Hear our tribute to Edgar Froese tonight on Echoes.
I first heard Tangerine Dream in 1974. It was the album Phaedra, and it was unlike anything I had ever heard before: no vocals, no songs, rhythms that throbbed like galactic rubber bands, textures that swirled, and sounds that were completely unfamiliar. My music world was forever changed. Now one of the architects of that sound, Edgar Froese, has left the planet. He passed suddenly on January 20th from a pulmonary embolism. He was 70s years old. The family only just announced it on the 23rd. Froese is survived by his second wife, Bianca Acquaye, and his son, musician and former Tangerine Dream member Jerome Froese. Froese’s first wife, Monique, who designed all those great Tangerine Dream covers, died in 2000.
Everyone has memories of the first time they heard Tangerine Dream. They were that kind of band: one that changed lives.
“I switched on the radio, I laid back onto the pillow, my head started to spin, and these mellotron chords started to wash over me” recall’s Mark Shreeve, an English synthesist and member of Red Shift and Arc. “Almost instantly I thought: this is possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I have never, ever heard anything like this. Almost as if it wasn’t being created by humans. That’s what I used to think when I listened to it.”
“I can’t really describe as anything but liquid fluidity,” reflected synthesist Robert Rich. There was a soft womblike quality about the album that I liked.
“It was on the Alan Freeman Show on Radio One, believe it or not, on a Saturday, about 4:00,” remembers English synthesist Ian Boddy. “This track came on the air and I just thought, wow, what is this, this is so cool. It just sounded like nothing else I had ever heard. It was just such a new sound, it kind of had like almost the sound of strings, because of electrons, but strings out in space.”
Even punks listened to it. “Tangerine Dream were the antidote for me then to, the great big groove music, you know,” professed Public Image, Ltd bassist Jah Wobble.
All those musicians are in their 50s and 60s, but musicians in their 20s and 30s, like Ulrich Schnauss, also respond to this music, which was made before they were born. In an Echoes blindfold test, Schnauss identified Tangerine Dream’s Ricochet from the opening applause. He said: “What I particularly loved about stuff like Tangerine Dream for instance, is the fact that they didn’t use electronics in cheesy, gimmicky, sci-fi sort of way. They actually used it in a very human, very organic way; they really used the synthesizer to make music, to express emotions and to create something really beautiful with it.”
That’s what people often didn’t get about Tangerine Dream: critics heard electronic music as cold and mechanized, but its adherents reveled in a depth of emotional expression they didn’t find in more conventional music. Tangerine Dream’s music took you somewhere other than here.
Tangerine Dream was born from psychedelia and baked in technology. In 1969, the United States was sending men to the moon and exploring outer space. In West Berlin, artists like Agitation Free, Klaus Schulze, Psy-Free and Tangerine Dream were exploring an inner space that was equally strange, uncharted and unbounded.
Edgar Froese started out playing guitar in a psychedelic pop band called The Ones. They released one single, “Lady Greengrass.”
The Ones went on to create music for an exhibition by Spanish surrealist, Salvador Dali. No doubt that added to the already surreal tendencies of the band. But while The Ones produced 60s psychedelic pop in the style of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Tangerine Dream found an entirely new musical vocabulary. Their music was charged by the social, political and cultural movements of the day, but trapped in the echo chamber of the Cold War. The Wall still stood when I interviewed Edgar Froese in his Berlin studio in 1982.
“It’s not a jail type of situation but it’s something close to it,” he tried to explain. He was a large burly man with shock of straw-like blonde hair, sitting at a large mixing console. “Because Berlin is a place which is very isolated, and you can’t just jump into your car and say OK, I got to go out for half an hour. You have to drive exactly 160 miles to reach the other part of West Germany, and it’s called the Autobahn Corridor. You have to drive through it. And it’s a subconscious influence.”
The 1960s Berlin scene was fueled by psychedelic drugs. Members of Tangerine Dream and other German bands got together and had jam sessions that were made into albums like Cosmic Jokers and Galactic Supermarket. Synthesist Klaus Schulze, the original drummer of Tangerine Dream, was among the participants. “The basic thing about Cosmic Jokers was LSD,” he guffaws, waving a cigarette. “That was the whole basis of the compositions. This was the influence of Timothy Leary.”
