Repetition in music is a nuance best served with confidence. Throughout the ever-growing exploration of sound, it’s been pretty clearly defined that if you repeat or loop some major instance or movement of the music, it should successfully achieve a long-term goal of some kind, or at the very least just sound good. You certainly wouldn’t want something that aimlessly runs around in circles evoking nothing to be the centerpiece of a ten-minute track. There’s a science – or maybe a willing suspension of reality on the listener’s part – behind the most potent music of this nature that divides the inherently lazy songwriter from the minimalist genius. In the ambient techno sphere, Germany’s Wolfgang Voidt – operating under the moniker of Gas – populates the play field of the latter category.
With his self-titled debut album, Gas took what sounded (appropriately) like gas leaks, had such a thing turned out to be the most beautiful thing to ever happen in the world, and sprawled them out into ten-minute minimal epics with a touch of vibrancy. Gas got the job done of conveying a subtle otherworldly immersion but struggled to be anything more than subtle – which is where his 1997 follow-up album comes in.
Zauberberg’s power as a sophomore release isn’t just seated in the depth of its seamless loops – or its triumphs over its somewhat dry predecessor, for that matter. The facelift in tone from Gas may have been a welcomed change, but it also established itself as the dark end of the spectrum for Voidt’s discography – which would later be polarized by Pop. It is here where we see true poignancy manifest in the Gas name. The muffled gleam he had worked with before now takes on a sharper contour, fully pushing techno into the ethereal. Any semblance of deviance from the pattern is almost wholly nonexistent, with every song ending with the same predetermined habits as it began with. Most definitely a positive in the long run, this confident drive fuels the immersion.
Almost wholly committed to the element of pure sound, there’s not even so much as song titles to go by on Zauberberg. It assumes you won’t even care, having been completely drowned in the soundscape to bother coming up for air to look. And why would you? Track 1 burns the incense, letting loose into the atmosphere the tangerine, droning miasma that lights the emotional fire for Track 2, which drives it down the hole with a persistent, muddied beat and a cryptic tongue, effervescent pianos stealthily creeping into the activity. By the time the third track comes around, you’re pushing twenty-thousand leagues deep into poignant strings, a bottomless low end, and a frail beat that seems to struggle to even stay awake. On paper, it doesn’t do a whole lot, especially for a twelve minute-long track, but the rewards drawn from such seeming simplicity is testament to the power of repetition. Even for an album so convincingly never-ending – and so faithful to its essence – you still can’t help but walk away feeling as if you’ve just felt something all-too ephemeral.
As mentioned, Voidt doesn’t give you a whole lot to go on, but this works substantially well in the album’s favor. Standing out from the likes of Pop and even the similarly-executed Konigsforst is Zauberberg’s affinity for the uncomfortable. Tracks 5 and 6 don’t do very much to hide their more hostile intentions and even the album’s closer sounds like a twisted sibling to the opener’s glowing innocence. It would be difficult to say the feeling is a cold one as the catharsis found on Track 3 vouches for the exact opposite, but this sense of uncertainty is what ends up being Zauberberg’s true claim to fame. At times it goes as far as to feel like a void, albeit one of considerably corporeal authority. These moments are easy to recognize because they’re constantly right there, not floating in front of you, but completely removed from you, out of reach but seldom out of touch. As if an antithesis to Pop’s intimacy with the tangible, Zauberberg attempts to dismantle that intimacy; if it was vibrant there, it’s a phantom here.