Normally the start of autumn means one significant thing in the wonderful world of German electronica label Kompakt – the release of that year’s “Pop Ambient” combination.
Sure enough this week we have news of the 2018 edition becoming available on 17 November. Some of the usual suspects are on board. The Orb who are enjoying a second life on the German label and provide a new track “Sky’s Falling”. Kaito who has been responsible for some of the most beautiful releases on the label in recent years gets a slot. Yui Onedera, the Japanese sound artist who featured on last year’s edition makes another appearance as does Kenneth James Gibson. It should be great.
So whilst this has been business as usual for Wolfgang Voigt , it is even better that he has been making himself busy with other endeavours. Firstly he has got together with his brother Reinhard for the release of “Speicher 99” on his sister label Kompakt Extra. The Extra imprint is a series of more dancefloor friendly material that come out as two song 12″ singles. Here’s to Speicher 100 some time soon.
For those of us whose nightclubbing days are behind them, the more important news is Wolfgang’s Gas Project is on the road. Eight years after I saw him play the cinema space at the Barbican, he is back again, this time in the main auditorium.
Earlier in the year, Voigt released “Narkopop”, which I wrote about here. His fifth Gas album release and his first in seventeen years, it didn’t stray too far from his template of organic ambient music. In a recent interview with Vice magazine, Voigt commented:
The revival of Gas is also a way to acknowledge the timeless value of this [type of] music. Over the years, it’s simply proven that it has a large, stable, and renewable fan base for itself.
That is one of the key points of interest for me for Gas’s music. “Narkopop” could have been released at any point in the Gas cycle of LPs and not felt out of place. That isn’t to damn it though. The infrequent nature of his releases leave you wanting more. The sound of his music is both daunting and approachable simultaneously. It can feel brooding and intimidating and you can drift away to sleep listening to it (as I have on a couple of occasions). If one compares it to say Eno’s initial ambient work, Gas’s music makes more demands on the listener. It has a symphonic element to it and is broad and deep in scope. If Eno’s “Neroli” is minimalist ambient, then “Narkopop” is maximalist.
On the evening, the set up was very similar to last time I saw Voigt. A lap top was positioned on a small podium to the left of the stage with some electronic gizmos behind it. Voigt emerged through a curtain, no grand entrance required. He fired up the music and visuals and we were off.
Starting off with in the midst green fir trees, the camera moved through and around the forest throughout the performance. The intensity of the music was reflected in the selection of imagery. We were under the forest’s canopy for the brooding elements of the music. We got shafts of light through the woods as brightness pierced the gloom. There were often a focus on leaves or pine needles, the emphasis on detail coinciding with the emergence of a particular focus in the music. Combined with Gas’s music, it made for a stunning immersive experience.
Voigt remained impassive throughout the performance, shrouded in darkness wearing a black suit. After roughly fifty minutes of sometimes challenging, often beautiful music, the Gas logo emerged slowly on the video screen and the evening was over. Voigt walked bashfully to the front of the stage, took his applause and left. There was nothing to be said.
The support came from Huerco S. A producer from Kansas City, he has had a degree of success in Europe where the ambient music form is more established than his native US. Last year’s LP, “For Those of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have)” sits nicely alongside “Narkopop”.
At the Barbican, Huerco’s music was a good deal more unsettling that Gas’s. Taking a similar form of a single track growing and changing, it started with some approachable synth chords. As the music swelled, there was a recurring motif of metallic noises tightening. Eventually the music climaxed with a single barrage of sound, analogous to the final chord of a black metal band’s performance. It was an enjoyable precursor to Gas but I got the distinct impression of blessed relief around the auditorium when the sound sharply dropped away at the end of the performance.
As the autumn progresses and moves to winter, I no doubt will continue to enjoy the Kompakt take on ambient music as presented by Gas and the Pop Ambient LPs.
Just the thing for a walk in the woods.