April CD of the Month: Tangerine Dream’s Supernormal

Tangerine Dream's Supernormal-The Australian Concerts 2014 is Echoes April CD of the Month

Hear Tangerine Dream’s Supernormal-The Australian Concerts 2014
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SupernormalIn 1974, the dawn of Tangerine Dream’s classic era, the band took us into a completely new world, creating a sound that hadn’t been heard before, an altered state of music reality that looked inward while simultaneously scanning the horizon. Forty years later, they were still doing it, as the three CDs of Supernormal: The Australian Concerts 2014 attest.

Founded in 1967, Tangerine Dream released their first album, Electronic Meditation, in 1969. They started out as children of psychedelia, with an even more experimental approach than bands like Pink Floyd, who were their closest counterpart in rock music. But in 1974 they cut rock’s umbilical cord and set off for deep space. Abandoning drums, bass and even guitar for a while, they went instead with three keyboard/synthesizer players, Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann and Christoph Franke. This trio codified the classic Dream sound on albums like Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet and Stratosfear. They were part of the zeitgeist of German music that included Kraftwerk, Klaus Schulze, Cluster and Can.

Through the years, personnel changed, with Edgar Froese the only common thread. The band evolved, experimented, worked within more conventional rock structures and in the opinion of many fans, lost their way. But in the late 2000’s, while many, including me, weren’t looking, they regained their footing, finding new inspiration and timbral richness.
Rubycon 1

That makes the timing of Supernormal especially tragic. It comes on the heels of Edgar Froese’s passing on January 20 of this year. As the first posthumous release, it stands as a beautiful testimony to Tangerine Dream’s career from “Phaedra” in 1974, right up to some of their latest music. If I were to introduce a newcomer to the band, this triple CD might be the place to start.

Tdream-UlrichRecorded during their tour of Australia last year, this edition of Tangerine Dream echoes the line-up of the Virgin Records years, with three keyboard players, Froese, Ulrich Schnauss and Thorsten Quaeschning, but with the addition of Hoshiko Yamane on cello, violin and other strings.

Supernormal opens with a link between Tangerine Dream’s heritage in German classical music and their status as modern synthesizer icons. A Gothic solo played on the giant pipe organ of the Melbourne Town Hall segues into “Ricochet Part Two.” Its flute-like synth accents and interlocking delayed sequencer lines send us off into a non-stop Tangerine Dream set of cosmic dimensions.
Twilight in Abidjan

Froese sometimes bristled at his compositions being called Space music, but that term does provide the perfect imagery for tracks like “Rubycon,” even more so here than the original, there’s a harder edge to the sequences that make it sound like a starship rocketing through the galaxies. But the Dream have taken their sound into different dimensions over the years, as heard on “Madagascar,” originally from One Night In Africa, which employs the timbres of the balaphon, doussn’gouni and other percussion in a track that envelopes those sounds into the dreamscape.

TD-Froese-CroppedThe promise of this new ensemble was yet to be realized, although hints of it are on the 2014 album, Mala Kunia which saw Ulrich Schnauss bring his downtempo electronica approach to Tangerine Dream. But when Supernormal was recorded, the new band wasn’t fully integrated. Nevertheless, Hoshiko Yamane brings an interesting sound, reinforcing the electronic strings with her own midi-strings and on “Astrophel and Stella,” playing the Chinese erhu, a violin-like instrument with a snarly sound.

The Dream still get into some deep spaces, and essay one of their heaviest sequencer pieces in years with “Aldebaran,” a track originally from Chandra: The Phantom Ferry Pt.2. It’s a relentless, brooding piece at the edge of the abyss. The first disc ends where it began, in the classic era, with “Phaedra.” It’s now called “Phaedra 2014”, because it’s been 41 years since that album’s release and things change. While the original is in this track’s DNA, it’s also a new realization, born from four decades of experience.
Center of Now

Disc two carries on with a mix of classic and more recent material, with some classics appearing in disguise. “Wisdom and Tragedy” is a reworking of “Tangram,” which originated on the Tangram 2008 re-recording, re-fabricated here with a fun 8-Bit style cadenza. Some lesser-known Dream songs get redeployed, including nice renditions of “Breath Kissing Matter’s Mouth” and “Cinnamon Road.” But the disc ends with the only misstep in three CDs worth of music. They play 18th century baroque composer Arcangelo Correlli’s “La Folia” and it sounds as cheesy as any other synthed-up classical rendition (Wendy Carlos excepted.)

They get back on track with disc three. It’s an extraordinary run through the entire score of Sorcerer, the 1977 William Friedkin film that launched their Hollywood film scoring career. The Dream recorded way more material than ultimately appeared in the soundtrack, and here they expound on it even further. It’s a work that oscillates between older analog sounds and newer digital ones, sometimes exploding, like on “Impression of Sorcerer,” into the kind of wild synth solo you don’t often hear with the Dream.
Sorcerer Theme

This album is not only a salute to Tangerine Dream’s past, but points to a future that will now never to be realized with this new configuration. Edgar Froese is gone and with him, the spirit of Tangerine Dream. But Supernormal: The Australian Concerts 2014 brings you three CDs and over three and a half hours of Tangerine Dream to keep you in heavenly bliss.

~John Diliberto

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