Reviews:


Greg Northrup    8-November-2001 Overview

Tangerine Dream

This German synthesizer trio has quickly become one of my favorite bands. Tangerine Dream is one of those bands that might be slow to grow on you, but once they get under your skin you find yourself listening to nothing but for a week or more at a time. Tangerine Dream was one of the core kraut-rock groups at their inception. Their earlier albums were classic ambient space music in the German tradition of the 70s. Tangerine Dream and other groups like Ash Ra Tempel, Amon Duul II, Faust, Can and Neu! separated themselves from the critical disdain of the more traditional symphonic rock coming out of England at the time. These bands had no such "pretensions" of trying to combine classical music and rock, but in fact, their ambitions were far greater. They wanted to completely deconstruct the way the world approached and heard music, and then build it back up again.

Tangerine Dream's first album, Electronic Meditation, featured main man Edgar Froese along with one Konrad Schlitzner and drummer Klaus Shultze, who would go on to the seminal Ash Ra Tempel as well as an illustrious solo career. The album is an embryonic take on what the band were about to become, and has some brilliant moments along with some meandering. TD's classic period begins with the addition of Chris Franke on the second album, the monstrous Alpha Centauri, a glorious textural ambient album with just the right amount of coherent melody in their spaced out soundscapes, and continues with Zeit and Atem. Zeit saw the crystallization of the group's classic lineup of Peter Baumann, Chris Franke and Edgar Froese. That album, in particular, stretched the ideas of the early incarnation to the limit, creating an enormous double album of monstrous, slow moving sound, eliciting fairly extreme reactions from listeners one way or another. The band's most universally well regarded albums are their next two, Phaedra and Rubycon, on which the band reinvented their sound into a more refined, cohesive blend of melodic synth textures and cold pulsing rhythms. The rest of their catalog is somewhat spotty, but all the albums I have from the late 70s are quite good, in the basic style of Phaedra and Rubycon, but with their own eccentricities. After 1980 or so, the band supposedly ceased to become of any real interest to a progressive rock fan as the lineup splintered and Froese gradually submerged the group into New Age and Pop territories, though I personally haven't ventured past 1979's Force Majeure quite yet.

Greg Northrup [March 2001]

Electronic Meditation (1970)

This is the interesting album that started the whole Tangerine Dream phenomenon. The album is more of a historical reference due to the inclusion of the legendary Klaus Schultze. Electronic Meditation is for the most part is a extremely naive yet certainly ambitious and experimental take on early Kraut Rock. I quite like it, and it's easy to see the genius just bubbling below the surface of this noisy and chaotic album. I've heard comments along the lines "any garage band could have made this album," which should provide some warning to the potential listener of the initial impression this album tends to give. Stately, floating organ, wispy flutes and percussive rhythms go along with the noisy guitar freak-outs, and the song structures often lapse into realms of total meandering unimpressiveness. However, the brilliant moments that are here, as on "Journey Through a Burning Brain" and "Cold Smoke" illustrate a band with the right idea, just in need of a little direction. Froese would get it right the next time around with Alpha Centauri. Not the place to start with Tangerine Dream, as it's neither particularly representative or among the band's great works, and even then avowed TD fans are still split over its merits.

Greg Northrup [March 2001]

Alpha Centauri (1971)

For me, this is where it's at as far as early Tangerine Dream goes. Alpha Centauri is without a doubt a extraordinary album of mind-bending cosmic excursions, truly evocative and moving, while treading forward with an unparalleled experimental edge. The music is cinematic and awe-inspiring, moving forward slowly, with waves of flute and synthesizer floating on top of beds of organ-drenched atmospheres. This is outer space music for sure, and there is certainly nothing here vaguely resembling conventional song structures. Even solid rhythmic ideas are a rare commodity. For the most part, these are just sounds, embellished with half-forgotten semblances of melody, yet managing to hold the listener in their grasp throughout. "Sunrise in the Third System" is truly evocative, as the powerful organ rings in the opening of the album. "Fly and Collision of Comas Sola" could be my favorite track, gradually building up to a percussive climax, while the closing title epic furthers the themes already introduced, though by this point the album gets a tad repetitive, and one may need to take a break from concentrated listening. Overall, Alpha Centauri is a tour-de-force of utterly beautiful cosmic music, experimental and engaging without falling into the drawn-out traps and over ambitiousness that the
next album, Zeit, would struggle with.

