Entry for October 09, 2006

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TANGERINE DREAM And You Don’t!

 

Some info on Tangerine Dream: they’re from Germany. They’ve put out 22 albums. A few more solo LPs. They play space music. They do movie soundtracks. They very rarely tour the United States. They just did. Rockin’ dudes they ain’t. Ten minutes ago I just put on one of their records, and it was too loud. Downstairs, the dog barked. Weird frequencies, I guess. The dog never barks. The cats have started going nuts whenever they hear “God Only Knows” on the new Beach Boys compilation, too. Sure are a lot of animals around here.

Another band from Germany is called Can. I once thought that Can were the best rock ‘n’ roll band there ever was in the whole world. I still do, I guess.

There have been other bands from Germany, too. Kraftwerk is the most famous, probably. I like their earlier stuff best. Other great German bands were Neu!–they had an exclamation mark after their name, just like Wham!–Cluster and Harmonia. If you look in hip record stores you’ll see records by La Dusseldorf and people like Michael Rother and the Cluster guys with Brian Eno collaborating. It’s real interesting.

You should go buy all the Can records, though.

Anyway, I was talking to Edgar Froese in the restaurant in the Somerset Hilton the other day. He was drinking a couple of orange juices; I had a few beers. Edgar Froese is the founder of Tangerine Dream. He’s appeared on all 22 of their records, and there’s probably more than 22 of ’em, to tell you the truth. That’s just what it says in the bio. He’s also released a bunch of solo albums. Aqua was the one that just made the dog bark. There’s planes taking off in it and that kind of thing.

There’s been a lot of changes since Tangerine Dream put out their first album, Electronic Meditation. I know I got a little taller, for instance, plus there’s been a bunch of new presidents. That album came out in 1970. Klaus Schulze played drums then; he left and put out lots of solo albums that are real spacey. Other guys came and went, too. Peter Baumann eventually left; he put out a few disco-type records and now he’s in charge of Private Music, a record company that puts out New Age records, tapes and CDs. This guy named Steve Joliffe joined for one record, Cyclone. Joliffe used to be in Steamhammer, a hip band with cool guitarists, but he played saxophone, which was weird. Anyway, he lasted about an album or so. Didn’t work out. Another guy, Johannes Schmoelling, replaced him, and he just split a while ago. So now there’s Paul Haslinger, who just showed up on Underwater Sunlight, the band’s most recent album. He was on the tour, too.

Chris Franke is the other guy in the band, by the way. He’s always been around.

So anyway, the thing is, Tangerine Dream are a real influential band. They play space music, like I just said, and they’ve been doing it for years. They do it on lots of instruments–synthesizers, guitars, pianos, organs, flutes and more. My favorite records of theirs are Zeit, Phaedra and Rubycon. You can buy the last two on CD, and you should, because they’re pretty weird. You can buy Zeit as part of a boxed set which Relativity Records just released, and it’s a pretty good buy, too. But Tangerine Dream always sound better on CD, because there aren’t any annoying pops, ticks or clicks on them. Tangerine Dream, Edgar told me that day, sell more CDs than records, and that makes sense. I recommend you listen to them.

Tangerine Dream are internationally renowned, and probably real rich. They make soundtracks for films like Firestarter, Thief, Legend, Sorcerer, Risky Business and The Keep. All the soundtracks sound like this: There’s a drone, then a throb, then a real fast throb, then a whine, then some more drone. When they do the stuff effectively, it’s great. They usually do it effectively, too, which is why they get to keep making soundtracks. Plus, they’re probably easier to deal with than a whole orchestra. You can just imagine.

So, the bio says, “Tangerine Dream is not the music of the future. It is happening now.”

That’s for sure.

Edgar told me just about everything I wanted to know when I talked with him. He’s a nice guy. Sort of big, friendly-but-serious, and ready to theorize about all sorts of music in general at the drop of a hat. Isn’t that a dumb cliche? Incidentally, Edgar speaks English very well–but, as most Germans are prone, he sometimes puts his verbs at the end of his sentences. It’s kind of odd. Plus, he says things like “it wouldn’t be unfair to put the fur in the bag” when you think he means “let the cat out of the bag,” but you don’t know for sure.

