Avant-Pop… and Space Ghost

I took a trip out to my city’s antique mall this afternoon for the first time this year. When I arrived I was surprised to find two They Might Be Giants singles featuring exclusive tracks which were only otherwise available on the 1997 oddities compilation, THEN: The Earlier Years. (The set is fantastic – an absolute essential tour of the duo’s earliest recordings.)

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But the greatest value of my trip was, as always, my conversation with my favorite vendor, Bob the Record Guy. He always knows what titles to pull for me. I chatted him up for his knowledge about the music scene between 1976 and 1984, particularly the better parts of new wave, essentials of no wave, post-punk, avant/art-pop, and gothic/ethereal wave classics. He was happy to make a number of recommendations and sent me home with a few albums to get me started.

I confess that many of the artists and albums listeners take it as read that I would know are entirely new to me at present. Born in ’81, I was a touch too young for it all the first go-round and by the time I hit the age of history-combing musical discovery in college, the all-consuming craze was experimental electronic, ambient, and post-rock music. So while I’m well-versed in late-60s/early-70s synth music and 90s indie pop, my knowledge of that seminally developmental decade in between is limited to my memories of MTV flashback syndication and of dollar bin comp cassettes of 80s radio pop. (And damn it, I’m sick and tired of “Always Something There to Remind Me.“)

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Terrible cassette I purchased at a Lechmere department store in 1992.
From what Bob had immediately available, he sent me home with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s 1984 LP, Junk Culture, (with a startlingly-clearly labeled one-sided 7″ single). While the band’s first four LPs showcase OMD at the best, I was happy to pick up anything for starters.

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But it was the next record I was given which became my favorite discovery of the day. While discussing no wave and other manic, atonal music of the 80s, Bob pulled out a copy of Lounge Lizards’ Big Heart – Live in Tokyo (1986). He explained that, while the album is certainly a far cry from the aggressive dissonance of albums like No New York, that it might serve as a fitting introduction to 80s exercises in what Ornette Coleman termed, harmolodics.

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For those unfamiliar, wiki says, “Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value…” resulting in music which “…achieves an immediately open expression, without being constrained by tonal limitations, rhythmic pre-determination, or harmonic rules.” While I am well-acquainted with standards of free/avant-garde jazz, (I have many of the essentials in my record library), what I didn’t realize was how this philosophy had been embraced by Sonny Sharrock and utilized in his composition of the theme to Adult Swim’s Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Bob brought up the track as an example of harmolodics and spun several tracks from Big Heart which sounded quite similar to the theme. While the first two selections from Big Heart fall a bit flat, those patient enough to go deeper into the record will find that it is arguably the best effort of their catalog.

Home from our outing, I’m surveying my finds of the day and looking forward to more discoveries of albums I should have listened to ages ago. Bob also recommended that I explore the cassette-only label, ROIR (Reachout International Records) founded in 1981 for more great music. Thanks, Bob!

One From the Vaults

(While this evening’s entry is not of our usual musical focus, it still carries a historical value which I hope my readers will enjoy.)

After reading about James Joyce’s last words, (deeply saddening), I wanted to revisit his final interview, published in Time Magazine, issue #19, May 9, 1939, upon the publication of Finnegans Wake.

Unfortunately, my copy is archivally framed and I was too much of a dumbass to think to scan the interview pages before encapsulating it forever in its final fate. As I’ve never really had any interest in magazines, I am not a member of any of the major closed magazine trackers, and their public brethren are overrun with porn zines and offer little in the way of 1930s print.

So, against all my better judgment, I signed up for a one-time access pass to the Vault section of Time Magazine’s website for $2.50 and went to work. Whoever was in charge of scanning these archival issues did a terrible job, leaving many pages askew or missing as much as half of the page. And Time doesn’t exactly go out of its way to make it easy for users to save any of this content.

For a few minutes, I started logging the image source URLs for the 86-page issue and in about 30-seconds’ time I successfully executed a command line script which automatically scraped all of the high-res page scans of the entire issue from the Vault, compiled them in the proper sequence, and exported the resulting file to a PDF.

