Wolfgang Voigt is one of the most influential figures in the history of dance music. He is a co-founder of the Cologne-based Kompakt label, and he has released electronic music of staggering diversity under a range of pseudonyms. Although his career is carefully followed by devotees of techno, the rerelease two years ago of Voigt’s complete works under the moniker GAS resulted in a crossover breakout. GAS was concerned with amorphous, slightly sinister ambient music with the sparest techno overtones. The rapturous praise that the Nah Und Fern reissue collection generated saw the mercurial Voigt become a public figure, taking the GAS show on an international tour and breaking into the Billboard World Music Chart.
All of this is to say that Voigt’s next release would result in more anticipation and scrutiny from a wider fan base than the producer has seen in years. Add to that the fact that Voigt has reactivated his Profan label, dormant since 2000, and Freiland Klaviermusik becomes one of the most anticipated dance music releases of the year. That the record is a plodding bore from the start can’t be seen as anything but a significant disappointment. “Schwere Wasser” is dynamic enough, breaking out of the antiseptic, predictable structure that mars some of the other tracks. Voigt pushes repeated piano lines to the limit, layering one on top of the other and creating a dynamism lacking in the majority of the other tracks.
“Kammer” has a low-end thump in the manner of traditional techno that livens up the sonic field briefly before the track degenerates into aimless piano tinkling. The Freiland Klaviermusik material is indebted to the player-piano studies of revered cult composer Conlon Nancarrow, but Voigt’s superficial synthetic piano sound drains the resulting tracks of all humanity. Even the most devoted adherents of Voigt’s relentlessly minimal aesthetic will likely be bored to tears by the record after one or two listens. Penultimate track “Symbol” and closer “Stillberg” do away with the pretense of techno altogether and are merely poor solo piano songs.
Perhaps Freiland Klaviermusik is a calculated failure by Voigt. It’s a tedious record with esoteric aspirations designed to throw electronic music dabblers and crossover fans off the scent after the GAS breakout. Regardless of his intentions, the record barely ranks as a curiosity in Voigt’s long and fascinating discography.