 

Since I’ve been listening to Tangerine Dream off and on now for 13 years or so, and own most of their records, I asked Edgar a bunch of stuff I’ve always been interested in and could never find out. Most of it may be pretty boring, I don’t know. Like when I told him at one point I was really into Can, and used to get records by other German bands like Faust and Amon Duul II because I thought they sounded neat, he started theorizing about Germans and rock ‘n’ roll.

“The funny thing about that,” said Edgar, “and it’s the truth–is that the Germans have no roots in rock music. And I know a lot of people in my country say, ‘That’s not true–we do have, we feel the same.’ No–we don’t have and we don’t feel the same. Because, you see, rock music is a sort of feel that you have to have, you have to grow up with it, you know? And in Germany, if you are born between the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, you could not grow up with the music right next door. I mean, no way to do it. We’ve got sort of light entertainment, easy listening stuff, so there is no heritage at all.

“That’s why those German bands you’ve just mentioned–including ourselves–just try to figure out how to get through, into the market, through the back door. To find something else which is like rock ‘n’ roll, to keep the feeling, you know.

“I remember in the ’60s, the ’70s, wanting to include a bit of that West Coast feeling, you know? Like Grateful Dead, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, and all those bands. Great! All the early Frank Zappa stuff, the Fugs, and, among many, many others, all the Woodstock bands. And everybody tried to copy that, not realizing that they were never able to copy that, because, I mean, even one guitar lick, without the right understanding back in your head, is just a gimmick. So you have to grow up with that sort of music.

“I remember when I first saw, for instance, Hendrix onstage in Europe. I said, forget about the rest of all the guitarists who can read music, who can explain everything theoretically, and be perfect guitar players, and can show up with a great number of pieces in rock music. But he just stands up and plays one single tone, and you don’t know where it comes from. That’s the thing, you know? You not necessarily have to tell a two-and-half-hour story, you know? Just play one single tone, and play it with your heart, it’s there, and stands there forever. And that’s what I think is the great thing about music in general, even classical music. That’s why a lot of classical pieces are still there after two or three hundred years. That’s what it is all about.”

If you’ve listened to a lot of space music–I know I have–you probably grew up on the live stuff on Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, maybe bought a couple of Sun Ra albums and probably checked out records by classical guys like Ligeti and Xenakis. Also the CBS Terry Riley albums–In C and A Rainbow In Curved Air–and some of the older stuff by Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Then you probably got into some of those weird records where monks from Bali start banging on these gongs and things, right? Neat.

As you may figure, Edgar’s listened to a lot of this, too. When I asked him about it, he said, “it would be totally dishonest to say we were not influenced” by early Pink Floyd. The instrumental stuff on Ummagumma, he means. “But then we started doing our own thing.” And that’s true. He also raves on about the minimalist guys. Check this out:

“I think we all, for instance, are big fans of Steve Reich and his music. I think he is, if not the greatest, then one of the greatest composers America still has. Because, most of the people maybe don’t know, he is an incredible hard worker, he works months and months before he performs a piece with a lot of people. He tries to be very exact in his way of setting up patterns and things. So we are great admirers of his kind of music. And I think he is one of the guys who takes it very seriously.

“But apart from him, there are a lot of people in what we call the New York minimal school of music. I think there is a lot of–obviously, even now, when Philip Glass got into the Top 100 with one of his records, a lot of people said, ‘Ah, no, forget about him now, he’s in the charts.’ I mean, what? What’s wrong about somebody who’s there for many, many years, and he is–he is not a junkie, he’s just doing some music that will be received by many more people than years ago. I mean, he not necessarily has to be an easy-listening pop musician. He’s just picking up some melody lines, or whatever, which’ll find their way in the people’s ears.”