There were a few hiccups, as I placed a wildcard one branch too early and inadvertently initiated a media scrape of the entire history of Time Magazine.

With the task complete, I took a moment to also extract the interview article’s text and export to Google Doc, ODT, plaintext, and epub for optimal accessibility.

Flipping through the entire issue was indeed eye-opening – there was the latest news from Hitler, adverts from Martin Aircraft, “World’s Standard of Skyway Supremacy”, Camel ads targeting young women, adverts for the Studebaker and the Pontiac Eight, the new technology of aluminum foil, the latest foxtrot hits, and this gem from Monsanto Corporation:

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Settling in presently to read the interview which set me on this little project.

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Published in: on February 1, 2017 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Time is Running In

On January 5th, a mysterious poster appeared in London, the same day as its website, k2planthireltd.com.

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The poster announced the end of the 23-year hiatus, (the number 23 having played a critical role in many of the KLF’s works as they relate to the 23-enigma of the Illuminati). This postponement of the K-Foundation was ceremoniously implemented by the duo signing an infamous contract in gold pen across the windscreen of a Nissan Bluebird November 5th, 1995 and the deal was sealed with the act of pushing the Bluebird off a 120-foot cliff at Cape Wrath. 23 years was intended to ‘provide opportunity of sufficient length for an accurate and appropriately executed response to their burning of a million quid’.  

Further investigation into this exciting new announcement led me to an even more mysterious YouTube account, user WGU 18G, which has been posting cryptic new KLF content since January 1st, when they uploaded a 46-minute video puzzle dubbed, “KLF 01 01 2017 WTF FOUND VHS.” Tiny video fragments were posted in the first 23 days of 2017, each a mash up of pop culture film footage recut to speak words like, “KLF” and “Justified Ancients” and “MuMu”. Mixed in are footage of Robert Anton Wilson, the Kennedy assassination, other Illuminati symbology, BBC educational film reels, and fraction-of-a-second long superimposed elements intended to reveal pieces of the puzzle… or to lead the viewer entirely off the scent.

And on January 7th, Instagram user @followersofmu uploaded this addition to the mystery:

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And today – the 23rd of January brings all of this news serendipitously to my attention on the very day my copy of my literary white whale – The KLF’s THE MANUAL arrived at my door from Germany.

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A week ago I decided that it would be foolish to let any more months pass, permitting the few remaining copies of this massive text listed for sale to be snatched up by other collectors. I quickly purchased a copy of the second (and final) edition but was disappointed to see that the giant oversize MANUAL had been reduced to a minute handbook for its reprint and that the author and title were changed to a less-impressive re-wording, (see below).

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Within moments, I located a first edition copy in outstanding condition for only $30 more, which made my decision a no-brainer. In minutes, I’d canceled my order and secured an original for my library.

For those unfamiliar with THE MANUAL, it was published in 1988 and dubbed, “THE MAJESTIC INSIDE STORY OF HOW TO MANIPULATE THE POP MUSIC WORLD.” The book instructs the reader to quit whatever band they’ll in, sell all their gear, buy the top pop singles of the day, sample them, have a number 1 hit, and be forgotten by lunchtime. The book promises that if you’ve followed their instructions and don’t make it to number one, that they’ll refund your purchase.

The first printing of the book is credited to The Timelords, as Cauty and Drummond had just successfully implemented their guide and made it to number one under that moniker with the ridiculous hit, “Doctorin’ the Tardis.” And they were right – just as THE MANUAL instructs, the track liberally samples the theme music from Doctor Who, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)”, sections from “Blockbuster!” by Sweet and “Let’s Get Together Tonite” by Steve Walsh, and neither member of the duo played a single note on the track. Critics hated it. The song was shite. But it made it to number one.

In the years since the abandonment of the K Foundation, Drummond and Cauty have done some fantastic work. Bill Drummond created The 17 and published a book of its collected writings. Graffiti appeared in Derby with messages like this:

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And soon thereafter, a series of posters were created to convey the concept of The 17.