Greg Northrup [March 2001]

Zeit (1971)

Zeit is perhaps the ultimate expression of outer-space ambiance, on the other hand it could also be considered a dreadful bore. It all depends on one's state of mind. The album features the crystallization of TD's core lineup of Baumann, Froese and Franke and the creation of what many see as Tangerine Dream's magnum opus. Zeit is a double album of eerie, ambient soundscapes, truly evoking the far reaches of space. Initial listens might give the impression that absolutely nothing is going on, just cellos or synthesizers droning endlessly. Further listening should reveal that there is indeed something going on, it's just happening veeerrryy sloooooooowwwlyy. This album takes more patience than I possess to sit through in its entirety, and even any one of the songs is a pretty big demand on my undivided attention. Still, this album is meant as late-night zone out music, and it took some effort to separate this, and TD's other albums, from the way I usually listen to music. It's hard to say whether any songs stand out over any others, at this point they all sound fairly similar, and event though I've listened to Zeit around ten times by now, I'm still not completely familiar with all of it's ins and outs. I think both Alpha Centauri and Atem are more condensed and listenable versions of some of the basic ideas, and better starting points for getting into early Tangerine Dream. If you found those boring, don't even touch Zeit. If you liked 'em, Zeit could be considered the ultimate expression of that style.

Greg Northrup [March 2001]

Phaedra (1974)

Phaedra marks the beginning of Tangerine Dream's most celebrated phase of existence. This album and its companion piece, the awesome Rubycon, were the recordings that really pushed electronic music forward into a viable commercial entity, scoring huge hits while still retaining an uncompromising experimental edge. The new direction was marked by incorporating a more cohesive and satisfying rhythmic edge via spellbinding keyboard sequences that gurgle beneath the layers of sound. More distinctive melodic textures also appear throughout, and Tangerine Dream makes full use of all kinds of synthesizer technology to explore truly mystic and cosmic soundscapes. Phaedra is much more engaging and immediately enjoyable than any of its predecessors.

The title track is by far the most enjoyable, perhaps the greatest single Tangerine Dream piece. This song just rules, and has all the hallmarks of the new direction put to perfect use. The rest of the album lets down a bit from it's opening masterpiece, but isn't bad. "Mysterious Semblance..." is a solo Froese piece that makes excellent use of haunting Mellotron, while "Sequent C" is a short, albeit brilliant closer. This album or Rubycon is probably the best place to start exploring Tangerine Dream's fascinating music, much more accessible to a traditional prog fan than their earlier, even more experimental explorations on albums like Zeit and Alpha Centauri.

Greg Northrup [March 2001]

Rubycon (1975)

Rubycon is without a doubt my favorite Tangerine Dream album, and probably one of the finest examples of electronic and keyboard textures being put to emotional use to date. The album continues in the same vein as Phaedra but in my opinion is just a tad more consistent throughout. I felt that TD's exploration of rhythmic sequencing was brilliant on that album, and they're utilized even more throughout Rubycon. This is utterly intense ambient space music that drifts from dreamy and relaxing into passages of complete nightmare. The more cohesive and engaging melodic themes make Rubycon by far the most effective Tangerine Dream album.

The album is composed of two long tracks, both of which are utterly fascinating from start to finish. "Part One" starts off with enchanting soundscapes and evolves into trance-like sequencer rhythms at the seven minute mark that build with stunning intensity for the rest of the track. Foreboding melodic keyboard themes are layered upon each other, along with haunting Mellotron passages. "Part Two" opens in much the same free form way as the first, with menacing choir effects atop a beatless sound collage before the piece finally releases into an intense, amorphous sequencer rhythm that changes dynamically throughout the track, occasionally falling out completely beneath waves of synthesizer and Mellotron. This is a great place to start exploring Tangerine Dream, an incredible display of the potential power of electronic music.

Greg Northrup [March 2001]

Stratosfear (1975)

The follow-up to the classic Rubycon sees the band shift their direction slightly once again, apparently not wanting to create yet another album in the vein of Phaedra and Rubycon. Stratosfear is a slight step down from those albums, and sees the band streamlining their sound further, exhibiting less reliance on free-form weightlessness and a more conventionally melodic side. More organic instruments like guitar, piano and flute are added, but don't make especially noticeable entrances. Some have commented that the album was sort of the beginning of the end for TD, foreshadowing their descent into electro-pop mediocrity. I still think this album is pretty awesome though, and despite not being as grim or intense as Rubycon, still a extraordinary display of progressive electronics.

The title track is amazing, and definitely the high point of the album: unbelievable dramatic melodies atop a stunning energetic electronic backdrop. "3 AM at the Border..." exhibits a mellower side of the group, making dramatic use of Mellotron. Overall, the album is Tangerine Dream's most accessible to this point, very easy to get into and to follow, and full of compelling melodies. Still, it lacks the otherworldly menace of previous albums, though devotees of Phaedra and Rubycon would be well-advised to pick this one up as well.