Edgar admits he goes back to the classics, though, for real inspiration. Seems like what he’s aiming for–a thorough knowledge of dynamics, getting softer and louder real quickly and smoothly, you know–is best displayed by the old masters.

“I listen a lot to Mozart pieces–and my biggest teacher was Bach. I’m in the same mind as Jack Bruce, who said many, many years ago, ‘If you want to learn how to play the bass, then listen to Bach.’

“He is absolutely right. And I would go even a step further: If you want to understand what music is all about, listen to Bach. Not because he is German–if he would be Australian, that’s fine, you know? He was just a great man–the greatest man of all. I think if people have to share their royalties with someone in music history: 30 percent to Bach, 30 percent to Mozart, 30 percent maybe to Beethoven. And the rest, 10 per cent, you can put in your own pocket.”

 

OK. Now, to be totally honest here, I should say that I don’t like Tangerine Dream’s newest stuff as much as, say, Phaedra. I don’t know why. Probably because since Stratosfear, which came out in 1976 or so, the guys moved out of that driftin’-in-space mode and started composing and improvising actual melodies. It sounds weird, but I think they were at their best when they just kind of floated around without going anywhere. Plus, back in the old days, there weren’t all these new synthesizers around that did everything but the dishes; the guys used to use mellotrons, old sequencers, flutes and things that were, well, imperfect. The music was colder, but somehow less mechanical. It’s hard to explain. Tangerine Dream were more of an environment than a music source.

That’s what’s so screwy about all this New Age music stuff. Just check out the racks next time you’re in a music store: there’s these guys like Kitaro, Jean-Michel Jarre, and even ol’ Vangelis, sitting pretty, selling CDs like crazy, alongside these snooze-pianists like George Winston. All these guys do is create sonic environments, and Tangerine Dream was pretty much doing it first. Really. And a lot more ominously, it you ask me.

“You see,” Edgar told me, “if you are just talking about the business side, you maybe should bring in some jealousy, you know? But on the other hand, talking as a musician, you must be maybe a bit proud of that sort of development, yeah?

“And very honestly, I’m not proud of it and I’m not jealous, I just think that–well, I always try to explain, if the whole field of making music, the whole space that is given to people is a mile, then we’ve just discovered an inch or two inches of it. You know? So there is so much space left, and each state of consciousness somehow forces a progression of music, so that there is so much space left, why think, ‘OK, I was the first one, they are the second, they are the third’?

“I mean, at least there is a huge public who needs music sometimes more than bread and butter, I think. And whatever good music means–for some X, for others Y or Z, whatever–so as long as music could do what it has to do, it’s great. Just with the New Age thing–obviously, we don’t want to get too familiar with it, because it has become a label already, and we don’t like to get punched too much in the crowd of things, you know? Everything gets too crowded–that’s what we like to be, very individual, you know?”

 

If you’re not hip to these guys, I imagine this story must be boring the heck out of you. So let me get to the important point, as I see it. Edgar was talking about the essential core or Tangerine Dream’s music. Hip quote!:

“I just say there is a desire all man on their planet have–and ever will have–and they can’t reach it. And because maybe it’s so strong within us, and we transformed it into music, and when other people hear it, they all of a sudden realize, ‘My god–that’s the same that’s within me.‘ So we are just telling a story maybe everybody knows about. That’s what we’ve figured out. It’s very funny.

“We don’t know where it comes from. It’s just there, and we feel it. It’s like, really, that’s the odd thing about it–it’s not feeling at home, somehow. The place where you are right now, on that planet, it isn’t your real home. And you’ve got a sort of desire for something else–a place that you can’t describe.

“But you see, to describe that with words is very hard, anyway. Nearly impossible. So we all do one thing, I believe–we talk in symbols.”

Well, I could go on for hours here. Some people think Tangerine Dream make cosmic muzak, others think they are veritable gods among men, and German ones at that. All I know is, Edgar Froese is an A-OK dude with some pretty righteous ideas. Plus, there were a lot of bald guys at their concert who probably smoked pipes and read lots of science fiction.

 

(CREEM, Nov. 1986)

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