GAS Narkopop

[Kompakt; 2017]

Styles: subsumption, ambient dub, feral machines
Others: My Bloody Valentine, Cluster, Surgeon, Terrence Malick

You can still hear the sounds of the city weaving their way through the trees out here. It’s strange; since moving, I actually find myself craving that noise, nodding my head more to that pulsing beat from afar than I ever did when we would all go out on the town, stumbling from club to club as if any kind of stillness would be the death of us. I couldn’t be a part of that then, but still, how comforting is it to hear a train going by at night? I feel closer to that steel than I ever could to these trees.


Not much has changed with GAS in the years since Wolfgang Voigt put the project to rest. That’s essentially by design; did GAS ever change much to begin with? The four albums Voigt released under the moniker between 1996 and 2000 existed in a space beholden to music while strangely existing outside of it. It was deeply unsettling to listen to, layers upon layers of melodic and tonal seepage that still somehow accumulated into a calming whole, the kind of sonic sculpting that reaches beyond any concept of “techno” or “ambient” music and into a realm wholly its own. Voigt’s 4/4 thump was a reinvention of rhythm, and to come back to his specific sense of sound in the present day is to confront the history of progressive electronic music over the past several decades — how far have we come, and what have we left behind?

Narkopop is unconcerned with any of this conjecture. It is, quite simply, another slab of subtly overpowering spaciousness and mood, grounded in sparse beats that feel wrong to actually move to. You could say it sounds like music from an earlier time, but then how exactly did it fit into the picture at all? Even in the modern day, when the proliferance of drone and ambient musics have led to an overflow of basement synth lords, Narkopop is a heavy reminder of what listening to a sustained chord for more than 10 minutes at a time can actually do to your body. Voigt’s sense of composition is unwieldy, and the layers of hiss in these untitled tracks seem to contain an infinite spring of shifting surfaces and unwritten songs that cascade upon and into themselves even as they remain firm and static. Delineating these tracks is like trying to discern the differences between pine trees in a never-ending forest, but suffice it to say there are moments of insatiable dread (“Narkopop 1”), angelic purity (“Narkopop 7”), and scenic transformation and evolution (“Narkopop 2”). The cumulative effect of Narkopop is as powerful and subliminal as anything Voigt has done, but having a fresh perspective on music this ageless is a rare opportunity.

We could say that, with GAS, Voigt pioneered a new form of ambient music that suffused itself with the incorporeal rhythms of the club, but the club feels like a distant memory when listening to this music. It’s all about the wilderness, the vegetation and the weeds, and the interplay of cold machinery upon those perceptions. Narkopop subsumes not only in the sonic sense that it is an overwhelming, endless presence of sound, but also in the sense of subsumption architecture, a theory in robotics that prioritizes the sensory ability of A.I. to react in real-world circumstances over following strict, symbolic representations of their environment. The music of GAS doesn’t exactly emulate or attempt to project a proper image of nature as much as it seeks to unearth the tactile qualities of existing within it. Like raw data, it churns out uncharacterizable masses of noise that can scan as foreboding, gentle, or both at once, tranquil and feral in a shifting natural state. It’s not an idealization of nature, rather it’s remarkably nonjudgmental toward whether this frame of mind is “good” or “bad.” It merely embodies its qualities honestly, its mysterious low thump speaking to an inherent rhythm imprinted within us since before we were even born.

It’s refreshing in an era that loves to mythologize and package our legends to experience something as resistant to shape as GAS. Without making any grand, lofty statements, Narkopop lets its presence become felt nonetheless, mining the same fascinating textures that made the project seemingly eternal (and internal) to begin with. Voigt’s ecosystem is entirely his, both darker and lighter than the work of so many of his contemporaries, and part of the joy of GAS is how he is able to make the project feel as if it exists outside of any concept of the artist or the trajectory. The M.O. is so resolute, the beat so constant, that even after 17 years it is unimaginable to think that a new GAS album would sound like anything but this. As with the forests of Voigt’s childhood, it’s a comfort and a moment of disquiet to confront something so perpetually, hauntingly still.


I had to move back. Being out there, surrounded by the trees, walking to get the mail and being able to smell the Earth all around me, waiting to engulf me, I just couldn’t keep pretending to be okay with all of this. The morning I left, as I got into my car, I could feel something leaving my body, as if the last remnants of my being there had actually dispersed into the soil, spreading my fear and my tenderness deeper and deeper beneath the ground where they might live with the other baser senses of this world.

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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