Greg Northrup [March 2001]

Force Majeure (1979)

Another extremely solid album from Tangerine Dream, though it's definitely the most streamlined and traditionally "rock" album I own by them. By this point in the band's career, Peter Baumann had left, so the group was down to the duo of Franke and Frose, in addition to studio drummer Klaus Krieger. The addition of drums and guitar give Force Majeure an even more traditional and streamlined approach than previous albums like Stratosfear. While still being all instrumental, the group here sounds like a smoothed-out mixture of Pink Floyd and maybe Kraftwerk. Still, while not being the most original album, I still enjoy it quite a bit, and find myself playing it often. Fans of symphonic progressive rock will definitely find this an easy album to get into, but it's honestly not very representative of the classic Tangerine Dream sound. This album is often considered the last gasp of a brilliant group whose level of quality would significantly plummet in the coming decade, though to be fair, I haven't ventured into their 80s material yet myself. Highly enjoyable for what it is, but doesn't quite live up to TD's groundbreaking former works.

Greg Northrup [March 2001]





Tom Hayes 3-July-2001 Tangerine Dream at a Glance (1969-1989)

Tangerine Dream at a Glance (1969-1989)

"The story of Tangerine Dream could easily fill a large book and would undoubtedly make for fascinating reading" - liner notes to Castle's 2000 reissue of Live Miles

I'm holding in my hand Live Miles and I have just realized that this release and the recent unearthing of 1976's live Soundmill Navigator represent the first two purchases of Tangerine Dream I've made in 15 years. And yet there was a time when Tangerine Dream was the representation of my experimental and progressive collection. The group's music are so intertwined with my life's events that it's hard to separate the two. Where does objective review become subjective nostalgia? I don't know really, but that is what Gnosis is about ultimately. What one feels about a record determines their overall grade. It's not very scientific but neither are emotions.

I suspect there will be other contributions to the Tangerine Dream review site at Gnosis. Alan already has and my viewpoints are completely different from his. So instead of running chronologically through their vast recording output, I decided I would share my personal journey with the band's music. Somehow with Tangerine Dream that seems appropriate, as their music can be a soundtrack to one's life, not just with Hollywood productions. Perhaps the reader of this can relate to what I'm trying to convey, even if unfamiliar with the band.

It was 1982, the Fall semester of my senior year in high school. We were about to start playing a pickup football game when I heard from the car cassette a very interesting music. The owner, who I played in jazz band with, said "Oh, that's Tangerine Dream. Pretty weird stuff, eh? I'm just starting to get into them." He was playing the soundtrack to Thief. Curious, the next day I headed over to my local Sound Warehouse and discovered a band with many, MANY titles. Where do I start? Logic dictated I started with the latest release (at least of the ones they had). And $5.99 later I was home with Exit.

Exit proved to be difficult listening at first as I wasn't used to this sort of atmospheric music. Like most people, the music that I had heard was much more "in-yer-face". Even bands like ELP and Yes are that way. Tangerine Dream is a different kind of listening experience. So naturally on the first few listens, upbeat tracks like "Choronzon", "Pilots of Purple Twilight" and "Network 23" had the most impact. "Choronzon" was even being used as background for a local newscast's advertisement! But it was the longer, curious compositions such as "Kiew Mission" with it's heavily accented Russian female narration with bizarre electronics and "Remote Viewing" which included odd melodies and sequencers that ended up being the kind of music I wanted to explore further. And time was something I had. There was no cable television and no internet and certainly no money for me. So when an album was purchased it was pretty much guaranteed quite a few spins on the turntable, especially something new like Tangerine Dream!

It's Holiday time and we're gearing up for the annual Christmas concert. I caught up with the fellow who introduced me to TD and naturally he was one step ahead of me. "I bought one of their older ones" he started. "Phaedra is the title, and it's way different than Thief. It's frightening. You should check it out." And that's pretty much just what I did. As 1983 had just begun, I made the journey back to the record store. This time I was going to pick up the most "interesting looking" LP of theirs. It would be the album that would change the way I listened to music forever. To this day, I consider it one of the finest masterpieces ever committed to tape. That day I brought home Rubycon and things would never quite be the same for me.

Rubycon is a journey into the vast unknown, on a boat floating down a river, early morning sunlight, birds flying overhead. An undiscovered cave deep in the Amazon. Within is a gothic stalactite cathedral where mystical spirits reside (represented by choral mellotron). Flashes of bright lights, river rapids send me quickly (fast sequencer run). I see glimpses of all the world's secrets. I eventually float out of the cave a changed man unsure of what I had just seen. At least that was one of my favorite stories I would put to the music as I meditated each night to the album only being rudely interrupted by the click, click, click that alerted me to flip over the record (oh, is this music perfect for CD or what?). Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was listening to an album that is considered by many one of the finest moog, sequencer and mellotron albums ever. It is a very powerful album. One of the greatest dynamic atmospheric pieces to ever be recorded. I will say that it took many weeks of listening to be truly moved by Rubycon. It is not an easy album to warm up to if one is unfamiliar with electronic/ambient music (which would've been my case at that time). Suddenly I wasn't an ordinary high school weenie anymore.

