Wolfgang Voigt Rückverzauberung 10 / Nationalpark

[Kompakt; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: ambient, installation, German Romanticism
Others: GAS, Pop Ambient, the “German Forest”

Wolfgang Voigt, eminently quotable as ever, once said that his aim was always to “bring the German forest into the disco.” Rückverzauberung 10 / Nationalpark, on the other hand, does almost the reverse: it finds him pulled out of the disco and returned to the forest — quite literally, as it happens: it was created for a sound installation in the newly established Hunsrück-Hochwald National Park. The disco is now no more than a faint memory, if that; Rückverzauberung 10 is wholly beatless and loop-free, an uninterrupted hour-long ebb and flow of sound, with no breaks and no repetition.

But although Rückverzauberung 10 is a single continuous flux, composed of more or less the same sonic elements throughout, the variation in the respective weighting of these constituents creates a heady sequence of atmospheres. An inventory of the various moods that Rückverzauberung 10 quite effectively evokes in an overly suggestible mind might begin by including (simultaneously unimaginative and vividly imagined) obviousnesses like the forest’s solemn grandeur, the distinct undercurrent of untameable disquiet and unease, the shimmering allure of untrodden paths. It’s all too easy to imagine yourself spirited away to the verdant depths, beating your way through the tangled undergrowth, stumbling across unexpected clearings, etc. But before we get too carried away in this vein: Voigt’s work — particularly as GAS — has done enough to incite nauseatingly overblown and purple-prose-laden descriptions of whatever idealized travel-agent faux-“sublime” wilderness fantasies the (this?) reviewer’s kitschified mind can conceive. The amusing thing is, of course, that the supposed sublimity of his work — its recall of nature’s dark, primordial excesses over our shallow human capacities — shouldn’t be the kind of thing that could be easily reduced to a facile postcard image. It’s remarkable, actually, that Voigt’s music can be so precisely evocative, that he’s so in control of the apparently involuntary images it brings to mind, that the most spontaneous imaginings, apparently untouched by judgments or unfiltered through concepts, are regurgitated romantic tropes.

The eliciting of images in this way, I suspect, is what Voigt has in mind in titling the series Rückverzauberung. It’s sometimes said that the advent of modernity, the work of dark forces such as industrialization, secularization, or maybe self-consciousness — perhaps even the translation of certain Greek philosophical terms into Latin (you never know…) — has robbed us of our (mystical) union with nature, the possibility of ever feeling whole and at home in the world. The title Rückverzauberung looks to imply an attempted reversal of this disenchantment (Entzauberung) of the world: a re-enchantment, in other words, (and not — as I have seen suggested in other corners of the internet — the reversal of enchantment; disenchantment was effected long before Voigt’s lifetime). But if my tone sounds dismissive of this kind of narrative, this kind of project, in the case of music — Voigt’s in particular — it isn’t intended to be. Whether or not it’s even desirable to reclaim whatever it was that was supposedly lost in disenchantment, you don’t need to believe the narrative of disenchantment for Rückverzauberung to work — all it needs to do is make it feel as if it does. It’s just that, with music, the form taken by re-enchantment is a temporary one, an aesthetic one and — inasmuch as it doesn’t require us to let go of trains or dentistry — a relatively harmless one.

But while it remains effective, Voigt’s conjuring trick seems not to be particularly precise: Rückverzauberung 10’s powers of re-enchantment sometimes feel as though they might almost be too indiscriminate. It’s not just that Rückverzauberung 10 can work its magic in, for example, a small deciduous woodland planted by humans less than 100 years ago; an MP3 player and some headphones is enough to transplant the experience from Hunsrück-Hochwald to any mundane locality. Even the banality of the fucking laundromats can be alleviated, elevated to some higher plane of grubbing for berries on the woodland floor while sunlight filters through a leafy canopy, until distant horns indicate your imminent and arbitrary beheading by some passing Teutonic knight: so it goes. The German forests of legend and fairy tale never struck me as particularly pleasant places.

Rückverzauberung 10’s universal evocativeness fits neatly with the irony that the idea of the German Forest is itself artificially unitary, as if the wildly varying landscapes brought under this rubric share something more than someone’s desire that they be unified. The German Forest is a term with a sometimes dubious history, but it’s both too easy and incorrect to align Voigt’s interest with it with some spuriously supposed trait or essence of the German character or psyche (even if a strong precedent for that comes from certain Germans in the depths of the past). The fact remains that Voigt is evoking primordial wilderness with human music from the 19th century (I’d guess) manipulated in a 21st century studio — and that “the goal was always pop” and not, for example, the creation of a chthonic community. It’s a dangerous game to play no doubt (it may not always be advisable to render these kinds of things quotidian), but the materials simply mean something different in Voigt’s hands than they did in the shadowy grasp of the past. Voigt’s approach, as he has always made clear, reconfigures the whole meaning in ways that someone slightly too eager to find an heir to Leni Riefenstahl can’t quite have grasped.

The not-quite-paradox, then, is that the all-too-human sounds from which the piece is composed are processed strings, woodwind, and brass: none of the cloying sounds of nature, no miscellaneous whooshing reminiscent of the wind in the leaves or the watery gurgling of babbling brooks, or any of that stuff. It would presumably be entirely redundant to play the forest’s sounds back to it, so instead Rückverzuberung 10 uses human technology, the very tools of disenchantment, to re-enchant the forest itself, nature itself. It’s a pleasingly proficient — if relatively minor — subversion of Black Forest kitsch.

Links: Wolfgang Voigt - Kompakt

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