New Age band
T he terms “New Age” and “Space Music” have been aptly applied to the ethereal improvisational electronic work of Tangerine Dream. This German band’s influences include early electronic groups like Kraftwerk and modern experimental composers like Steve Reich. Tangerine Dream has never earned mass appeal but has maintained a steady following both in the United States and abroad. More people have been exposed to the band’s unique sounds than many realize, for the abstract instrumental nature of the work of Tangerine Dream lends itself to movie soundtracks; their music graces dozens of popular motion pictures.
From time to time, the sturdily built, blond-mustached band leader Edgar Froese has complained in his thick German accent of the New Age label critics attach to the band. This apparent calumny has dogged the band almost since its inception in 1967. Tangerine Dream prefers to view its clouds of loosely structured synthesized sounds as belonging to the avant-garde experimental tradition.
M embers include Edgar Froese (born June 6, 1944, in Germany), keyboards, synthesizer, guitar; Conrad Schnitzler (born in Germany; left band, 1971), flute and other instruments; and Klaus Schulze (born in Germany; left band, 1971), synthesizer, keyboards. Later members include Peter Baumann (band-member, 1972-75), keyboards, synthesizer, flute; Chris Franke (bandmember, 1971-88), keyboards, synthesizer; Paul Haslinger (joined band, 1985), keyboards, synthesizer; Michael Hoenig (joined band, 1975), keyboards; Johannes Schmelling (joined band, c. 1978), keyboard, synthesizer; Steve Schroyder (joined band, 1971), organ; and Ralf Wadephal (joined band, c. 1988), keyboards.
Group formed in Germany, 1967; recorded debut album, Electronic Meditation, 1970; toured England, 1975.
Addresses: Record company —Miramar, 200 Second Ave. W., Seattle, WA 98119.
As a youth, Froese trained as a classical musician but found it stifling; in the early sixties he began playing guitar in various German rock bands. A friend of Salvador Dali, Froese provided music for some of the famous artist’s openings. Froese pointed out in Down Beat that then as now, German youth has tried to compete with Anglo rock and roll. However, young Germans have lacked the experience of growing up in the culture that first bred rock, and Froese felt this doomed them to mediocrity. He knew he had to turn to other sources for inspiration, sources more suited to his past. He found it in “people like Xenakis and our own countryman Karlheinz Stockhausen.”
Tangerine Dream’s first album, 1970’s Electronic Meditation, featured Froese on a very fuzz-boxed guitar, with fellow Germans Klaus Schulze playing free style drums and Conrad Schniztler dipping into processed cello arcs and electronics. No actual synthesizers were used on the band’s debut effort, released under the now-defunct Ohr label.
By the time the band’s second album, Alpha Centauri, came out the following year, Schulze and Schniztler had departed the group and were replaced by organist Steve Schroyder and synth-man Christophe Franke. Franke, also classically trained, would remain with Dream for 17 years, the most permanent fixture in the band besides Froese.
While turning from rock and roll as inspiration in the early seventies, Froese admits the band did not turn away from what inspired rock musicians of the time: psychedelics. The search was on for “cosmic” sounds, perhaps mirroring the exploratory nature of hallucinogen consumption. Joining Dream’s fleet of space explorers were groups like Synergy, Kraftwerk, Popol Vuh, the Cosmic Couriers, and Jean-Michel Jarre.
By 1972, Peter Baumann joined Franke as the third member of the ensemble. All three musicians played the same equipment: synthesizers and keyboards. Vanished from the band’s landscape were the familiar signs of rock: drums, singers, and guitars. Their music, too, drifted without the usual signposts—no chord changes, solos, or catchy melodies.
In 1974 Tangerine Dream gained some press notoriety when, during a gig at Rheims Cathedral in France, 6,000 fans tried to jam the 2,000-parishioner-capacity church. No doubt the crush of human bodies tempered the stony acoustics that made the venue desirable. In the same year, the band’s album Phaedra, as well as Rubycon the following year, finally broke the band onto the charts. The two albums, released on the then-avant garde Virgin label, found their way near the U.K. Top Ten.
In a profile of the band for Down Beat, a Tangerine Dream band member admitted to Ted Greenwald that the music of the early seventies came close to fitting the New Age label. But Greenwald found no label that would fit the Dream’s more complex brew of later years. He noted of Phaedra: “Envelope generators shaped not just individual note events, but entire phrases. Clock pulses drove sequenced rhythms and articulated improvised chords ... the resulting pitches, timbres and rhythms collided and melted into one another, washing over static harmonic centers that ebbed and flowed in tides of undifferentiated sounds.”