Once Rubycon had me within its lairs, I became determined to hear anything and everything by this band, especially the period around Rubycon. A wise decision, and one I recommend to everyone for the bands output from 1970-1983. The aforementioned Phaedra was up next. Having been recorded the year before Rubycon, there is quite a bit of similarity. It was another album I was easily able to apply stories with. The bass riff on the title track is particularly memorable. The atmosphere is very dark and the album stays with you long after hearing it. A major classic.

It's funny what you remember from the past. I listened to a cassette dub of Thief on the way to taking my S.A.T. tests. The heavy sequencer tracks going through my brain trying to decipher those damn analogies (I never was good at those). Of course, to my ears at the time this album resembled Exit. Ricochet was interrupted once by a phone call that I had made the National Honor Society (seemed important at the time). Now this album introduced me to another side of the band. One that was more raucous, with electric guitar being an important instrument. There was also quite a bit of rhythmic activity propelled by real drums. The album wasn't so conducive for close-eyed meditating as it was for pure wide-awake listening enjoyment. Stratosfear was playing when a friend called from jail, clearly shaken by the experience. This album was not a favorite for many years. By all logic, it should've been the conclusion to Rubycon, but something was different. I never cared for it without much justification (maybe it was too "soft"?). A few years ago I was revisiting Stratosfear on CD and my perspective had changed. Of all the Tangerine Dream albums, perhaps Stratosfear contains the most melody while not sacrificing the deep atmosphere that only Tangerine Dream can create. No wonder many consider this to be the perfect "starter" album for those new to the band. I often wonder what my opinion of Stratosfear would've been had I listened to it first. Today I consider it one of their finest releases. This was also the first studio album since the very early days that contained quite a bit of electric guitar something I missed the first go round.

Graduation and then the summer between high school and college. And a lousy mail clerk job to fund my ever-increasing record habit! I continued my quest with the double LP Encore, the last proper album by "the trio". A nice epitaph for this version of the band as it contains, in a live setting, both the dark atmospherics of the Rubycon style ("Desert Dream") with more upbeat guitar driven pieces similar to the title track of Stratosfear ("Coldwater Canyon"). The beauty of a Tangerine Dream live album is the material is always unique to the release. They did so much improvisation that one cannot tell if they are even based on studio releases. So a TD live release is absolutely similar to a new studio recording. No boring rehashes here.

The lineup of Edgar Froese (guitar, keyboards, synthesizers and de facto leader), Chris Franke (synthesizers (including the world's largest custom Moog) and sometimes percussion) and Peter Baumann (synthesizers) is considered the classic lineup by most followers of the band. It certainly was the period that entranced me the most. I found myself filling in most of this period's discography before venturing on to other realms (only Exit and Thief were from another era). I think for anyone trying to get the "essence" of Tangerine Dream, the albums from Phaedra through Encore will satisfy that curiosity. Little did I know then that I hadn't even stumbled upon their most radical works yet!

For the middle of the summer I filled in the two late 70's works that are the real oddities of Tangerine Dream's discography. 1978's Cyclone, generally considered the pariah of their 70's works, was quite a shock upon first listen. In retrospect the album is undeservedly maligned. What sets Cyclone apart from the others is the use of vocals (and not very good ones at that). A one time quartet lineup featuring Steve Joliffe on flute, synths and vocals and Klaus Krieger on drums plus stalwarts Froese and Franke, this version proved to be too controversial for the seasoned fan. "Bent Cold Sidewalk" starts off as a rock piece with standard drums and vocals. But the middle section of this 14 minute piece is pure Tangerine Dream rhythmic electronics with great flute work by Joliffe. The side long instrumental "Madrigal Meridian" is a masterpiece and I often wonder if listeners just waved the album off before hearing the whole thing. It's a fantastic electronic piece driven by Krieger's energetic drumming and some great Froese guitar work. Had both sides been like this, Cyclone almost assuredly would've gone down as one of Tangerine Dream's all time classics. Force Majeure followed the next year and is an improvement overall. Now back to the core duo with Joliffe gone and Krieger listed only as a guest. The title track is very similar to "Madrigal Meridian" complete with fast drums, blistering synth work and killer guitar work. It would be this guitar work that was later captured for the film Risky Business and would propel the band to new heights commercially. The seven minute "Cloudburst Flight" is the real revelation however. Starting with acoustic guitar and spacey electronics, the piece sets into some of the heaviest rock jams since the very early days. It's a shame the band never explored this sound further, another oddity as TD were especially astute at exploiting great ideas. The final track, "Thru Metamorphic Rocks" starts out promising, but the last 10 minutes or so try to convince the listener they are actually blasting through the rocks and it eventually becomes monotonous and drags down the overall quality of the album. According to Froese, the recording was an "accident" and they left it anyway. Most certainly one of the group's finest releases overall though.

