Wolfgang Voigt – Rückverzauberung Exhibition

An epic re-enchantment anniversary

Ten years. This is how long Wolfgang Voigt has been devoting a large part of his creativity to his “Rückverzauberung” project – a German word that is only partly properly translated to re-enchantment, a word that seems like it could be understood, but escapes definition as soon as you start thinking about it.

Adequately placed on the magnificent Astral Industries label, his anniversary double vinyl album delivers what we have come to appreciate and what he describes as the natural follow-up of Gas and “a logical, radical and necessary step into a more atonal and experimental sound cosmos.”

That’s something I can sort of understand, and something that makes sense if you look at the admirably large and wide oeuvre Voigt has built over the last 25 years. What I find a little less comprehensible is the promotional description the label has issued about this album: “Intoxicating in its Mephistolean dissonances and ambitious sonic structure, the sprawling ‘Rückverzauberung’ itself becomes a nebulous organism shrouded in the seeping mist of the unknown.”

I do think that Mephistolean should really be mephistophelean, but that is just a side note. Personally, I just think it is a little too thick. I mean – this is Wolfgang Voigt, the man is something like a god in the world of ambient already. We can safely assume that the main target group will basically just see the name of the artist, the name of the label, and that’s it. Probably have been waiting for it to be released for weeks.

It was written with the best of intentions, of course. So we’ll just take it and give it a chance. The ambitious sonic structure. Absolutely, that’s one of the main elements here. In several aspects of what Voigt does throughout this project, he clearly doesn’t make it easy for us. Ambitious it is. And contrary to what a lot of ambient does out there, the layers and structures of what we hear on this part of the re-enchantment journey are not assembled to define some kind of pleasantness or bliss.

Which leads us to the dissonances. Mephistophelean or not, they challenge the listener, force him or her to match Voigt’s ambition in reception. You can’t just sit there and let it add some sonic colors to your day while you are reading a book or answering emails. Dissonances demand attention. They are there for a purpose and the only way to tap into that purpose is to listen. And if your speakers aren’t top notch, grab some good headphones. You don’t have either, go buy something appropriate.

Sprawling. Yes. Sort of by definition – a) because it’s ambient, sprawling is common, and b) we get sixty minutes of Rückverzauberung – plenty of time to explore the sonic structures and feel your way through those moments of dissonance.

The part with the nebulous organism and the dripping mist surrounding it is obviously a little more challenging. It’s somewhat misleading if we associate this with the dampening effect mist has on sound – Voigt’s sonic structures are voluminous, grand and looming, they occupy a large space. The metaphor is much more fitting if you imagine it as a visual experience – objects, scenes, imaginations being obscured by mist hanging in the air, drifting slowly, sometimes enabling a vague glimpse of what lies behind it.

All throughout this sonic experience the drone layers keep an ominous atmosphere setting the scene for mostly horn and string based symphonic elements that place the music close to or rather already within the realms of modern classical music. The claim of synesthetic textures that is also part of the promotional statement is not too ambitious here – anyone that would experience sound in combination with a visual impression will have a pretty intense field trip. And even us regular people who simply connect sonic impressions to images, themes and memories are getting a lot of food for our imagination.

The big question in my head is still hovering around that nebulous organism called Rückverzauberung. It’s an interesting word, in German. Verzauberung is the enchantment, Rück- is the re- in here. There is probably no better way to translate – and yet… Verzauberung is not unmistakably and always enchantment. At its core it is meant as the magical transformation from one state to another. Being put under a spell. Think of Rückverzauberung as a word that ranges from being spellbound to being enchanted, from what Merlin can do to the comparatively simple experience of enchantment anyone can have.

The fascinating part about Rückverzauberung is that the Rück- part actually means re- as in reversal – which is clearly not the same as what de-, dis- or un- would do. It is absolutely not a reversal as in simply taking the spell back. In that case, the German world would be Entzauberung – and it literally means that the magic is taken away. One moment you are under a magic spell, the next moment you are back in your home office, to put it in a pandemic context.

This is how I understand Rückverzauberung, re-enchantment – being put on a spell means that you can’t return to where you were before as the spell itself will have left something inside you that is going to remain there forever. This change in you is like another spell, and that’s the re-enchantment.

Is this what “Rückverzauberung Exhibition” does to the listener? It largely depends on whether you want to let it enchant you with all its ambitious sonic layers, its dissonances and its looming and maybe actually slightly mephistophelean spaces. It will need more than one session, and it might just be that the full effect of this can only be grasped completely when experienced in a fittingly large space, live.

Wolfgang Voigt said in an interview that the Rückverzauberung project is his move into “something which in German we call “E-Musik” [ernste Musik], meaning serious music.” It’s a strange differentiation in German as the other part of the music world is called “U-Musik” – Unterhaltungsmusik – translating into music that is made for entertainment (which is, as you can easily deduct, clearly not serious music for the traditional German mind). Maybe that’s why I am a little bit put off by the promo text – it doesn’t really announce serious music in a way that I can take seriously.

Yes. This is serious music. Modern classical music shrouded in a mist of ambient. As ambitious in year ten as it was on day one.

Release for review:
WOLFGANG VOIGT – RÜCKVERZAUBERUNG EXHIBITION – ASTRAL INDUSTRIES – AI-22

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