Peter Baumann returns with new album "Machines of Desire" in the Echoes Podcast
“The delight of music is that it really doesn’t have any distinct purpose,” Baumann suggests. “You’ll not be able to build a house with music. You can’t eat it. You can’t do anything with it. It’s really very subtle joy that we can experience in our lives that kind of resonates and makes us feel at home. So music is just, let’s say the cherry on the cake.”
That’s a surprisingly unromantic, unpoetic and non-spiritual view from a musician who has been part of some of the most evocative, poetic and transcendent music of the 20th century. He was a member of Tangerine Dream in the mid-1970s, and he founded the Private Music label in 1985 launching the careers of Patrick O’Hearn and Yanni.
But Peter Baumann comes to his philosophical perceptions of music from his Being Human project. He sold Private Music in the mid 1990s and since then has been running the Baumann Foundation created by Baumann and his wife, Allison in San Francisco. According to their website they “explore the experience of being human in the context of cognitive science, evolutionary theory and philosophy to foster greater clarity about the human condition. The title of his album, Machines of Desire, encapsulates his studies.
“The whole exploration of human nature lead me to certain perspectives that are reflected in the record,” explains Baumann. “And one of them is that as human beings, we always search, we always look for a better way. And you know, we always try to improve things in our lives, and we search for meaning and things like that.”
Now, 33 years after his last album, Peter Baumann has returned to music. The electronic stage has changed considerably since that last recording and even more so since he mounted the stage with Tangerine Dream in the 1970s. Back then they were looking for a different sound. Speaking in 1983, the late founder, Edgar Froese said they weren’t trying to be a rock band.
“Over there in Germany we had no roots in Rock and Roll,” Froese divulged. “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 a 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.”
“I was not now lead to do conventional rock and roll music or anything that you would consider conventional song,” Baumann confirms. “But it came very natural that we enjoyed experimentation with music. And quite frankly, I mean we were quite young at the time. We never expected to have the success that we had.”
In fact, the 63-year-old Baumann was only 18 when he joined Tangerine Dream in 1971. Up until the mid-70s, a Tangerine Dream concert was freely improvised from zero up.
“Yeah, 100%,” affirms Baumann. “I mean there were no computers, you know, where sometimes I wish we had some, I mean we would start out in the evening and say okay, today we’re gonna play in C. And that was it, we would start with the note C and that was it.”
Tangerine dream was born in Berlin when the Berlin wall was in full effect. Edgar Froese speaking in 1983.
“It’s not a jail type of situation but it’s something close to it,” Edgar Froese discloses in 1983. “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. — it’s may be more I think which lies in a sub — subconscious influence.”
Their music was called “Space Music” and “Cosmic Music”, as if it aspired to something other than here. But it was also an inner space music.
“Oh, absolutely,” Baumann attests. “I mean that when you go in that part of yourself and that sensory, you know, world, the boundaries between the interior and the cosmos start to dissolve, and it becomes just one experiential space.”
“And you guys had the soundtrack for that,” I suggest.
“That’s a good way to put it, yeah,” agrees Baumann.
Although Peter Baumann isn’t using any vintage synthesizers, his sonic palette sounds like it could’ve come out of his studio in 1977 Berlin.
“Yeah, you know, and that could be intuitive,” he speculates. “And you know, we all have like an internal sense of sounds, you know, and there’s just a particular spectrum between warm sounds, and harsh sounds, and analog sounds, and digital sounds, and and short, and long, and pads and melodies. I mean you have, you know, a matrix of possibilities and I just picked the ones that I intuitively feel express what I, what I was after.”
Peter visited Edgar Froese, just two weeks before he died suddenly in January of 2015 and the shadow of the Tangerine Dream founder lingers over Machines of Desire. The track “Dust to Dust” even seems to evoke the sound of Edgar Froese’s guitar playing.
“‘Dust To Dust’ was one of the first pieces I wrote after Edgar died,” Baumann reveals. “And you know, I always liked the way he played guitar, and there’s certainly a big influence that Edgar’s playing and Edgar’s personality on me and the music I’m doing.”
Like Tangerine Dream’s albums, the sound of Machines of Desire is on the dark side. It’s not light and airy new age music, it’s full of shadowed textures and heavy rhythms.
“Somewhere intuitively I feel that music represents the mood of the time,” Baumann theorizes. “And you know, this particular record, Machines of Desire, has somewhat of a dark mood. And I I sense there’s a certain darkness in culture these days and I just felt like I want it to be expressed.”
After Edgar Froese’s death, there was talk of some kind of reformation or continuance of Tangerine Dream. But Peter Baumann says that at the moment he won’t be involved in any of those endeavors. In the mean time, he’s still running the Baumann Foundation. His new album is Machines of Desire on Bureau B Records.