Review: GAS at Barbican Centre – Blending the depth of ambient with the darkness of techno

Kompakt Records boss and minimal techno pioneer Wolfgang Voigt brought his legendary ambient alter-ego GAS to the Barbican for one night only.

For many, ambient music is seen as an art form that doesn’t require the listener’s 100% attention. Its minimalism has made it the background music of choice for audiophiles when at work, comforting and present whilst performing other tasks. This, however, is an injustice to the incredible depth that can be found when you lose yourself in brilliant ambient records. With the grandiose and lush workings of Wolfgang Voigt’s “GAS”, your attention is commanded. His iconic productions are an enveloping sound bath of sensory overload.

During voigt’s performance, the mind does indeed wander off but that’s okay; ambient music’s introspective qualities are well acknowledged by even its masters. Take Brian’s Enos recently released 40 minute peace aptly titled “Reflection”, a piece he said “creates a psychological space that encourages internal conversation”. However, the imposing walls of sound that Voigt creates means any distraction is short lived. Through the looping of weighty chords and the organic growth and atrophy of layers, Voigt builds an unrelenting momentum. Whispers of symphonies creep in, bent out of key, finding bittersweet harmony in the discord. Techno basslines pulse on underneath the melodies with the vast monumental forces of a rolling glacier.

The show is the sound we know so well from his five albums – his “audiovisual cosmos” as he once called it. Voigt has said that the records were attempts to recreate, in the studio, the impressions made by his youthful, LSD fuelled and meditative walks through the woods. While you can see the psychedelic themes in the kaleidoscopic visuals, there is no cliche technicolor here; only the greyscale hues of a Nordic noir film with the ominous soundscapes to match. As the visuals take you through the gloomy, overcast forests at dawn, you want to get lost in them with him.

Blending the depth of ambient with the darkness of techno, the inimitable sound of GAS feels just as potent after two decades. By stripping out the excess energy and immediacy often found in current electronic music, Voigt’s productions are unquestionably timeless. We could be sat in the Barbican for the same show in 20 years time and still be taken aback. The more you listen, the more you discover. Just make sure you pay attention.

Find the full Autumn/Winter calendar of contemporary music at the Barbican here.

Words by David March
Photography by Jake Davis




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