August 10, 2015
Tuesday Tangerine Dreams
by Melville House
This 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!
- Longtime McNally Jackson bookseller Brook Stephenson died suddenly over the weekend. I’ve never met a more positive person—Brook was a force of nature and an inspiration in every way imaginable. He’ll be missed by man. (Rolling Out)
- Twelve is publishing an anthology of writing by Ronald Reagan speechwriter/conservative Wall Street Journal columnist/experimental poet Peggy Noonan called The Time of Our Lives. Hopefully her prediction of a Mitt Romney victory–based on extensive yard sign research–will make the cut. (Associated Press)
- William Shakespeare was (maybe) high as shit, definitely thought 420 was funny. (CNN)
- Melville House author Pope Francis is so generous that he’s donating an $8 million dollar Bible to Congress. (Christian Post)
- A new documentary explores the The Negro Motorist Green Book, a field guide to nonsegregated and black-friendly establishments created to aid black motorists navigating the Jim Crow south, and its author. (The New York Times)
- Roxane Gay talks to Ta-Nehisi Coates. (B&N Review)
- Christian romance novel about the torrid affair between a Jewish concentration camp inmate and a German commander and the inmate’s conversion to Christianity is award-nominated and controversial, for some totally mysterious reason. (Forward)
- Restless Books publisher Ilan Stavans discusses the publisher’s new prize for “immigrant writing.” (Publishers Weekly)
Google, which is now Alphabet, is following Amazon into the drone-delivery business, which is not a real business. (Business Insider)
Running Press‘s book You Are a Badass, whose title is inaccurate (sorry, You, but it’s the truth), is nonetheless the rare kind of bestseller–a non-instant one. (Publishers Weekly)
- “George RR Martin went to the Jets training camp on Wednesday, and everyone who is into Game of Thrones and science fiction and the Jets and the NFL was very excited.” (The Guardian)
- An English textbook was quickly recalled in Indonesia, after it was discovered that it contained a photo of a Japanese porn star. (Rocket News 24)
- The man who stole a plaque from Mark Twain’s grave in Elmira, NY was sentenced to 6 months in jail. I told you I didn’t do it. (Star Gazette)
- UK bookseller Waterstones is throwing a party to mark the occasion of the publication of Terry Pratchett‘s final Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, at their Piccadilly location in London. Pratchett fans can buy tickets for £10, which includes a copy of the book, or pay £35 to get Waterstones’ exclusive collectors edition and a gift bag. (Shelf Awareness)
- Elvis Presley‘s one-time private nurse is releasing a book this week about her time and friendship with the rock & roll star. Letetia Henley Kirk lived on the grounds at Graceland from 1972-1983 and has hesitated to write such a book for years, but was inspired to do so after speaking with fans at Elvis Week in Memphis. Those expecting a salacious tell-all will be disappointed, though, as Kirk describes the book as “light-hearted stories of my memories and experiences with Elvis.” (The Tennessean)
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 group’s name runs into triple figures, despite the group’s 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 servicemen’s 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 ‘saw’ as 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 group’s name, and the cloudbreaking achievements of Pink Floyd, to whom Froese would pay frequent homage in titles like Madcap’s 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 Overdrive” just 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 1971’s Alpha Centauri, the second album in what would later be termed Tangerine Dream’s ‘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 Sola’ sees flocks of starlings swoop like the treated soundtrack to Hitchcock’s 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 Franke’s percussion, so furious it’s 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 Dream’s 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 isn’t much music created in my home country I could feel sympathetic with,’ he said in 2010. ‘It’s 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.’
1973’s Atem would be Tangerine Dream’s 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.