Undefined Collective

Album Review




Brian Chenard

November 7, 2018

Rausch Album Cover
Wolfgang Voigt’s ambient project GAS is not the kind of music that lends itself to easy interpretation. The ambient works of, say, Brian Eno or Aphex Twin, present the listener with much more to immediately grasp and interpret. Collected Ambient Works pt. 2, while consistently dreamy and vague, still offers drifting, eerie melodies. Its sonic textures never withhold the emotion that they’re trying to instill. When you put on your headphones to listen to GAS (and you certainly should, as much of the music’s scale is lost over speakers) you are instead cast into an open, hazy space, where sounds intermingle and metastasize.
Voigt apparently draws heavily from his German heritage, sampling orchestral recordings of Schumann and Wagner pieces, but the samples could just as easily be from Arvo Part as far as the listener is concerned. The samples are slowed, looped, and diffused with reverb to transform the sounds from string motifs into nocturnal arboreal spaces. What you are left with isn’t melody, but an infinitely dense space. You can lose yourself and enter a trance-like state while listening to any of the records bearing the GAS moniker. It’s no wonder that people have reported using his records as a sleep aid, but using Rausch in this manner, unlike Konigsforst or Pop, would likely result in nightmares.
The music isn’t terrifying in a readily apparent way, but it instills a growing uneasiness as one listens. The opening track resumes where the last GAS project left off, the slowed string loops bringing to mind the forest that Voigt repeatedly seeks to represent in his projects. The base sounds are either the pattering of rain, the crackle of an old vinyl record, or the rustling of leaves. He dresses the sounds such that immediate associations come to mind, but are always doubtable—a relaxing disorientation. Stray cymbals, not rigidly adhering to any particular rhythm, drift through the misty soundscape. Sub-bass drones, almost melodic, build in an epic crescendo that portend a release that never comes.

The album is a remarkable study in mood, but ultimately it closes in on itself, promising the listener something that it’s too meandering and vague to deliver.

In the opening track’s eight minutes, this build surmounts not to a solidified direction, but a mounting anxiety. Synthesized key-tones drift into the background, bringing snatches of dissonance into the sonic forest. It soundtracks what you might feel when you are making your way out of a national forest on a day-hike, you are alone, the sun is going down, and you aren’t sure which path will lead you back to the parking lot.
If you weren’t looking at your phone, you’d be hard pressed to find the moment when this track flows into the next. The immediate difference from the first track is the introduction of the trademark GAS bass kick. Voigt’s imposition of a rigid house beat over a meandering, rhythmless ambience has always struck me as slightly comical. The kick has a softness to it, as though the drum was submerged. It hypnotically pounds in a 4/4 rhythm across the track, never wavering. Sub-bass tones accompany each punch. As the rhythm matches the cadence of your footsteps, or your heartbeat, the sound around it grows suffocating and claustrophobic. An anxious sine-wave beep is layered into the continuous kick drum. The slowed strings grow dissonant for moments before returning to neutrality. A distant trumpet sounds a two note motif that vaguely suggests warning, like a rival army is invading, but far away from where you are. It will return numerous times throughout the record, never coming closer.
The tracks vacillate between giving the listener a beat to nod along to, or leaving them unmoored. When the tether of the rhythm is broken, the album descends into its darkest territory. On the fourth track, the beat of the third trails off, and Voigt drops the listener down a hole. It’s midnight in the forest, and you won’t be getting out until the sun rises. The cymbals stutter and echo psychedelically. The atmosphere constricts as the volume increases and the rapid thrumming of strings burrows against your ears. The unease only builds across the track. Just like on the first, there seems to be a release that’s hinted at but it never comes. You’re always left leaning inwards as you listen, waiting for the fog to clear. But the foliage only grows thicker. Voigt presents the listener with another rhythm to cling to just when the soundscape becomes too oppressive, or needlessly obtuse. Sometimes, however, the momentum of the record is lost, and it stalls in well trodden territory. On the fourth track, the five minute runtime is almost completely homogenous, doing very little to build upon the ideas that it introduces within the first ten seconds. It’s tense and eerie, but there isn’t much else to it.
There are moments when the ideas coalesce, and you’re left with a nearly perfect track, like on the album’s thirteen minute centerpiece, “Rausch 3.” All of the albums pallet of sounds are present, and they fit together like jigsaw pieces. The thump of the kick blends with the slowed strings in a way that I’ve only heard on GAS records The vision of the record becomes clear for these thirteen minutes, but then the rest of the record feel like shorter, lesser variations on the same ideas introduced in this track. Not even halfway into the album, the concept is exhausted. This isn’t to say that the rest of the album isn’t worth listening to. Voigt’s sonic spaces are dense enough to warrant spending extensive periods of time inside of them.
Although it’s an engaging experience to be led along in this way, I found myself, towards the end of the record, wondering what exactly I was waiting for. Many of the same musical elements (the distant horn, the rhythmic sine wave beep, the house thump) remain constant throughout the album, altering subtly in their arrangement through the tracks, or briefly fading into the background. The album is a remarkable study in mood, but ultimately it closes in on itself, promising the listener something that it’s too meandering and vague to deliver. I can’t make this same complaint of, say Pop, which finds a range of depth and mood through its similarly limited pallet.
When Brian Eno, in a hospital bed, was struck with the potential of ambient music as a tool for healing and meditation, he certainly had the idea of music that would gently lead a listener into repose, into meditation–music that wouldn’t intrude upon the listener’s thoughts. When listening to Rausch, your mind is hijacked. The sounds are unobtrusive enough for your mind to wander, but you are carried inexorably down a path of anxiety and tension. And it leaves you there. Its arc is only half complete. Rausch is a sonic landscape of considerable complexity and depth, but ultimately, it’s just that: a still image.

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