Tweet If you were a child who lived near a forest, even a small one, it probably loomed large in your imagination. I lived (and still do) near a pathetically small forest called Headfort forest. Tiny as it was, however, it didn't stop us from making up all sorts of mad stories about it. Older kids, swept along by the great Kells ouija board craze of 1991 would head out there in the evenings and end up spooked, pale, and blethering about a dead fisherman with hooves who spoke to them and continued to do so until the school called in a priest. So we told each other. And it was frightening. At one point, in the depths of the ouija board craze, I was afraid even to go to school, because every day played out like an episode of Most Haunted. Week in and week out, we'd hear about some wacked-out teenager from over the town doing something nuts, like pulling clumps from their hair after spending half the night being goaded by an eyeless nun.
Later on, it dawned on me that the early 90s were Acid-House time. There was a lot of LSD doing the rounds (not to mention those tiny mushrooms on the pitch and putt course), and this might go go some way towards explaining all those shades going billy-o about the town. You might ask what sort of mental kids mix psychotropic drugs with games for communicating with the dead? But I guess that was Kells at the start of the 90s. Regular children were wearing heat sensitive orange tie-dye and watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; we were snaffling magic mushrooms in graveyards and getting exorcised by the town priest (true story: a certain priest did one or two things along these lines at the time). But, I digress. Let's get back to forests.
Forests. Such sensory places. The acrid smell of bruised elderflower leaves. The soft leaf mulch under my doc martins. Half-sunken orange frisbees of fungus on tree barks. Rooks picked out against a corroded silver sky. It is one easy skip from this heady mix of sensory stimulants to creepy flights of fancy. Grasping woody hands, witchy cackles, and puppety demons flitting through the gaps ahead. All this, from a tiny forest. Imagine what it would be like to grow up on the edge of a proper forest? Like the German Black Forest or, as they know it, Die Schwarzwald?
It's a great word, Schwarzwald, weighty, ominous and expressive of the how the forest must have seemed in long-gone times. A mossy mystery as big as a small country. An impenetrable place, full of thick shadows as alive as the moss they fall on; full too of toadstools, tangled briars, pagan secrets...
I'm thinking of the Schwarzwald a lot because it's a key reference point for a collection of music I've gotten into recently. It is by Gas and it is called 'Nah und Fern' - a collection of four albums re-released as a box set. Gas was the ambient electronic side project of Wolfgang Voigt who co-founded Cologne's renowned Kompakt label. The minimal aesthetic of many of the acts on that label owe a debt to his production work and his various early releases under different monikers. The Gas records, however, were his collective masterwork, and were, until now, a sort of holy grail for techno lovers prepared to trade silly bucks on Ebay.
The music made by Gas is ridiculously hard to convey in prose, which is why a sample MP3 is provided below. It's techno in the barest sense, in that you will often hear 4/4 beats, sometimes close, but mostly far, far away in the thick mix. They beat dully like faint signals through a soupy fog, either anchoring you or tricking you into following them ever deeper into and over Voigt's horizon-less sonic terrain.
Voigt was inspired both by Germany's forests (the 3rd record Konigsforst translates as King's Forest) and German composers whose music he sampled from old vinyl recordings. He layered, treated, and distended these samples into billowing drones and textures which, on headphones, convey the largest sense of 'space' I've experienced in music. Voigt called the project Gas because he wanted the sounds to be vaporous, airy and everywhere at once, and throughout the records, the timeless life of the forest is tangible; its mulchy darkness, its gnarled depths, and from time to time its clearings full of light and heat. The record works as a prayer to the forest, or as a sort of communion with it.
What you are reading here is about as excited as I get about a new musical discovery. I want to share it. Even if you are into music with more conventional structure, give it a go and with patience you may find yourself drawn into these albums' great depths. If you live near a forest, why not take them with you on headphones? Just don't stop to talk to the cloven hoofed fisherman. He's bad news.
MP3: Gas-Konigsforst 1
Sorry if this blog post seems familiar. Most of it is taken from something I wrote here a couple of years ago.