August 10, 2015

Tuesday Tangerine Dreams


tangerine-dream-stratosfear-Ristampa-Vinile-lp2This August, as we prepare to unleash a bunch of incredible books into the world, MobyLives will be taking a bit of a breather. We’ll still post the occasional news item or feature, but for most of this month we’ll be posting a roundup like this every morning. We will, of course, remain active on Twitter and Facebook. We hope you have a great August, and that you’ll keep checking in with us!

This month’s roundups are brought to you by Future Days: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music. Each roundup will feature a short excerpt of the book, and a couple of songs from a Krautrock band. Today’s band is Tangerine Dream.

Excerpt from Future Days: Although the number of albums released under the groups name runs into triple figures, despite the groups constant and main man Edgar Froese having been active for approaching half a century and achieving the sort of worldwide success denied to his German contemporaries, Tangerine Dream intersect only briefly with the Krautrock narrative.  

Edgar Froese followed a similar trajectory to many of his more musically inquisitive peers. He was tutored in guitar and piano in his teens, and his first gigs were at servicemens clubs in the mid-1960s. Parallel to his musical development, however, was an interest in and aptitude for the fine arts he would study sculpture at art school, and there would be a lifelong visual dimension to Tangerine Dream. His would be the kind of music you sawas well as heard he would be assisted in this epiphany by the Technicolor explosion of British psychedelia in the late 1960s, including the Beatles, who would provide the inspiration for the groups name, and the cloudbreaking achievements of Pink Floyd, to whom Froese would pay frequent homage in titles like Madcaps Flaming Duty, a loving reference to early Floyd frontman Syd Barrett. When Tangerine Dream was playing clubs in the late sixties in Germany, we used to love Piper at the Gates of Dawn and we played Interstellar Overdrivejust about every night. The early Floyd stuff was so strange and so different from everything at the time.

Earlier than that, however, while fronting a short-lived combo called the Ones, Froese experienced a significant eye-opener when his group were invited to play at Salvador Dalí’s villa in Cadaqués. Proximity to the extravagant Surrealist genius in the midst of his opulence jolted Froese into a more experimental direction, finding ways in which the radical, formalist movements of twentieth century art might similarly open up new horizons for the relatively stunted little animal that was mid-sixties beat music. Everything is possible in art,the twenty-two-year-old decided.

For 1971s Alpha Centauri, the second album in what would later be termed Tangerine Dreams pink years, in tribute to the colour of the distinctive ear on the Ohr label logo, Froese introduced a synthesizer, operated by one Roland Paulyck. His main collaborator in the group was Christoph Franke, who had been drummer with Agitation Free and would help develop the sequencer as a live instrument, the crucial, outboard motor the group would use to navigate through their live improvisations.

Opener Sunrise in the Third System, though still marinated in lo-fi hiss, announces itself as a kosmische proposition, as a sustained organ chord orbits and a theremin-style wail dances overhead like the aurora borealis. Fly and Collision of Comas Solasees flocks of starlings swoop like the treated soundtrack to Hitchcocks The Birds. Solemn, lightly mundane organ undulations and trilling flute are threatened sporadically by a precipitation of laser-attack sequences which build to an intensity marked by Frankes percussion, so furious its as if he is systematically smashing his kit to pieces. Tangerine Dream are already delving into a dark side beyond the Dark Side of the Moon, into speculative realms uncharted by the mainstream sound astronomers of the day.

However, Zeit, one of Tangerine Dreams very greatest works, would foreshadow like a dark star the likes of Fripp and Eno on An Index of Metals, as well as Paul Schutze and his fellow dark ambient travellers. This is particularly evident on Birth of Liquid Plejades, which bears out the concept underpinning the album that the notion of time going forward is illusory, that time is, in fact, motionless.

Great as Zeit was, it was also music guided by an artist indifferent to the workings of his German musical contemporaries such as Faust, whom Froese said he had never heard of. His driving concern was to explore increasingly advanced technology to take him further and further away from a cultural landscape with which he felt no great kinship. There isnt much music created in my home country I could feel sympathetic with,he said in 2010. Its partly my musical taste as well as my passion for experimental journeys in various directions. So, my fellow people are far too conservative to follow new ideas and structures in music.

1973s Atem would be Tangerine Dreams last for the Ohr label, with whom Froese was increasingly dissatisfied. The Moog was dispensed with, but now Froese had a Mellotron, much beloved by groups like Genesis and the Moody Blues at this time, and his extensive use of an instrument whose characteristic faux-orchestral strains mean that it tends rather to sound like itself, regardless of who is playing it, does tie Atem a little more to its period. The very use of the title Atem, which Kraftwerk had used a year earlier, slightly negated the idea that Tangerine Dream were navigating entirely unexplored territory. Still, its remote, Hubble telescope visions, accompanied by the discreet put-putting of a sequencer, were sufficiently unlike anything else being recorded in the UK at that point for John Peel to declare Atem his Album of the Year in 1973.

Eventually, they would move into the lucrative world of soundtracks, the music subordinate to often banal, commercial narratives. The best move I made in terms of music and the business was to bring my music to the UK and team up with Virgin Records,Froese would later say. So one step led to another and it is really about following your inner self, being part of the art form and creating the music rather than consciously thinking about being in the forefront of electronic music.

From Sheffield to Spain, from Bilbao back to Berlin, their music still represented a singular challenge, improvised and billowing like dry-ice sculpture. However, live in particular, in grand settings, it represented an experience to audiences embracing the supersonics of Donna Summer and the new sci-fi dimensions of Star Wars. For many, Tangerine Dream were synonymous with synthesizers but, despite their popularity, they were still as remote a prospect to the average young punter as foreign travel, given the mortgage applications required to buy double albums at the time and their lack of TV exposure.