the samples of their original meaning and context. Nevertheless, faint resonances remain - orchestral swells and the telltale crackle and hiss of age and decay, so that even at its most airy and beautiful, Gas is always haunted by the aural past.

Originally released by the now defunct Mille Plateaux label, the four Gas releases--Gas, Zauberberg, Konigsforst, and Pop--have been long out-of-print and much sought-after. But at long last Voigt has reissued all four Gas discs, collecting them in a box set Nah und Fern (Near and Far) on Kompakt. In addition, a book of Voigt's Gas-related photographs, mostly of forest thickets awash in monochromatic color, is due out later this month (with a bonus CD of related, pre-Gas tracks) on the Chemnitz based label and design imprint, Raster-Noton.

The packaging for this new quadruple CD set is deluxe, but the remastering was deliberately kept to a minimum. In a recent interview, Voigt explained that the music itself resisted all attempts at updating, forcing him to accept the originals in order to preserve the project's integrity. Thus little of Gas' signature moiré haze and luminescent glow has been lost to translation. And the records have lost little of their transporting, hallucinogenic power. At the outset of the first self-titled album, a wave of sound swirls, washes over, and engulfs you in disembodied orchestral samples. Eventually, with track two, a dull, pulsing kick drum provides measure after measure of grounding, but also serves to draw the listener deeper into the thick of it all.

At the heart of the Gas project are the second and third albums, 1997's Zauberberg (Magic Mountain) and 1999's Königsforst (King's Forest, named for a forest not far from Cologne, where in his youth Voigt dropped acid and contemplated its wonders). It's the atmosphere of the forest, the dappled and disorienting interplay between light and shadow of a walk in the woods that Voigt aims to evoke; an insistent undercurrent of unease and disquiet runs throughout both of these magisterial records.

With the final album, 2000's Pop, the mood lightens, as does the sound palette. It's akin to stepping into bright sunlight, with high-contrast colors replacing shaded hues. An effervescent, shimmering album, Pop’s beneficent influence ripples beneath the surface of some strains of contemporary techno, such as the glistening post-disco of Sweden's Axel Willner, aka The Field. But, ironically, with Gas, which is truly one of techno’s towering achievements, the focus is not on the sublime pleasures of the dance floor, but in the tangled, gloriously disorienting pleasures within.

By Susanna Bolle

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