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Meanwhile, Cauty continued his anarchistic art, most recently with a touring art installation dubbed The Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP) Riot Tour. ADP is a massive graffiti-covered shipping container with small lenses positioned around its perimeter which grant observers a glimpse into a post-riot dystopian miniature city contained within. Spectators can see flashing lights, police blockades, and the remains of a city torn asunder accompanied by the faint sound of police radio signals from inside the container. The installation toured in from April to December of 2016 and was featured as part of Banksy’s Dismaland. ADP Riot was a larger scale implementation of the theme Cauty explored in 2011 with A Riot in a Jam Jar.

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But all of this – the zenarchistic mythos of the KLF, the Manual, the burning of a million pounds at Jura, their art and music… and 23 years of contractual silence… has led to their return in 2017.

Time is running in.

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UPDATE 01-24-17: Information from some additional sources appear to dispell the cryptic rumours outlined above. First, on January 5th, The Guardian published an article titled, The KLF are back (sort of) – and it’s exactly what 2017 needs containing the following statement:

News of the comeback centred on a mediocre YouTube collage featuring the duo’s previous videos, which turned out to be something someone had compiled for a 2015 book talk. Drummond himself rained on the whole parade, saying: “Jimmy and I have always remained very close but we have no plans to reform the KLF or exploit our back catalogue in any way.”

His quote, it turns out, was a feat of semantic nuance. Within 24 hours, a photograph of a chanced-upon bill poster appeared on social media, confirming that the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (not the KLF) were working on new material (rather than exploiting their back catalogue), and that it would be unveiled on 23 August.

Cauty tweeted confirmation of this new material shortly thereafter.

And on 01-17-17, KLF.de posted the following notice:

In the aftershock of this month’s announcement some publications were fast on turning excitement into exaggeration, so we thought it necessary to point out some facts or, at the very least, debunk some rumours.

  1. The KLF have not announced their return.
  2. At this point no music releases have been teased, be it reissues or freshly recorded material.
  3. There will be no new Jimmy/Alex collaboration. This particular rumour came from a news page which took the then slightly dated Positive Void website for the official K2 Plant Hire Ltd. homepage.

At this point the only official information is that The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu are gonna unveil their sculpture The Twenty-Three Year Moratorium on August 23rd as announced via the K2 Plant Hire poster and the liner notes from Bill Drummond’s “Imagine…” DVD.

In the meantime, everybody lie down on the floor and keep calm.

So for now, we’re just Waiting.

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Something Special for Close Personal Friends of Al

I’m really upset with Pledgemusic because they know so very well that every few months, they shoot me an email saying, “Hey! Remember that thing you love? From way back in the day? Well check this sh*t out!” 

Pledgemusic is a direct-to-fan music platform, and their sole focus is raising funds for musicians. They don’t get their grubby hands into ownership or rights over the content, they encourage artists to contribute to charities as part of their projects, work with artists to offer all sorts of exclusive content to pledgers, and is accessible internationally to unite fans worldwide toward the creation of wonderful and unique musical items for the most rabid of a band’s fanatical followers.

Presently en route to my home is the Orb’s Further Adventures Live 2016 25th Anniversary DVD+3LP box set, which was my first encounter with Pledgemusic. But today, they popped up in my email saying… “Psssssst! Look at the thing!”

Now available for pre-order is something special for Close Personal Friends of Al Yankovic. Having grown up with every Al album from his self-titled debut to the present, my nerdcore childhood would never have been the same without him. And to celebrate his discography and 34 years of mandatory fun, Pledge has pulled out all the stops and created the ultimate Al treasure.

SQUEEZE BOX, as it is titled, contains all 14 studio albums plus a bonus Medium Rarities album of demos and rare tracks. All albums have been remastered and pressed on 150-gram vinyl. The set also includes a 100-page collector’s book of rare photos and memorabilia.

It is available in multiple levels of insanity, the highest of which includes a signed test pressing of your choice of any one of the original 14 studio albums, a Zoetrope-animated  turntable mat, retro-style “WEIRD Al” pennant, a magnetic build-your-own-Al, Commemorative t-shirt, and a CUSTOM PAIR OF WEIRD AL SOCKS!