As a graduation present, my parents and I embarked on a seven day Alaskan cruise. Just prior to that, I had purchased TD's "other" soundtrack album Sorcerer. This would be their first soundtrack and easily the best. It really seems like another regular studio album but instead of side long journeys, the tracks are broken up into bits and pieces. It works remarkably well, and one can see how Tangerine Dream would become future Hollywood darlings. Again, there is plenty of guitar from Edgar as he was really exploring his former primary instrument (shown mostly on his solo album Macula Transfer). I remember our ship drifting in Glacier Bay National Park, foggy and mysterious while I had a tape of Sorcerer playing. An eerie experience.

As summer closed and college approached, I had run out of domestic releases to purchase (excepting Tangram which I picked up a year later). Off to the import store where I picked up their latest release (that was available) White Eagle. This is just the sort of album that I appreciated at first but in hindsight, hasn't aged well. And that has to do with Tangerine Dream's ever increasing reliance on drum machines. The upbeat tracks work for short, immediate listens, but they are a bit hollow at the end of the day. Still, they hadn't completely lost their creative touch (that would come later) and there is much to recommend on White Eagle.

Fall semester, Freshman year at the university (still 1983 mind you). Beautiful girls, easy classes, living away from home. Ahh, it was the good life. Time to go to the import store and discover more Tangerine Dream methinks! And this trip would have as much impact as on me as did the Rubycon purchase only nine months before. That day I picked up two of my most treasured albums Electronic Meditation and Logos, two albums that couldn't be more different.

Logos was, in fact, their latest release at the time. A live album, I felt it represented the best of the "Schmoelling" years. Johannes Schmoelling joined the band after the Force Majeure album bringing them back to a trio. His mark was immediately felt as they dropped the rock group aspirations of the last two albums and once again became an "electronic group". Their first album together, Tangram, is absolutely one of the finest pure rhythmic oriented electronic albums ever. I had for some reason neglected this album during my original discovery of Tangerine Dream, but it remains a favorite all the same. Back to Logos and why is it any better than the others? Quite simply, it has the most memorable melodies and is quite a bit more varied than the other releases from this period. It's also the only album post-Baumann that allows for some serious mental story-telling as the flow is uninterrupted and, well, perfect. There is also a section that sounds as if they're saying "Hey Tom!" which would, naturally, be significant to me (I told you from the beginning this would be irrational!). Highly recommended.

Electronic Meditation, on the other hand, I just flat out didn't understand at first. But I was lured by its mystery. Like that "secret book" hidden in Dad's closet, I felt I was listening to something I shouldn't be. I had never (I mean never) heard anything quite like it. Was it just noise? Was it untalented mayhem? Or was it a piece of brilliant experimentalism that I just couldn't get my arms around. Every night I worked with it, hoping it would all make sense. There was definitely something about the atmosphere that was alluring. Had it really just been pure noise, I would've dissed it early on. Eventually I became entranced by their reckless, though oddly composed, psychedelic abandon. Organ, flute, drums, guitar, cello, found sounds. Every aspect of this was new. The intensity of "Journey Through a Burning Brain" with Froese's screaming guitar and Klaus Schulze's piledriving drum technique has rarely been topped on any album by any group. "Cold Smoke" and "Ashes to Ashes" are psychedelic to the hilt while still being thoroughly experimental (in a modern classical music way). I needed more of this! And it has been a lifelong search. Through this I was to discover the vast Krautrock scene and forever changed the way I hunted for records. Later on I was to find out that I had stumbled onto the "Ohr" years (now mysteriously known as the "Pink Years") of Tangerine Dream, their most experimental period. My copy was a French Virgin import, so I wasn't sure what Ohr even was. Of course I was later to discover it was the groundbreaking German label that also introduced legends such as Ash Ra Tempel, Embryo, Mythos and Guru Guru and spawned the Brain and Kosmische Kouriers label. Electronic Meditation featured the one time lineup of "geniuses" that could no way get along for much more than one album. Edgar Froese on organ and guitar, Klaus Schulze on drums and electronics and Conrad Schnitzler on cello, guitar and electronics. The album also featured two other players on organ and flute that go uncredited (one was future Embryo member Jimmy Jackson).

