Synthwaves by Quaeschning & Schnauss Echoes August CD of the Month
Written by John Diliberto on July 31, 2017
The spirit of Tangerine Dream lives in our August CD of the Month.
Wax up your surfboard because we’re riding Synthwaves. Synthwave, singular, is an electronic music genre that looks back to 1980s electronic music from pop to soundtracks. But Synthwaves, plural, is a new album by Thorsten Quaeschning and Ulrich Schnauss, both veterans of electronic music in their own right and currently members of Tangerine Dream. Synthwaves harkens back to the early 80s sound of the Dream, but with some newer twists.
Both musicians are steeped in the heritage of German electronic music. Thorsten Quaeschning recorded revved-up retro-space music under the name, Picture Palace Music. He’s also been a member of Tangerine Dream for the last 15 years or so. Ulrich Schnauss launched a new sound in electronic music that mixed shoegaze textures and guitar-like distortions with driving rhythms that often sounded like surf music in overdrive. His debut album, Far Away Trains Passing By and its follow-up, A Strangely Isolated Place, are signature examples of 21st century electronic music. For the last few years, he’s also been a member of Tangerine Dream.
These two musicians have gotten together on Synthwaves, to create state-of-the-art sequencer music. “Rain on Dry Concrete” has driving interlocking patterns, phasing in and out of each other like a laser moiré pattern. This is the sound of 80s Tangerine Dream, updated with even more precision and complexity. This is music for the open highway, cruise control set to 90 mph, barreling through the night into the faint glow of the horizon.
A couple of tunes have echoes of Tangerine Dream’s “Love on A Real Train” including “Slow Life”, built around an ostinato piano sequence and building to a climax on growling bass chords and phased synthesizer pads. “Thirst” follows a similar path, but builds into an industrial percolation of sequencer groove.
We always thought the music of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Ash Ra Tempel (now Ashra) was the music of the future, and forty years later I think we can say we were right, because Synthwaves emerges out of the curl of that electronic wave, but it lands on different beaches. The duo, especially Quaeschning , deploys a gearhead’s wet dreams-worth of relatively vintage synthesizers from Roland, Korg and Oberheim, mostly 80’s models at that intersection of digital, analog and MIDI. Given the gear it shouldn’t be a surprise when the lead melody line of “Flare” uses a similar timbre to 80s era Dream.
It’s surprising to hear Ulrich Schnauss, who has such a distinctive 21st century sound, submerge himself in the aesthetics and modes of Tangerine Dream. It’s not until the final track, “Prism,” where the Schnauss influence is obvious with the melancholy opening chords leading to an anthemic delay treated melody line. I kept waiting for the drums to roar in as on his own song, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” from Goodbye, which it resembles.
Thorsten Quaeschning and Ulrich Schnauss have made the best sequencer driven electronic album since Steve Roach’s 2015 album, Skeleton Keys. Synthwaves is an incredible ride, like going aerial in the Banzai pipeline.