And for $1500 they’ll ship you a signed test press of every one of the albums in the collection… though all 27 copies quickly sold out.

And, oh yeah, the entire set is packaged in a custom-created replica of Al’s signature accordion!

Shut up and take my money.

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The Final Countdown

A less-than-formal update this evening:

I’m so very excited! In all of my musical lit travels, there has been one rare great white which has always evaded me. There haven’t been any documented copies surfacing in the US in the 30-year history of the text, and copies worldwide seldom appear on the resale market at an affordable price.

It’s a book that everyone simply assumes I own, given my fascination with milestones of music culture. I’ve been stalking the rare book market for about 6 months in preparation for this purchase and was going to wait until June for my birthday, but I didn’t want to get stuck buying the $800+ copies if they were all that were left by the time I got around to it.

Tonight I set myself to the task, and quickly located a second (final) edition at a fair price but was dishearted to discover that the second edition was printed as a tiny pocket book while the first (and rarest) edition was famously a larger-than-life oversize text with anarchistic proclamations printed boldly across the cover.

It took a little hunting, but I was able to track down a first edition tonight. The entire sales entry was in German, which is likely the reason it hadn’t been snatched up yet. I didn’t hesitate for a second and bought it on the spot. 25-45 days for international shipping, but man, when it arrives I’m going to be one happy duck.

I’ll omit the title to send my readers into a massive upset of anticipation because you have nothing better to do than watch me buy sh*t that no one remembers.

Gold-plated no-prize to anyone who can guess what I’m on about.

Published in: on January 17, 2017 at 10:06 pm  Comments (2)  

Sports Headphones – A Diamond in the Rough

My latest entry prompted several headphone recommendation requests, and the first was resolved with great success so I will share it here for anyone interested in the same market.

A friend was interested in activewear headphones for use while exercising at the gym. Bluetooth was a key feature as they wished to pair the cans wirelessly with their iPod Touch. Her budget was $200. She wanted an on-ear style as IEMs inevitably fall out of her smaller-than-average ears.

I related to her my experience with Sennheiser behind-the-neck style on ear headphones and did some research to see what was available in Bluetooth in that format.

Sport behind the neck on-ear wireless headphones with Bluetooth technology is an incredibly tiny, tiny niche market. As such there is very little in the way of articles or features showcasing the best models. Matters are further complicated by the fact that behind-the-neck Bluetooth cans are not listed among all the other headphones on Amazon but instead are tucked away quietly under cell phone accessories.

But exploring that small category quickly revealed that there are very, very few models available with the behind-the-neck on-ear build and that most of those which qualify have only a handful of customer reviews on Amazon. The average cell phone accessory headphones are IEMs and have only 1-300 reviews, which did not instill any degree of confidence as to their quality.

Surprisingly, there was one single product which is the diamond in the rough of this otherwise quiet market. The Kinivo BTH240 headphones have a 4-star average review from over 5,100 buyers who each sing its praises in great detail. The 240 series was apparently a significant improvement over the previous Kinivo model in several categories, including improved battery life, a sleeker new design, increased number of pairings, and an added micro USB charging port.

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The model is incredibly lightweight at only 73g, is foldable, and comes with a velveteen storage pouch. It works with the iPod Touch and a variety of other devices, and the battery is good for ten hours of active use. Users with smaller than average heads and ears expressed that they wear them with incredible comfort and that after 45 minutes of intense running the headphones hadn’t budged an inch. They are also incredibly resistant to sweat and are fantastically durable.

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And the price? The MSRP is $49.99 but Amazon offers the BTH240s in a variety of colors for only $24.99. My only gripe with these headphones was not the product itself but that, curiously, all colors were priced the same except for pink, (the color my friend was excited to find), which was not 24.99, nor the MSRP of $49.99, but THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS. eBay reflected the same price, and the only two sellers Google returned with a lower price were red-flagged by uBlock Origin as being less than trustworthy merchants. The fact that “lady tax” is still an issue in 2017 is appalling, but my friend will settle for the standard black model.

So if any of you are interested in a quality Bluetooth sport headphone, give these a try.

