Edgar Froese & Tangerine Dream: A Personal Tribute and why you should listen to them.

August 10, 2015

 

NOTE: This post first appeared as a note in Facebook and a post in r/Let's Talk Music on Reddit in January of this year, when Froese had just died. I post it again here partly because I'm trying to collate all these things, and also because I genuinely think you should listen to Tangerine Dream.

 

Found myself spending the first couple of hours or so of today listening to Tangerine Dream, following hearing about Edgar Froese's passing, and I felt I couldn't let the event pass without offering a personal tribute and saying something about what TD's music and what it meant to me as a musician, and also why I think it's worth you listening to.

I'm not here to talk about my own music, but to provide context, I'm a composer and musician. I can't imagine it's that obvious upon listening to my music, but TD were a massive influence on me, and between the ages of 15 and 20 I listened to everything I could get my hands on of theirs, including even a grainy VHS of a live concert taped off Polish TV in 1983 that was virtually unwatchable.

I learned about polyrhythm and phasing not from minimalist composers like Steve Reich or Philip Glass, but from Tangerine Dream 5 or 6 years before I even knew who Reich was. I remember when I was 18 following some listens of albums like Tangram, Exit  and Hyperborea  trying to write a rhythm that could be played beginning on a different beat of the bar and still sound good. (I didn't realise I could take any rhythm and do this). And I have no doubt that much of the fairly unobtrusive polyrhythmic patterns going on in the background of those albums and others like them were what pushed me to spend time while on buses working out how to play 5 against 4 against 3 and similar things.

Too easily written off - they were too out there for some and not experimental enough for others. they were never as 'cool' as Kraftwerk. They were however infinitely more interesting. At other times they were dismissed as New Age, but they never were. Throughout their entire career there remained a willingness to explore and more dissonant sounds that actual New Age folk like Yanni or Andreas Vollenweider would never touch with a barge pole, and that your average crystal collecting, mantra-intoning meditator would likely feel bruised their chakras.

Their influences came in equal parts from English Rock, from classical music and from Stockhausen, Ligeti and later on Reich.

They brought a warmth and organic feel to the use of synthesizers. Listening to tracks like No Man's Land or parts of Rubycon , you could swear there are acoustic instruments in there. It never really felt electronic, and by all accounts they never really thought of themselves as an electronic band. They clearly spent long periods working on the sounds themselves, so their tracks really feel orchestrated. These days their sound is dismissed as cheesy or dated, but they were finding ways to finesse their sound and really make these instruments really work for them before bands like Depeche Mode or Human League were even tentatively tapping the odd Simmons drum pad.

They were absolute masters of texture. There's a sort of clarity to their music - it's never overly cluttered, and seldom too thin. They knew what to bring in and when - their pacing was great.

From the 70s into the 80s their music by all accounts became a little less experimental. I don't personally think this was them "selling out" or becoming complacent. I think actually it was them finally start to clarify what they were about. And even as their music became more structured, they retained some of their improvisational origins.

Over 100 albums! Think about that. Between 1970 and 2014. That's a lot.

The membership changed a lot over the years and with it, so did the sound. Notable members included Klaus Schulze (great musician and artist in his own right with an almost equally long discography), Michael Hoenig (additional music for Koyaanisqatsi) Chris Franke (Babylon 5) Johannes Schmoelling, Paul Haslinger (Rainbow Six Vegas games) Peter Baumman.

As for Edgar Froese himself, the founding member and only consistent member throughout, a quick listen to the opening track of his solo release Stuntman  sort of tells you not only what he brought to TD, but also what the others brought by whats missing. It's simple and melodic, but it's also a wonderfuly warm track.

They're still underrated today. The sound of so much electronic music and pop music generally owes a debt to Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream. It was great to see them involved in producing new music for the last Grand Theft Auto game.

If you've never heard any TD, go listen to a snippet from the early 70s (Phaedra  or Rubycon), something from the late 70s (Encore  or Ricochet ), something from the early 80s (Tangram, Poland ) and maybe something from the late 80s (Underwater Sunlight). I know you say you've not got time, but you have. If you don't like it, that's fine. I just think it's worth acknowledging that here stands a band, and a musician behind that band that cast a subtle but distinctive light upon so much of what we listen to and hear today, and it's perhaps too often obscured by brighter, bolder and possibly less nuanced lights.

So, Edgar Froese, I salute you.

 

 

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