These elements all formed Tangerine Dream’s 1969 debut album, Electronic Meditations. It wasn’t a yoga record. It was like Pink Floyd playing the Karlheinz Stockhausen songbook with the amps turned up to 11. Tangerine Dream would release more recordings of free form explorations, including Alpha Centauri and Zeit, but in the mid-1970s, they arrived at what would become their signature sound. It was a music born of synthesizers, charged by driving rhythms and the repeated note patterns of sequencers. Tangerine Dream wouldn’t come all the way back from deep space, but they did come into orbit.
“After a few years we said: look, if we go on that way, we don’t do anything good.’” remembered Froese. “People don’t understand it, what we can do. So, we said: OK, look, let’s take the rhythm back first, because for the first three records, we did not have too much rhythm. Let’s use a sequence so that people could feel the ground they’re familiar with. And then, let’s add all these strange sounds and effects on Top.”
The results were the albums, Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet and Stratosfear, recorded with the classic trio of Froese, Peter Baumann and Christoph Franke. This was a sound that shed the conventions of rock to create something entirely new.
“Over there in Germany we had no roots in Rock and Roll,” proclaimed Froese. “We could not compare our talent in rock and roll in any way with American musicians, even not with English musicians. So what we had to do is to step away from that, try to move through the backdoor into sort of different aspects of explaining ourselves through music, you know. And so, we realized – OK, what, what have we got? What’s our heritage in music? That’s classical music and a growing part of technologies. And we haven’t done anything else than combining new technologies, with the roots of classical music, that’s what we did.”
Technology and Tangerine Dream go hand in hand, plug into socket, computer chip into computer. But Froese insisted it was never about the technology. “I remember my first interview back in ’69, somewhere in Germany” he reflected. “I said, if you can’t express what you want to say in music by blowing a comb, give it up… and if there is nothing to say, what can you do with a billion dollar instrument? Nothing, absolutely nothing.”
While many original fans disparage the output of Tangerine Dream from the late 1980s to today, synthesist Ulrich Schnauss finds that the Dream still lives. He is friends with Edgar Froese’s son Jerome and eventually wound up collaborating, playing and recording with Tangerine Dream on the final album released while Froese was still alive, Mala Kunia.
“I think it’s really admirable that he continues doing what he wants to do,” asserted Schnauss. “He’s not really compromising in any way and he’s managed to establish this philosophy for 40 years now and I think that’s very admirable.”
Tangerine Dream made it into their fifth decade still exploring new directions, even creating electronic operas like an interpretation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy. They’ve not only spawned generations of musicians, Edgar Froese’s own son, Jerome is now a solo artist after years playing next to his father in Tangerine Dream. Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Ian Boddy, Vic Hennegan and so many more wouldn’t be making the music they do, if Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream hadn’t come first. Donna Summers’ Giorgio Moroder produced song, “I Feel Love” was wholly derived from Tangerine Dream, the sequencers, not the moaning..
Film director John Carpenter’s soundtracks were completely influenced by the group. Alan Howarth was Carpenter’s sound designer and musical collaborator. “For John and I, Tangerine Dream was one of the models,” he revealed at a 2013 interview at the Mountain Oasis Electronic Music Summit. “When we did Halloween 3 we put on the latest Tangerine Dream record and listened to it, and then went in that direction because we liked those sounds, especially their sequences. They were the best sequencer guys of the time with these very ostinato, musically repetitious, but nice choices.”
Many of us early fans abandoned Tangerine Dream in the 90s. The music seemed sterile, their performances appeared completely canned and the digital timbres they employed didn’t have the warmth and timeless resonance of their vintage work in the 70s and 80s. But that started to change about five years ago. The albums became more inventive and were often conceptually driven. With recent albums like The Angel of the West Window, The Island of the Fay and Chandra they are making the symphonic music of the 21st century. It’s just a symphony with an enhanced, polyrhythmic rock beat and screaming guitar solos in an enveloping, immersive experience.
Their live shows became truly live. Their performance at Moogfest in 2011 was revelatory. (You can hear it here.) I was fortunate to see that for myself on what has turned out to be Tangerine Dream’s last American tour in 2012: the Electric Mandarine Tour, I found a band that had rediscovered its footing and was launching into the future. (Review here.)
When you think of the giants of modern electronic music, the artists who took it out of academia and into the real world, the names you think of are: Klaus Schulze; Wendy Carlos; Brian Eno; Manual Göttsching of Ashra; Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk; Jean-Michel Jarre; Vangelis; Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Michael Rother of Cluster, Harmonia and Neu!; Robert Margoleff and Malcolm Cecil of Tonto’s Expanding Headband. They were all there at the beginning. Edgar Froese is the first among these giants to leave.
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