Published in: on January 7, 2017 at 2:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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New Year – New Gear

My favorite headphones for the past 5 years have been the Sennheiser HD-380 Pro series. I thoroughly tested them against the ATH-M50 (their closest competitor) and preferred the Sennheiser model in every category of comparison from comfort, design aesthetic, durability, transparency of audio signature, and portability. (The HD-380 Pros ship with a wonderful semi-hard shell travel case.) You can check out my original comparative review from 2011 here.

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After 5 years, I’ve replaced the earpads once, but the replacements are third-party aftermarkets and have already separated from the frame after only a few months. I’m considering investing in a new pair and am exploring alternative models.

In April of last year, I picked up a pair of AudioQuest Nighthawks – the company’s flagship headphone. Aesthetically they are absolutely brilliant and precisely the style I’m after. They wed both vintage and contemporary design with their liquid wood finish, biometric diamond-cubic butterfly latticework grills, and retro-style dual headband. (Check out my featured images and more design details from this entry to Innerspace.) But of course, what matters most with headphones is their sound signature, and I quickly found that while the Nighthawks deliver a punchy and powerful sound for live and rock recordings, that they were somewhat lackluster in their delivery of classical, ambient, and electroacoustic works.

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The features I most desire in a headphone are supraaural closed-back leather earcups, detachable cables, passive noise cancellation, and studio-style sound signatures which focus on transparency rather than colorization. These will primarily be used in my listening room and in bed, which are both low ambient noise environments. Comfort is another key factor as I do not want fatigue to distract from first-listens to subtle and nuanced recordings like ambient, space, and drone works. I’m eyeing the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 cabled headphones as a potential upgrade.

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But before I jump into a new pair, I’m going to hold off until I pick up the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red USB DAC. Universally acclaimed as the finest portable DAC at its price point, the device has been sold out from all licensed distributors twice since November of 2016, so I am just awaiting the next replenishment. I am hopeful that the Dragonfly Red will correct the somewhat disappointing (but fully understandable) performance of my Android cell phone, Chromebook, and my desktop in playback of FLAC and 320CBR audio from my server.

Stay tuned!

Coming Soon to Innerspace: The Time Machine

While this week’s post is not necessarily musical, it is perhaps my most exciting post to date, and I’m confident that many of my readers will share in my exhilaration.

2016 has been a monumentally nostalgic year, likely due to my age and as a bit of reactionary escapism from the seemingly endless barrage of tragedies which have befallen us this year. More so than ever before, I’ve been transforming my home into a palace of beloved objets d’art and memories of wonderful moments from decades (or even centuries) past. My reading has been largely cultural criticism, political revolutionary texts, and music manifestoes from my favorite periods in history, and similarly, my cinematic explorations have been a journey through cult classics from the silver screen to the present.

One classic film has always remained close to my heart – the 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. My father shared the film with me via a VHS copy he taped from a broadcast on AMC in the 1980s. I was captured by the regal Victorian style of the time traveler’s home. I quickly adopted red velvet draperies, antique wood furniture, and fringe-shaded oil lamps for my own personal style, and have been refining that decor for 20 years.

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In 2012 a rosewood Denon DP-60L vintage turntable became my pièce de résistance. 

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And in 2013, the film resurfaced in my life when I purchased a 1971 painting by a local artist celebrating the movie. It had been acquired directly by a reseller and comic collector when it was painted but was never owned or displayed until my discovery of the piece forty years later. And as luck would have it, there was an ornate decorative Victorian style frame its exact size sitting a few feet away in the same shop. I didn’t hesitate for a moment and took them both home.

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So when nostalgia crept back into my mind this winter, I went back to that fateful film and the fantastic journey of the time traveler. I began scouring eBay, Amazon, and other marketplaces for a brilliant piece of official merchandise to celebrate the film in my own home. I quickly discovered that there is actually very little in the way of official merch for this magnificent film. A seller on Amazon offers a low-res bootleg print of the theatrical poster, but a genuine copy will set you back $600 and there is nothing offered in between.

