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Sublime deep listening works from the founder of seminal electronic label Kompakt.
In the early 1990s, Germany was a country undergoing a profound transition. The wall that separated East and West Berlin had come down in 1989 and a country once divided became a center of celebration. That this history occurred as electronic music was in the midst of a dancefloor-centered revolution, by either fate or good fortune, set the stage for techno movement that rivals only Detroit in influence.
Though now centered around Berlin, two brothers on the other side of the country in Cologne, Wolfgang and Reinhart Voigt, helped propel the techno scene during these formative years. Along with Jörg Burger and Jürgen Paape, the Voigts founded the record store Kompakt in 1993 and founded a label a half-decade later. We’re focusing on Wolfgang because his sublime ambient music as Gas hits the deep listening sweet spot, and the journey that led him to create these four masterworks is filled with treasure.
Below, a few places to start your journey.
GAS – Pop (2000)
Few readers here need to be reminded of this, but music heard at full volume blossoms to reveal the intricacies of an artist’s muse. Few records prove that like “Pop,” the fourth album from Voigt’s most enduring project. Heard with the volume knob at 6, the wash of synthetic noise sounds like a mess. Turned to 9 and Voigt’s expertise in layering, structuring and building discreet tension is on full display. Frequencies seep in and out; hidden melodies form, morph and maneuver. “Pop” marked the end of a four year, four album run for the clicks-and-cuts label Mille Plateau. Voigt mostly retired the GAS moniker for 17 years, when he released “Narkopop.”
Burger Ink – Las Vegas (1996)
Starting in the mid 1990s, the EMI Records subsidiary Harvest, which decades earlier had been the home of Pink Floyd, Michael Chapman and Roy Wood, started focusing its energy on the Cologne scene and released luxurious minimal techno from producers including the Modernist, Khan & Walker and the Bionaut.
As Burger/Ink, Wolfgang Voigt teamed with fellow Kompakt founder Jorg Burger (Modernist, the Bionaut) to release the most beautiful of Harvest’s techno releases, “Las Vegas.” Across ten extended tracks, most of them named for Roxy Music song titles, the two producers craft extended journeys that sound like the natural evolution of Kraftwerk’s mid 1970s experiments in repetition on “Europe Endless,” “Neon Lights” and “Radio Activity.” Are they thumpy? Absolutely: each uses as its foundation four-on-the-floor techno rhythms that, unless you surrender to them, might drive you nuts. Once you do, whole vistas reveal themselves.
Love Inc. – Monoculture EP (1993)
Voigt’s earliest tracks were driven by Roland machines. Most of these early 12-inches draw on squiggly acid house sounds and run at 160-or-so bpms. Tucked within the Love Inc. “Monoculture EP,” though, is “Gymnopedie,” an adaptation of one of Erik Satie’s proto-ambient compositions. Pumped by an 808 and Satie’s playful melody, it’s a joyous glimpse at melodic techno’s early successes.
Auftrieb – Loikum 1 (1998)
Full volume? Absolutely, but step back a few paces because as Auftrieb, Voigt has been known to experiment with heavy, assautive noise and relentless repetition. This track from 1998 is a remarkable speaker-tester.
Various Artists – Pop Ambient (2001-present)
Those drawn to Voigt’s work as GAS would be well advised to explore Kompakt’s long-running series, “Pop Ambient.” Started in 2001, the annual compilation has gathered meditative tracks that explore the unlimited abilities of electronic frequency manipulation. This Voigt track as All, “Alles Fließt Nichts Bleibt,” will transform your day.