INTERVIEW: Wolfgang Voigt

You may know him as GAS. You may know him as Mike Ink, or Studio1, or M:I:5... or Gelb, All, Grungerman, Love Inc., Mint, or any one of dozens of different aliases he has used over the years (Wikipedia lists 31; AllMusic includes a few they've missed, and there's no telling how many they've forgotten). You may know him as the co-founder (with Michael Mayer and Jürgen Paape) of Cologne, Germany's KOMPAKT Records, which has released albums from microhouse and minimal techno heavyweights such as Superpitcher, The Orb, The Field, Justus Köhncke, and Gui Boratto.

His name is Wolfgang Voigt, and we are extremely honored that he took the time recently to discuss with Davecat the recent reissue of his seminal GAS albums in the KOMPAKT-released box set Nah und Fern, his thoughts on songcraft, and the changes that have taken place in electronic music over the past decade.


>>>> Raster-Norton is going to be releasing a book of your photographs from the GAS project. What is the correlation between the music of GAS and the visual art of the photos? How much does one art form influence the other, and how much overlap is there between the two?

In fact, there is a strong correlation between the music of GAS and the images. GAS has its origins in classical music and relates to nature sounds. The aesthetic equivalent is expressed in the photographs dealing exclusively with the subject of the forest. The music is moving around in constantly overlapping loop structures, there is no definite start nor end. The photographs show a certain focus on nature (the branches or rhizomes), and this dense focus makes it impossible to define the top and bottom of the picture and the right or left hand side. And both, the music and the images aim at liberating the subject from its original meaning and taking it back to its aesthetical basic structures.

>>>> What does the word "minimalism" mean to you? What do you see as the fundamental differences between "minimal" techno when you were recording as GAS (and throughout the 1990s) and what is referred to as "minimal" today? Is it just musical? I'm asking as an outsider who little personal experience with the matter, but what was the scene like when the first GAS album was released, and how has it changed in the time between then and reissues of your work?

I would say the notion “minimal” is not the appropriate term for GAS. GAS is opulent and dense. Yet GAS can be considered as minimal as the major part of my other musical projects, for example Studio1, Freiland, and Profan: the ingredients always originate from one and the same source, and are all about the straight bass drum in any kind of variations you might think of. However, my music has nothing to do with the contemporary idea of “minimal”. Today, minimal techno most of the time is functional tool music. My work, however, is more about the minimal variations in pop music and art.

>>>> As a sort of follow-up to that: what effect has the Internet had on the scene? Is the World Wide Web something you embrace as an artist, something you think pushes things forward, or is its effect more negative and stagnating? In an interview with Simon Reynolds for Frieze, you say that "at the moment, it [techno] has to be careful not to be swallowed by itself or the world wide web." Swallowed in what way? And what has to happen within the scene to make sure that it doesn't get swallowed, either by itself or the Internet?

No doubt, the Internet is the ideal platform and the most democratic way to spread music simultaneously and fast into the whole world. Unfortunately, this “MP3 culture” boom results in a significant arbitrariness and in an immense loss in values. Not to mention the piracy market that makes the production of high-quality music more and more unaffordable. But I think that a sound file will never replace the sensual experience of a record or CD.

>>>> What do you expect the reaction will be for first-timers who have never heard GAS before and only familiar with the current generation's electronic tradition? What do you hope they will take from your music?

The CD GAS – Nah und Fern is out now for a couple of weeks and I am really pleased about the good results in sales. We get a lot of positive feedback, from the U.S. in particular. In the U.S., apart from the “old” fans who know GAS from the 1990s, young people between 18 and 23 discover the re-release of GAS. And I hope to continue the idea of what it meant 10 years ago: Timeless, beautiful music and far more than just an ex-and-hop value. I hope to be able to give the younger generation an idea of the meaning of GAS.

>>>> What do you see as the most important aspects of a song's structure?

To transcend the song’s structure.

>>>> Along those same lines, many of your GAS songs -- but not all (for instance, the first and final tracks on Zauberberg) -- contain a rhythmic beat, often a 4/4 pulse: a heartbeat. But not all. What made you decide to let some tracks stand alone as just the processed samples, and to give others a guide, as it were, through the forest?

Although GAS should be classified to the more serious ambient music that usually works well without any rhythmical corset, it nevertheless still relates to techno music. It is this vision, this image of how amorphous, beautiful yet dark sound waves, with no origin or destination, are carried by a distant bass drum through the woods of the forest into the disco – like gas. My intention has always been to find the right balance between tracks where I use the base bass drum and tracks where I do not use it.

>>>> In your Wikipedia entry, whoever wrote it says: "Because Gas music lacks any trace of melody or chord change, many would not describe it as *musical*." How would you respond to the writer of the article -- and where do you personally draw the line between "musical" and "non-musical," if there is such a line?

I think the boundaries between “musical” and “non-musical” are in a state of flux. Otherwise, I do not really care about any “musicality” related to GAS. Emotions, structure, aesthetics are more important to me. Melodies in the classical sense are not supposed to be in GAS, although they exist, as hidden and overlayered as the chord changes. But you have to notice them.

>>>> GAS is, of course, based on deconstructed samples of Schoenberg, Wagner, etc. The music you have turned it into, however, has been compared with Steve Reich, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, and other contemporary classical minimalist composers. What do you see as your relationship with classical music? Who do you listen to or admire more, the Romanticists or the minimalists?

I like some of these references, although I do not tend to compare GAS with something else. My relationship to classical music is really simple: I like it. It represents the broadest spectrum of acoustic aura with the most far-reaching references to music history. I like romantic minimalists.

>>>> I often see your music described in spiritual terms, and there certainly is a soul-searching quality to it, almost as if it were the soundtrack to a vision quest. Do you write from any sort of religious background? What are your spiritual goals as a artist?

I am far from any religious or esoteric approaches. Soul searching? Well in the context of the Four Tops – “Can’t help myself” or James Brown – “Sex Machine” or the Brothers Grimm. My spiritual focus is definitely on GlamRock and Pop Art. And my vision is to bring the forest into the disco.

>>>> Among the musicians out there today, who do you feel is best carrying the torch you lit as GAS, either in terms of aesthetics, sound, or as creating a true German pop music, as was the project's goal?

The best GAS torch carrier around is Axel “The Field” Willner.

>>>> In that same Frieze interview, in response to a question about what prompted you to re-release the GAS albums now, you said the "[t]ime was ripe again for this re-release or let's say for picking up the vision of GAS again. After almost a decade of 'abstinence', I found the GAS vision in good shape and even more urging to be released than ever before." Does this mean there will be more albums under the GAS name in the future? Or perhaps other art (photography, etc.) associated with the project?

The GAS project will definitely continue, yet the form remains to be seen. In August, the book WOLFGANG VOIGT – GAS will be published by Raster Noton.

Apart from 60 artworks/photographs, the book includes a bonus CD with 5 early, unreleased GAS tracks.

And on 28th September 2008, GAS – LIVE will have its world premiere at the Schauspielhaus in Leipzig.