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But it was off the beaten path that I found the greatest treasure any Time Machine devotee could ask for. While there are two independently-engineered advanced model kits available in the $200 dollar range, both are far beyond my level of ability to assemble and paint. However, on a humble website named timemachinemodels.com, a gentleman designs and handcrafts several working models of the Machine with varying levels of complexity. His latest design is absolutely breathtaking, and he offered to build one for me once he’s settled into his new home.

The latest model, based on the design of the full-scale Machine has a solid walnut base, brass rails and ornaments, and velvet seat cushions. The dish is turned with a new style motor that is built into the hub of the dish and eliminates the need for an external bearing wheel, providing a smoother and quieter operation. The control lever which activates the motor and lights is removable and comes in its own tiny display box.

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And better still – The Invention is available in The Tantalus Box from the film to truly showcase the piece properly.

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Here is The Time Machine in action. (All images and video are property of TimeMachineModels.com.)

The project is estimated to take twelve weeks to craft from start to finish and will be a splendid tribute to the memory of my late father’s initiating me into the world of science fiction all those years ago.

But wait! I do have a musical connection to close this feature after all! In anticipation of the project, I’ve ordered an original pressing of the dramatic score to The Time Machine!

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[EDIT – UPDATE!] The original film poster inspired me to design a monochrome t-shirt of the graphic. My custom tee arrived recently in the post –

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These are indeed exciting times. Happy new year everyone.

Published in: on December 30, 2016 at 6:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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An Epic Hip House Anthem

Just arrived from the UK – after years of stalking this rarity it’s finally mine. Distributed in France in 1991, this is the limited edition picture disc of the most monumentally epic hip house / electro-thrash single ever to destroy a pair of speakers.

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It is complete with relentlessly thumping dance beats, over-the-top sampled cheeseball guitar riffs, and Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes screaming to the storm, “I WANNA SEE YOU SWEAT!” ad infinitum. Throw in the bizarre historical mythos of The KLF discovering the lost continent of America in the year 992 and you’ve got a ridiculous dance hit that only The KLF could concoct.

Don’t miss the insane video for the single – “America, What Time is Love?”

“This is what the KLF is about. Over and out.”

The sound of a kick drum… miles away… buried deep within the earth.

Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas Box 10LP +4CD set has just arrived. Of Voigt’s countless one-off side project monikers, it is his work as Gas which has gained the most critical acclaim. And for good reason – this is some of the finest dark ambient minimal techno you could ever hope to find. And after sixteen years of various abridged and modified reissues, Voigt has presented the albums Zauberberg, Königsforst, and Pop in their entirety, along with a bonus disc featuring “Tal 90”, (previously released in Various – Pop Ambient 2002) and “Oktember B” from the Oktember EP from 1999.

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The set is housed in a sturdy slipcase with embossed jackets for each release. The discs are contained in glossy black paper sleeves with GAS logo printed on both sides. The accompanying hardcover 12″ x 12″ art book with digital images of the Königsforst also contains four CDs of the music from the set.

Inspired by Voigt’s youthful LSD experiences in the Königsforst (a German forest situated near his hometown of Köln), served as the inspiration behind these releases. Voigt claimed that he wanted to “bring the forest to the disco, or vice-versa”.

Wikipedia offers an excellent description of the Gas sound:

Each album consisting of several long tracks of dense, hypnotic, atmospheric sound. All Gas material shares a characteristic sound, consisting of an ambient wash of drones and loops, usually accompanied by a repetitive four-on-the-floor kick drum underneath the multiple layers of music. Occasionally a song will just drift on its own ambience.

Indeed, most of the time there is no clear musical progression in a Gas track, as Voigt seems to be more interested in exploring depth of the stereo field, utilizing subtle shifts in sound. Because music under the Gas alias lacks any trace of orthodox melody or chord change many would not describe it as musical. However, the sources of Voigt’s samples are often of musical origin, encapsulating “old pop record stuff” as well as classical music such as Richard Wagner and Arnold Schoenberg.

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It also notes that critics have described Gas music as, “similar to hearing a band playing very far away, underwater, or from behind walls.” By any measure, this is a milestone ambient box set and an essential piece of any ambient record collection.