Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS project rests on a simple premise - taking LSD in a forest. In that sense it’s perhaps not as grandiose as some might like to make it out to be, but he certainly does the job well. Across five full length LPs he has distilled the warmth and wonder of the experience perfectly. It should be mentioned there can be other, less immediately gratifying effects of LSD such as incapacitating confusion and trauma of having lost all perception of time, but for these purposes his approach is probably best.
After a near 17 year hiatus, the project was revived this year with the release of Narkopop, an album which this performance in The Barbican centered around.
Before Voigt took to the stage however, Opal Tapes’ Huerco S provided the opening performance. Huerco S is an artist I like very much on the whole, and one who has released some impressively well thought-out music. Unfortunately, his set seemed too much like a GAS pastiche than a counterpoint to it. Woodland croaks, aqueous drones and teeming sound design are in theory all quite well suited to a GAS support slot, however the result felt comparatively hollow when succeeded by the real thing.
The handout for the event quoted Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music, which in his terms must be “as ignorable as it is interesting.” It’s a definition I’ve never particularly liked, as it ignores the fact there’s plenty of ambient music which can completely and utterly absorb you, and hold more lasting resonance than your typical track. Where these notes cited GAS as the exception to this rule, I’d argue he’s a great example of its falsehood.
This said, it is true that Narkopop feels like a more maximalist version of the GAS sound. Kicks churn and throb like an ever-present heartbeat, while a mesh of electronic ambience and string tones billow forth like thick fog. It’s not necessarily anything new to the blueprint, it just feel like Voigt has created something richer and fuller sounding this time around.
Sitting in The Barbican’s concert hall, highlighted to me how far this project has come. Voigt is now sharing the same space I last saw the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and with just as many faces in the crowd. This space is designed for its acoustics, and this combined with the rich, vaporous textures conjured by Voigt created an undeniably powerful presence. At the back of the stage a screen displayed footage a heavily wooded area; more than likely Königsforst in Cologne where Voigt took many of the trips which inspired GAS. The visuals drift between lucidity and an inebriated haze, twigs and branches meshing over one another, flowering into psychedelic hues.
As I mentioned at the start, in many ways it’s a very simple formula, yet to my mind this is its greatest feature. Voigt hasn’t ended up drunk on success, trying to encorporate symphony orchestras or attach overblown narratives to the project. What we are presented with is much the same as it was in 1996 when the project began; it still has that same meditative, medicinal quality, it just communicates it that little bit more strongly.