There is a narrow apron of stage in front of the large cinema screen. It is packed with electronic keyboards, monitors, desks and associated musical paraphernalia. In the coloured half-light, four figures ease their way through the maze of stands and leads and seat themselves at their respective consoles. A slow-moving gentleman in a leather hat; two men of indeterminate age, one solidly built, the other slight and serious of mien; a petite young woman heading for an electrified violin. A pause, then the screen lights up with a single word, white on black:
Music infiltrates the space, sinuous, ominous…
For their second Melbourne concert this week, German electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream were invited by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image to perform their score for William Friedkin’s film Sorcerer for a live audience and in front of a soundless cinema screen.
The chance to witness this unusual concert event meant that the show sold out and another was added to cater for demand. As mentioned previously [Melbourine Dream] Vinyl Connection and partner attended the concert and can report that it was excellent.
It was also rather strange.
Seated in the third row, we were surrounded by devout Tangerine Dream fans. In my fantasy – totally without foundation – the music fans were down the front and the film buffs up the back. Or maybe they were all TD aficionados. Who knows? What is certain is that many of those present were also at last Sunday’s Town Hall concert. I wonder how many of them purchased the CD of the Sorcerer music, 2014 version, from the Town Hall Merchandise Stall . I did, and was glad to have warmed up to this re-imagining of the original 1977 soundtrack. More of that later.
It was a unique experience to sit in a comfortable ACMI cinema seat and immerse oneself in this mesmerizing music. Above the shadowed musicians the film images panned and leapt in a silent visual ballet of violence and destruction while the music, both parallel and disconnected, seeped and surged below. Occasionally an English subtitle would appear on the screen when characters were speaking other languages – French and Spanish are my guesses – but those were the only clues to the dialogue.
Except for the person sitting in front of us. Through some marvel of internet magic this clever young gent had conjured the film script onto his phone, where it scrolled through the dialogue in perfect synchrony with the film. For someone born to a world where the most sophisticated device was a small black and white TV, this was so extraordinary I took a photo to prove it:
Not that I am sure I actually wanted to follow the film, magnetic though Roy Schneider is. My attention seemed to shift between performance and screen, depending on what was happening. There was a desire, or perhaps it is an instinctual tendency, to follow the visuals. Humans are wired for vision, after all. Still, I found that sometimes I was grooving to the beats, sometimes trying to follow the narrative, occasionally drifting into a dreamlike state where the two merged into a pleasant psycho-auditory synesthesia.
The only frustration I experienced was the unwillingness of the audience to applaud. The music had pauses – albeit brief ones – and individual pieces were quite overt, yet the taboo of not interrupting a film overrode the obvious enjoyment of the audience. Believe me, I did try. Several times I clapped a few furtive claps that quickly sank to embarrassed silence. Very weird for the performers I imagine. But they retained focus for a continuous two-hour set of engrossing entertainment. It was great.After the last synth note faded and the final credit disappeared, Herr Froese and the band shuffled down off the stage and stood for applause and muttered introductions by the venerable leader:
Then Herr Froese explained that, as they were doing a repeat performance of the 120 minute set in less than an hour, it was time for a rest.*
Tangerine Dream’s music for Sorcerer was their first soundtrack. With a count of more than thirty albums of music for film, clearly the medium has been an important part of the Dream machinery.
Earlier this year, TD released a reworked and expanded CD of the Sorcerer score. The first disc basically follows the original LP while the second adds an hour of new music based on sketches and ideas Edgar Froese created at the time but never developed due to director Friedkin being delighted with the composer’s first submission.
The new release offers a fascinating opportunity to compare the 2014 and 1977 recordings.
Sorcerer 1977 opens with the drifting, formless ‘Main Title’. This (along with the similarly atmospheric ‘Rain Forest’) does not appear on Sorcerer 2014. The new one has longer versions, but two fewer titles.
So ‘Search’ is the piece that gets the engines running in Sorcerer 2014. What is instantly noticeable is the solid bass and smoother synth sound. Where a lead melody line appears, it emerges from the layers seamlessly. It’s a great piece: catchy and evocative. The 1977 version is more primitive, rawer. Certain analogue synthesisers of the mid-70s had a particular character in the release of notes that created micro-pauses in the music, giving an uneasy stuttering motion within the melody. Into this more edgy sound the lead line cuts slashes; it’s more assertive – maybe even violent – than the later arrangement.
‘Creation’ (1977) is hesitant, searching. If this is Genesis, it’s no garden of Eden; more a mist-draped primaeval jungle. The life here is powerful, possibly malevolent; it stretches and pulses. The 2014 sound of ‘Creation’ is less hesitant, more measured. The music emerges like a washed-out sunrise. A bass-line surfaces as the light brightens to a brooding, pensive morning. Things could go either way. (In passing, this ‘Creation’ is 50% longer than the original).
‘The Journey’ has also extended during the intervening 37 years, more than doubling in length. Although the landmarks are much the same, the trip was bumpier in the past, the terrain and the transportation both rougher, less polished.
In the present day, ‘Grind’ is like being massaged firmly by a toned personal trainer. In 1977 it was like being dragged through dense undergrowth by a night-club bouncer. Take your pick.
‘Abyss’ 1977 opens ominously with rhythmless atmospherics that become more menacing as the piece progresses. Something is moving down there and it’s not good. It’s really not good… Run like fuck!
The 2014 version is much slower to unfold, more like a stirring in the depths. There is a sense of ill ease. Is that a shadow, or… Oh, only shadows. Move on.
Perhaps the 1977 album highlight is ‘Impressions of Sorcerer’ which is lifted excitingly by Edgar Froese’s guitar. After the wall-to-wall analogue synths, the Stratocaster cuts through with abrasive energy. It’s short, it’s sharp, it’s spine-tingling. The 2014 arrangement has guitar too (the concert had violin) but again, it is more integrated – synthesised if you will – with the piece as a whole. It is also twice as long, but not in a lazy repetitive way. The music builds in energy and insistence to a satisfying climax – perhaps the most powerful track on this 2014 re-visiting.
So that’s your deadly trek through the Mexican jungle. Circa seventies, you’re bumping along in a rusty truck never able to forget the boxes of nitro-glycerine in the tray six feet behind you. This ain’t no resort, this ain’t no highway (unless it’s to hell). These days (2014 version) it is fascinating and entertaining and you don’t really have to leave the comfort of your armchair.
Choose your own adventure: I’ll take both.
For those who would like a snippet of the experience, this is part of the Copenhagen performance in June 2014…
* Since posting this article, Edgar Froese has died (January 20, 2015). He leaves behind a huge legacy of electronic music and will be missed.