TANGERINE DREAM - A Biography
Tangerine Dream is a German group that specializes in electronic music. (The members of the band strongly reject the "New Age" label.) It was founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese who had been studying painting and sculpture. The band has undergone several changes in line-up over the years, and Froese has been the only continual member. Drummer and composer Klaus Schulze was a member of an early line-up, but the most stable version of the group during their most influential mid-1970s period was as a keyboard trio with Froese, Christopher Franke, and Peter Baumann.
The genesis of the group began when Edgar Froese arrived in the mid-1960s in West Berlin to study art. He worked as a sculptor and studied under Salvador Dalí amongst others. His first band, the R&B-styled The Ones, didn't succeed and was gradually dismantled after releasing only one single. Froese turned to experimentation afterwards, playing minor gigs with various musicians. Most of these were in the famous Zodiac nightclub, but the band was even invited to play for Froese's former teacher Dalí. Music was mixed with literature, painting, early forms of multimedia, and more. Only the most outlandish ideas were able to gather any attention. From this, Froese developed the phrase: "In the absurd often lies what is artistically possible." Various members of the group came and went, but the direction of the music continued to be inspired by the Surrealists.
Froese was fascinated by technology and skilled in using it to create music. He built instruments and collected sounds with tape recorders wherever he went, using them to build musical works later. His early work with tape loops and similar repeating sounds was the obvious precursor to the emerging technology of the sequencer, which Froese quickly adopted and developed to his own ends.
Most notable of Froese's collaborations was his partnership with Christopher Franke. Franke transferred in 1970 from the group Agitation Free to replace Klaus Schulze as the drummer, and eventually he became Tangerine Dream's sequencer guru. He left the band for personal reasons nearly two decades later in 1987. Many consider this to be the breakup of the band. Other long-term members of the group included Peter Baumann (1972-1977) (who later went on to form the Private Music label, to which the band was signed from 1988-1991), Johannes Schmoelling (1980-1985), Paul Haslinger (1986-1990), and most recently (1990 onwards) Froese's son Jerome. Many fans of the band consider the inclusion of Jerome into the band to be an abject disaster, and the band's popularity has declined since that time.
Unlike nearly every other popular band, Tangerine Dream's albums are for the most part, not available in regular channels. Instead, they are sold by the band's own record label TDI.
The first Tangerine Dream album, 'Electronic Meditation', was a tape-sound piece, using the technology of the time rather than the synthesized music they later became famous for. It was a collaboration between Froese, Klaus Schulze, and Conrad Schnitzler. Beginning with their second album, 'Alpha Centauri', the group tended to be a duo or trio of electronic keyboards augmented by Froese's guitar, Franke's drums, and sometimes assorted guest musicians. They were particular heavy users of the Mellotron. Most albums were purely instrumental – the band's two albums to prominently feature lyrics, 'Cyclone (1978)' and 'Tyger (1987)' (the latter set to poems by William Blake) were met with harsh response from the fans. There have been occasional vocal tracks on the band's other releases, too. The band has however recently returned to this style with a (currently unfinished) musical trilogy based on Dante's 'The Divine Comedy'.
Tangerine Dream signed on to Virgin Records in 1973 and soon afterwards released their famous album, 'Phaedra' (reaching #14 in the United Kingdom album charts), one of the first albums released by the newly-formed label. This was the world's first commercial album to feature sequencers and came to define much more than just the band's own sound. The creation of the title track for 'Phaedra' was something of a fluke: the band was experimenting in the studio with a recently acquired VCS 3 synthesizer, and the tape happened to be rolling at the time. They kept the results and later added flute and Mellotron performances to the song. The album is also indicative of just how cantankerous much of the equipment was at the time: the VCS 3 was so sensitive to changes in temperature that its oscillators would drift badly in tuning as the equipment heated up. (This drift in tuning can be heard in the song itself, unchanged.)
Just as in the late 1960s Edgar Froese had been amongst the first musicians to exploit electronic sound processing in rock-based music, in the early 1980s, along with some others such as Jean-Michel Jarre and Mike Oldfield, the band were early adopters of the new digital technology which was to come to revolutionise the sound of the synthesiser. Their technical competence and extensive experience in their early years with self-made instruments and unusual means of creating sounds meant that they were able to exploit this new technology and make music quite unlike anything heard before. To a modern listener, perhaps many of their albums do not stand out in the way they would have at the time, for the musical technology they adopted at that time is now almost universally used.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the band played many live concerts (which were often improvised and consequently widely bootlegged) and had numerous tours across the world. They were notorious for playing extremely loudly and for a long time. The earliest concerts were visually quite dull by modern standards, with three men sitting motionless for several hours alongside massive electronic boxes with patch leads and a few flashing lights. Some concerts were even performed in complete darkness! As time went on and technology advanced, the concerts become much more elaborate, with visual effects, lighting, lasers, pyrotechnics, and projected images. By 1977 their North American tour was complete with full-scale Laserium effects.
Since their 1980 East Berlin gig (released as 'Pergamon') when they became the first major western band to perform in a Communist country, Tangerine Dream has been very popular behind the Iron Curtain. In Poland they were one of the most popular bands in the country in the early 1980s. They even released a live album called 'Poland' of one of their performances there. Because of the abstract nature of the music – and, arguably, the lack of lyrics – they did not attract censure from the authorities, unlike many other western bands.
In the 1980s, Tangerine Dream composed scores for over 20 Hollywood movies. Also, upon departing from the group, Franke went on to compose the score for the television science fiction series 'Babylon 5' and several further Hollywood movies.
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