I can remember playing Electronic Meditation for friends and classmates alike. I heard for the first time what I was going to hear for the rest of my life "Anybody can play this. Sounds like any garage band. There are tons of albums like this!" I would respond "Yea, name one." I have yet to get an answer to that question other than the requisite unsatisfactory "Grateful Dead" response which is about as ill-informed as it can get. And already we have one Gnosis review that states nearly the same thing about being a garage band. Garage bands are three chord guitar, bass, drums that can't keep a beat and loud, obnoxious off-key vocals. They are highly collectible in psychedelic circles and with those that follow early 80's alternative music. Electronic Meditation is, however, unfamiliar territory and it takes time to really comprehend what is going on. It's not always the most expertly played but there are few more sincere performances available than this. As Julian Cope says "If you think you've heard rock'n'roll without hearing this LP, you are crazy." As groundbreaking today as the day it was when released in 1970.

A friend was visiting late in '83 and we decided we needed some new tunes. Up to the record store we went and discovered the "new" Tangerine Dream album Hyperborea. This was a bit less drum machine reliant than White Eagle and contained some nice Eastern music motifs. As it turned out, Hyperborea would be the last "classic" Tangerine Dream album in many peoples eyes. It was their last album for Virgin, the label that had seen the group's dramatic growth. Virgin itself had grown up from a small independent label favoring progressive music to one that was a big player in commercial pop. Both label and band had grown apart. How fitting it was then, that my wild year discovering Tangerine Dream had ended at the same point they had. Today the band refers to the entire period from 1974-1983 as the "Virgin" years. Personally I feel that's all too encompassing. I would break that up into the Baumann era (1974-1977), the Rock era (1978-1979) and the Schmoelling era (1980-1983). Anyway you slice it, there are few bands that can change an entire listening experience like Tangerine Dream will. In one year, my whole perspective had changed.

As I stated before, the exploration of the "Ohr" albums (all imports on Virgin by that time) would eventually become my focus. I started with their third album Zeit, a double import LP that cost me a bloody fortune (or so it seemed to me then). I've never really warmed up to Zeit, being far too spacey for me to glean anything from it. At times it's just pure space with no movement and little difference in sound texture. My views have changed little over the years though I can certainly appreciate its overall impact on today's ambient/atmosphere scene.

Alpha Centauri is quite a bit different from its predecessor, Electronic Meditation. Froese tossed all the members and started anew. Former Agitation Free drummer, Chris Franke, made his debut here. Franke, of course, along with Froese, would be the nucleus of Tangerine Dream for another 18 years. Steve Shroyder would become the third member, adding organ and other keyboards to the mix. He didn't stay around long though bolting for the other Berlin superstar group, Ash Ra Tempel (he didn't stay there long either being a man of missed opportunities). There's also plenty of flute from guest Udo Dennebourg. Alpha Centauri by title alone, much less musically, pretty much invented "space rock" right here. It's a deep space trip with some rocking elements. Even those who absolutely abhor Electronic Meditation will grudgingly admit this to be their first really fine release. Certainly one of their greatest albums, a must stop on the Tangerine Dream Express.

Atem followed the ultra spacey Zeit with a return to more standard forms of rock music while also looking forward to their classic "Virgin" years albums. Atem received so much airplay on John Peel's radio show in Britain, that it paved the way for their signing to Virgin records. The powerful dramatic mellotron-laden, pounding drums epic of the title track are offset by the ethereal flute of "Fauni Geni". This would be the end of their "Ohr" years and also of the Ohr label itself as it was being renamed to represent the more heady/trendy ways of the underground: Kosmische Kourier. In fact, the transition had already been made when Atem was released. Keeping the Ohr moniker was a concession to Froese who wasn't interested in being associated with what he called "the cosmic circus". For many, including famed pop singer turned Krautrock enthusiast author Julian Cope, this was the end of their best albums. That's a tough argument to make as the period from 1974 to 1979 was just as creative and fruitful as the 1970 to 1973 era, just a lot less reckless.

Two other notable recordings from this period are the rare 45 RPM single Ultima Thule and the latterly released Green Desert. Ultima Thule is the polar opposite to Zeit which came out at around the same time. This single was one long track broken into two parts and recalled the more acidy guitar workouts from Electronic Meditation than anything resembling space music. This is the ultra-rarity of their catalog, since it's never been legitimately reissued, even on CD (I believe one half of it is on one of the dozens of compilations that can be purchased).

Green Desert remains somewhat of a mystery. Recorded supposedly in 1973 and released in 1985, the music is once again more acid rock oriented and less drifty than the album proper from that year Atem. Some maintain the album was recorded in 1985, others say it was a faithful reproduction of the 1973 recording and still some claim it's from 1973 but completely remixed beyond recognition. I say it's a combination of the first two arguments. The sidelong title track is clearly from another era, with fuzz guitar leading the charge and Franke comfortable behind the drum kit. The other tracks sound like outtakes from the White Eagle sessions with the digital drum beats and square-wave synths.

By 1984, Tangerine Dream began their slow decline into mediocrity. Live in Poland is a fairly uninspired, but still good, digital keyboard workout that nonetheless inspired hundreds of budding Eastern European synthesists. Le Parc showed the band struggling to distinguish between their soundtrack work and regular studio recordings. Basically the album is made up of several throwaway background tracks each supposedly representing a world park. It was time for Schmoelling to leave.

