In 2008, the electronic music label Kompakt released a GAS box set named Nah Und Fern and it was an inspired move. Kompakt co-founder Wolfgang Voigt recorded four albums and two EPs under the GAS moniker between 1995 and 2000, establishing a brief but brilliant legacy of tantric ambient techno music that eventually paved the way for the German label’s future glories. Nah Und Fern, a box containing all four full-length GAS releases, garnered near perfect reviews and even moved PopMatters’s own Ian Mathers to question the need for a rating system in music criticism. I am of a similar mind; the sounds of Voigt’s music are as close to perfect as one can get in both artistic and aesthetic departments when it comes to electronic music. But Kompakt has now moved on to release Box, an item that has muddied things up a little.
First thing’s first, Box is geared primarily towards the vinyl collector with ten blobs of wax in addition to four pieces of plastic. Secondly, Voigt’s third full-length release under the GAS name Königsforst now has two extra tracks not identified on the first pressing. Third, Voigt’s first full-length release under the GAS name is absent. In its place is the Oktember EP. Lastly, like Nah Und Fern, Box doesn’t come with the Modern EP. After two box sets, we’re getting warmer! Alas, not all of the wonderful GAS material is back in print, making you wonder why these arbitrary decisions get made. But Wolgang Voigt’s sense of artistry make it very easy for us to be happy with what we’ve got, and the incomplete yet sublime Box is what we have for now.
How do three albums and one EP get pressed to ten vinyl discs? If you have encountered this music before, you’re already aware that most GAS songs are very long. Zauberberg and Königsforst, the first two albums up to bat on Box, sail way beyond the 70-minute mark in run time. Pop almost clocks in at 70 minutes and Oktember offers up only two tracks in 27 minutes time. That’s 24 tracks in the span of four hours and 11 minutes, which means that you’re looking at an average of at least ten minutes per track. When you push play, you’re in for the long haul. Likewise, one of these pieces can’t start up when the needle is getting too close to the center of the record lest we wish to experience some unwanted distortion. Fans of GAS are serious about their music, and people who are serious about their music can also be serious about vinyl. So Kompakt has to divvy all of these up just right.
Listening to Wolgang Voigt’s music from the late ‘90s takes you to a place that era, genre, or subgenre cannot easily reach. There is nothing atavistic about it, yet it has an uncompromising nature that you can’t help but admire. No intimidation on Voigt’s part is involved, no esoteric knowledge required of the listener, and no one needs to go to great lengths to find out what makes it tick and how great it feels. Easy to enjoy, nearly impossible to classify, GAS is ambient dub at an undeniable high. The musical figures are so spellbinding that you won’t even realize, or case, that you’re taking in a heavy dose of pretty, pretty repetition.
Alas, I can’t give it a perfect score. As great as Box is, it’s yet another incomplete box set as Nah Und Fern was before it. There’s a GAS release album out there somewhere with a perfect 10 nailed to it, and it’ll have all six releases inside, waiting for us.
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