Tangerine Dream left for England in 1975, touring cathedrals across the country. The tour, which featured Michael Hoenig in place of Baumann, sold out, in part because of the popularity of Froese’s first solo album, Aqua, which had appeared the year before. The band leader’s solo career was prolific—he recorded five more albums before the end of 1979 alone, including 1976’s Electronic Dreams and 1979’s Stunt Man. Most of the members of Tangerine Dream would issue solo albums during their time with the band. Musical influences on the band now included Terry Riley and later Steve Reich—from whom Froese said the band adopted the use of “minimalist structures.”
Despite a sold-out U.S. cross-country tour in 1976, the American public’s awareness of Tangerine Dream has never been great. Indeed, the band’s name is most often noticed during the running of movie soundtrack credits. The band’s film work has ranged from William Friedkin’s 1977 intense thriller Sorcerer to the light-hearted Risky Business starring the young Tom Cruise, and the 1987 vampire film Near Dark. In addition, dozens of other filmakers have sought out the open-ended sound of Tangerine Dream’s instrumentals.
By the late seventies, the band had moved away from its improvisatory roots. The 1976 album Stratosfear, for example, was mostly composed, as were subsequent efforts. Composing their music allowed the band to return to more melodic rhythmic structures—not accidentally making their music more accessible. This pattern culminated in the addition of drummer Klaus Krieger and vocalist Steve Jollife for 1978’s Cyclone. Only a couple of years later, Froese would call Cyclone, which sounded like the work of an art-rock band, “a mistake, a very heavy mistake.” The album hurt the band’s reputation as a committed experimental group yet earned little recompense in increased mass appeal. Tangerine Dream was quick to correct course.
Unlike many electronic groups, the band has always maintained its ability to perform live. However, in a performance style suggestive of the primacy of hardware in their work, Tangerine Dream appeared on stage behind a screen of black gauze in their 1981 concert tour. This translucent curtain gently reflected the soft-hued lights and blurred the band members’ silhouettes—already half-hidden in wells of synthesizers—the musicians appearing as ghostly, mystical creatures.
In 1988, 17-year band veteran Franke departed to become a full-time electronic music hardware developer. The work of this era, reported Dream keyboardist Paul Haslinger, was approximately 70 percent composed and 30 percent improvised. The band used all three major computers of the time: Apple, Atari, and PC’s. Software varied continuously and the band developed a reputation for buying each new electronic gizmo as soon as it came out.
Changing their equipment every few months kept the band members’ interest up but also had its pitfalls. The band reported spending $150,000 on two cutting-edge computer music systems, only to scrap them 18 months later for $20,000 after finding them useless. Of course, such tales are standard lore in the computer electronics world. However, in a 1988 Keyboard magazine interview, Haslinger admitted to sometimes being shamed by the excellent work turned out by young people on low budget equipment.
The band’s dependence on complex equipment has led to a growing interdependency upon music software and hardware manufacturers. The band meets regularly with industry reps to learn about new products and receive training on what they already own. Indeed, the industry is even sort of a fourth band member, for Tangerine Dream uses factory-supplied sounds in their sampling work.
Wandering through a maze of sounds, software, and machines, each member of Tangerine Dream pursues the elusive, ethereal, and new. And when they find it? “Thank god for the memory button,” responded Haslinger. Over a quarter of a century past its inception, Tangerine Dream has continued to push the right buttons, earning almost annual Grammy nominations for their albums in the early 1990s, including Canyon Dreams, Rockoon, and 220 VOLT Live— although the band has yet to capture this award.
Electronic Meditation, Ohr/Relativity, 1970.
Alpha Centauri, Ohr, 1971, reissued, Polydor, 1975.
Zeit, Ohr, 1972, reissued, Virgin, 1976.
Atem, Ohr, 1972, reissued, Virgin, 1976.
Phaedra, Virgin, 1974.
Rubycon, Virgin, 1975.
Stratosfear, Virgin, 1976.
Cyclone, Virgin, 1978.
Tamgram, Virgin, 1980.
White Eagle, Virgin, 1982.
Le Parc, Jive Electro, 1986.
Livemiles, Jive Electro, 1988.
Canyon Dreams, Miramar, 1991.
Rockoon, Miramar, 1992.
(With Jerome Froese) 220 VOLT Live, Miramar, 1993.
Tangerine Dream Live, Virgin.
Turn of the Tides, Miramar.
Solo albums by Froese
Aqua, Blue Plate, 1974.
Electronic Dreams, Blue Plate, 1976.
Stunt Man, Blue Plate, 1979.
Heatly, Michael, The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Rock, HarperCollins, 1993.
Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
Billboard, April 30, 1977.
Down Beat, March 1981; December 1981.
Entertainment Weekly, May 13, 1994.
Keyboard, November 1988.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Miramar press releases, 1994.
—Joseph M. Reiner
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