Underwater Sunlight would prove to be their last hurrah. The opening two part side long "Song of the Whale" was the bands best track since Logos. Featuring some absolutely stunning melodies and great guitar work, it would the last great moment for Tangerine Dream. I had great expectations after hearing this track. Perhaps new member Paul Haslinger had been the jolt of creativity the band needed? Unfortunately the other side featured such disco-soundtrack garbage like "Dolphin Dance" that it brought the overall score down about 4 points. From here the band recorded the disastrous Tyger with the silly poetry readings. The final appearance of Chris Franke would be on Live Miles featuring two improvised concerts. A relatively lightweight release, it would prove to be their best album since Underwater Sunlight and the last album that many fans, including myself, would even consider to own. This concluded what the band now calls the "Blue Years" (1984-1988). In 1988, they signed with Private music, former bandmate Peter Baumann's new label. Optical Race was the beginning of albums that would be more commercial, easy listening banal instrumentals. Lily on the Beach followed in a similar manner and it was clear the band had completely lost their creative conscience. On a side note, Tangerine Dream played a free concert in Dallas in 1988. This concert was being promoted by an adult contemporary station called "Magic"(talk about bad marketing). About 75% of the audience came ready to dance to Optical Race-like tunes while the other 25%(including me) were there to see if the band would play with the old fire and imagination. Much to my pleasure, they broke into a medley of hard core T Dream as far back as Phaedra. The audience was bewildered and they left in droves. When Edgar pulled out the guitar and went for the wah-wah Hendrix guitar solo that lasted 10 minutes, the place was nearly empty, except us hardy folks who lapped up every minute of it. I was amazed to see that kind of intensity in the wake of such a cheap throwaway album like Optical Race. As an encore, they played tracks for the aforementioned new album and about three people stood up and started dancing. One has to wonder if Froese was paying attention at all?.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw Soundmill Navigator for the first time. A concert from 1976! Since all of the Tangerine Dream were improvised in those days, this was an absolute must buy item. And it is for all the reasons listed in this article. According to tape traders, there are hours of unreleased and excellent recordings dating all the way back to 1971. The most famous of these is the "Reims Cathedral" concert from 1974. My hopes are somewhat dim we'll see many of these old recordings. Edgar Froese, for his part, isn't one to wax nostalgic about the band's past. Frequently in interviews, he seems bewildered why fans cannot understand his "progression" in the last 15 years. He says we don't understand what he's doing. That's right, we don't. It's very easy for me to understand simple, lightweight melodies with drum machines. There is no challenge in that for the listener nor the artist. I find it fascinating that Froese lists Salvador Dali as a major influence, and yet Dali till the day he died was constantly exploring new, creative ideas. Froese stopped some 15 years ago (or more). It's a tragedy.

No band can claim the sheer amount of brilliant recordings more than Tangerine Dream. For a period of close to 17 years, the band constantly produced challenging, enlightening, inventive albums. No matter what the band has turned into, they still must be considered one of the most brilliant artists of the last century.




Alan Mallery 10-Feb-2001 Overview

The German group Tangerine Dream is one of the most important and innovative groups in electronic music. They have had a lengthy career with many important albums. Over the years they have had many line-up changes and shifts in direction. I will give an overview of these various phases and the albums within. The only member who appears on every Tangerine Dream recording is Edgar Froese, who plays keyboards and guitar. Initially he was an art student who studied with Dali, and formed the band for his own artistic experiments. The first TD album, Electronic Meditation, was recorded from a rehearsal in 1969. Froese here is joined by Konrad Schnitzer on Cello and Klaus Schulze on drums. Fans of psychedelic jams might appreciate this album, but to me it sounds like some guys just screwing around and making noise. Any garage band could put out an album like this :-). You can see by the Gnosis ratings the wide variety of opinions on this album. The next album to surface was 1971's Alpha Centauri. Schnitzer and Schulze were gone. Joining here is long-time member Chris Franke, ex-Agitation Free drummer, who would remain until 1987. Also present was organist Steve Schroyder. On this album they begin to create what would become known as "space music." Three long tracks filled with reverberated Farfisa organ, flute, guitar, and percussion. Not bad but they certainly would improve this on albums to come. The next album, Zeit, would become a landmark in what today is known as ambient music. Schroyder left and was replaced by Peter Baumann. This lineup of Froese, Franke, and Baumann many consider the "classic" lineup and would remain until 1977. The three members, along with guest Florian Fricke of Popol Vuh, create four side-long tracks of deep ambience. Washes of sound seemingly come from nowhere. This isn't an album I listen to too often, but makes good background music for relaxation. With 1973's Atem album, the group was becoming more well known. Still fairly mellow, the sound of the Mellotron is present often, mixed with pulsating VCS3 synth. The last track is an experimental tape-collage piece.

