Rausch suggests a collapse between the club and natural spaces.
It was surprising enough when Kompakt co-founder and minimal techno legend Wolfgang Voigt swept the dead leaves off of his most beloved project, GAS, last year after a 17-year dormancy. Narkopop at once picked up where Voigt’s project left off, drifting around a dubby landscape of thick forest. Yet it also tweaked the GAS formula, adding an active techno pulse that had been absent from the project since its mostly-forgotten debut. Other GAS albums, particularly Zauberberg, suggested the fearful properties of getting lost in the woods, but Narkopop gave a real sense of dread in its incorporation of industrial drone. That ominousness is only exacerbated with Rausch, its darker impulses hinted at by the title, which translates to “intoxication” or “ecstasy.”
As with all GAS albums, Rausch is one long composition split into numbered segments by artist consideration and, on vinyl, technological necessity. It begins with an extended burst of vinyl hiss, an endemic aspect of the GAS identity that loses all of its elegance in isolation. Here, the usual woods-approximating crackle of the hiss has no natural connotations, only a wash of noise that unsettles from the jump. To this is added extended organ chords that thrum over a world that gradually constructs around this core. Voigt built older records out of distended, unidentifiable classical music samples, but here the sounds are concrete, the instruments no longer dubbed out into vague waves of noise but clearly differentiated. Cymbals skitter at the margins of the sound field, while strings moan like choral voices that fade in and out of the organ grind. Occasionally, piano trills titter through the mix, played straight but slightly futzed with in the production booth to stretch just one or two notes into something unnerving.
All of this occurs within the album’s first eight minutes, expanding the sonic palette of the GAS project while also bringing it into a clearer focus by deconstructing some of its mystery. Voigt said from the outset that this moniker’s output was made in tribute to his memories of walking around Königsforst while still tripping on acid as a form of comedown from nights at the club, and as the album bleeds into its second track, a 4/4 beat gradually creeps into the music, reorienting the humming instruments into something almost ready for an adventurous dancefloor. “Rausch III” actually keeps the beat while briefly dispelling all of the blaring treble, leaving ample space between the percussion and a new, softer rumble of noise that rises and falls in a hovering gas pocket that leaves the beat crisp in the mix. Warped horns occasionally moan into view to reinforce the unsettling nature of the composition, but overall one gets a reprieve from the earlier storm.
The second half of the album gradually tilts back in the direction of Narkopop’s metallic intensity. Track four is almost pure squall, while the fifth track brings back the 4/4 beat in softened, threaded fashion more akin to a heartbeat as we reach a clearing in the forest and the sound brightens to include some strummed guitars. Some drive-by glissandi do not let the album drift too far off its bleak course, and the last 15 minutes of the record are rife with drones, dissonance and white noise. Far from gently passing into the good night, the album roars into the most nightmarish textures, ending on digital howls that mark the scariest moment in the GAS discography to date.
If the original GAS project marked Voigt’s attempt to capture the sounds and experience of a forest as a place for escape and calm, Rausch suggests a collapse between the club and natural spaces. More politically, its vision of forest retreat is compromised by the suddenly adjacent sounds of industrial noise. This is the first of GAS’s records to conjure images of deforestation and human expansion. Here, the woods no longer offer escape, because the city has encroached upon them, obliterating their idyll with the roar of urban development. This is a massive revision to GAS’s erstwhile style and thematic grace, as well as a troubling reminder that the world is starting to run out of places where one can escape.