Live ambient music has a tendency to come off as underwhelming. I’ve always found watching a producer manipulate tracks on their laptop insufficient to warrant the title of “live” performance. However, every once in a blue moon I’ll see an ambient performance that proves all of my assumptions wrong. Last week’s performance by producer Wolfgang Voigt’s GAS alias was one of them.
I’d like to make note of the way his performance highlighted the importance of setting when viewing live electronic music. GAS’s music at home is primarily a headphone listen, where you are completely sucked in to the music’s world. In order to replicate this feeling live, it needed to be experienced in “wide-screen” so to speak, and this is exactly we got. The months leading up to the show, I worried we would be stuck seeing GAS perform on a make-shift sound system, forced to stand for 90 minutes in a tiny room shoulder to shoulder with fellow techno nerds. Luckily we got the opposite, as the Rubloff Auditorium at the Art Institute proved to be the ideal venue for Voigt’s soundscapes. The audience was able to sit down while taking in both a massive video projection and immaculate sound thanks to the theater’s excellent PA and acoustics.
As for the music itself, Voigt stuck to material from last year’s Narkopop LP. Recognizable motifs from the album occasionally popped up here and there in the mix, although clouded under the layers of white noise and spacial effects that GAS is known for. Hearing such an encompassing sound at such a high volume began to feel like a auditory massage. My ears were tickled by the whirring high end frequencies while an occasional sub bass pulsed underneath. The projection next to him began with a camera panning through a seemingly endless forest. The trees slowly repeating themselves and folding into each other. The entire performance seemed to be focused on presenting recognizable figures in new warped and twisted ways, similar to the described effects of psychedelics. Voigt himself is on record saying that much of the GAS project is inspired by taking psychedelics in the forests of Germany during his youth and this connection was made more obvious seeing it live. I’ll admit at certain points during the performance I fell into a trance like state. Drawn in by the hazy orchestral samples flying around my head, held together only by a sole pulsing kick drum. On screen the forest began to blur into itself, forming an endless array of fractals that seemed to further divide as the music progressed. By the time the show had ended I still hadn’t fully entered the waking state as I left the Art Institute.
Live electronic performances seem to be rocky territory for a lot of people. Live ambient electronic music in particular can can be a huge turnoff for me. Watching an artist use their laptop without a clear view of what the performer is actually doing can make me feel like I’m watching someone shuffle through an iTunes playlist. For all I know this may have been the case during the GAS performance I attended last week. However, backed up by acid-trip visuals and the Rubloff Auditorium’s excellent acoustics, Wolfgang Voigt delivered a performance far beyond my expectations.
Photo by Akeem Asani