The band made a big leap ahead with Phaedra. They signed to Virgin records and were allowed free rein of their studio. By this time Froese was a master with the Mellotron, and Franke was very innovative in using the sequencer on the Moog modular synthesizer. The use of sequencer added a new dimension to their ambient soundscapes, propelling the music forward. This sound was further improved upon with Rubycon, one of their most important and arguably best albums. With two side-long tracks, Rubycon starts out with a theme, and then waves of sound rush in like clouds dispersing, taken over by pulsating Moog synth. This voyage in sound continues for the rest of the album. A classic of the genre.

Ricochet is an interesting album. TD put out many "live" albums. What they did a lot of times is to take recordings of various concerts (which were all improvised back then) and re-arrange parts into a new album. This is what Ricochet is, two long pieces taken from live shows in 1975. The next studio album for the trio was Stratosfear. Four pieces of varying moods, they incorporate guitar back into the sound. They are really good at creating specific moods here, which foreshadows all the soundtrack work they would later get. Another great album. Speaking of soundtracks, the first one they made is for the movie Sorcerer. The band did not view the movie, but was sent a script from the director and came up with pieces based on that. A good album, worth hearing. The final album of the Froese/Frank/Baumann lineup was Encore, a live album from their 1977 US tour. Originally a double LP, it showcases four side-long pieces. Largely new, they incorporate some themes from the Stratosfear album, and generally stretch out. Froese takes a long guitar solo on one, with sequencers locked and firing. After Baumann left, the remaining members tried some different things. The album Cyclone features a real drummer, Klaus Krieger, and English musician Steve Joliffe on keys and vocals. Yes, this is the first TD album with vocals. As Gnosis member Mike Ezzo puts it, his voice sounds like "a mad scientist." Because of the live drums and spacey synth, sometimes the music sounds like Pink Floyd. A pretty good album, it may be off-putting at first because of Joliffe's strange vocals. For Force Majeure, Joliffe was gone but the drums remain. The band infuses drums and guitar along with their sequences, and creates the most prog-rock like sound they've had. This is one of the more underrated TD albums in my estimation, and the music is very good.

With the live album Pergamon (also known as Quichotte), TD went back to its classic three-man synth lineup with the addition of Johannes Schmoelling. This lineup would remain stable until 1985. This album features what TD does best, long tracks with pulsating sequencers, lush chords, and guitar soloing by Froese. Schmoelling also shows off his fine piano skills. This album quotes some themes from the next studio album, Tangram. Tangram combines their previous sound, long pieces with sequences, with some newfound melodicism. This album remains one of my favorites of theirs, and gets better with each playing. However, 1981's Exit shows a drop in quality. By this time, the band was getting a lot of soundtrack work, (Thief being one notable one), and the studio albums probably got less attention than they used to. Exit is marked by shorter tunes, with simplified themes repeated over and over. By now they were using drum machines to propel the music along, in addition the sequenced synth lines. Even though White Eagle has long tracks, it's about the same quality level as Exit. Much better was the live album Logos, where the band plays through a long piece with different movements. It moves along like a story, and the interplay between the three members is very good. The band were also integrating some new sounds from digital synths and sampling into the mix, to create a larger palette of tonal colors. There is no guitar on this album. Their final album for Virgin Records was Hyperborea. Heard here can be some world music ideas popping up. This album is pretty good, and the combination of the shorter tracks and the side-long "Sphinx Lightening" works pretty well.

Another live album followed from a recording in Poland. Again four side-long pieces shift through various moods and sequences. The sound is somewhat similar to Logos, and will appeal to anyone who enjoys that album. The final album from this lineup was Le Parc. It consists of six shorter tracks about various national parks. The tunes are very upbeat with catchy themes. Unlike on Exit, this works well for this album, and I keep listening to it regularly. For Underwater Sunlight, new member Paul Haslinger joined Froese and Franke, and at least temporarily rejuvenated the band. This album features the masterful piece "Song of the Whale." Instead of layers of changing sequences, this song is very structured with repeating themes of haunting melody that create the underwater atmosphere. Guitar is heard prominently for the first time in a while as well. The band followed with Tyger, a strange album using vocals based the William Blake's poetry. Livemiles presents the last glory gasp for TD, and after this Chris Franke left the band. Froese and Haslinger continued with three albums for Private Music, which are very average synth/new age music. At this point the band was not innovative in any way, unlike the early years when they were paving the way for the genre. Currently the band is simply a vehicle for Edgar Froese and his son Jerome.

For fans of electronic progressive or those new to the genre, Tangerine Dream has many albums worth exploring.




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