LIVE SORCERY

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:

Sorcerer

Music infiltrates the space, sinuous, ominous

Tan Dream Live 1

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.

IMG_0103

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:

Tan Dream Live 2

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.

Tan Dream Live 3

Tangerine Dream play live in November 2014 while the credits of the 1977 film roll behind them. [Photo: Michael P H]

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:

Hoshiko Yamane

Thorsten Quaeschning

Ulrich Schnauss

Edgar Froese

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.*

Tan Dream Live 4

Final curtain: Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream, November 20, 2014, Melbourne

 

*

Tangerine Dream Sorcerer 77

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.

Tan Dream Sorcerer 2014

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).

Sorcerer Back cover

‘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.

Sorcerer 2014 Back

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.

15 comments

  1. Masterful Bruce. That sounds like a great time. I’ll be on the lookout for the LP now.

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    1. I reckon you’d love it Joe. Especially as we’ve been enjoying the Bernard Szajner ‘Visions of Dune’ with which it shares much squelchy analogue deliciousness.

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      1. I think you’d also really go for the Rudiger Lorenz too.

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        1. Am planning to investigate when time allows. Been a tad busy with life and concert-going. Am quite behind in my blog-reading too!

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  2. In a most unlikely response to this post, I began thinking about Hal Todd’s Late night movies, which we used to watch without sound (in the seventies) whilst doing other hippy-type things.
    I guess both experiences were surreal.

    I enjoyed the post and the snippets. Thanks.

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  3. I organised the gig at ACMI and put it Tangerine Dream the mind of Melb Music Week based on a conversation with CH:PIX in Copenhagen who did the TD gig of Sorcerer in March this year. They didn’t do it with the film though – that screened a day or so later in full with director Mr William Friedkin in attendance.

    For the ACMI gig I didn’t want just a light or straight live show and so thought of just playing the film from start to finish behind the band. I didn’t actually know how we were going to make it cinematic other than doing that and perhaps cutting between footage and the band.

    I settled on just having a static red/blue lighting on stage and the full film – thinking the band will be the focus and the film just the back-drop.

    It actually turned out differently.

    The film and the music very quickly came together despite that the music heard was not specific to the scene on screen.

    They did rehearse this show to the film for a long time though which they didn’t do in Copenhagen.

    The performance in Copenhagen was 40 mins longer but at ACMI the “structure” of the film kept it to a very neat 2 hrs. A very different kind of show and the first time in the world like that.

    Despite the wonders of technology I think the band, the film and a subtitle mobile is just too much. Why do we have to make literal sense? You didn’t need to read the story to know what was going on.

    Essentially it was a live gig…but seeing so many mobiles alive in a cinema where such devices are forbidden was great – the mix between cinema, concert and something else was brilliant to see. That “something else” is exactly what the band would want and precisely what we like.

    I really loved it. The sound was great, the seats were very comfy, you were right on top of the band and everything was B.I.G.

    And the band were super friendly and loved everything about Australia and you.

    Richard Sowada
    ACMI

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    1. Thanks for adding some background, Richard.
      Certainly the audience had a blast: the consensus seemed to be that this show was at least as engrossing and entertaining as the Town Hall gig. I hope you feel satisfied with both the concert and your part in organising it and found some pleasure in the above article.
      Bruce

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  4. I attended the CH:PIX gig in Copenhagen and can confirm it was a totally different experience (comparing it to the various youtube clips from the ACMI performance). In Copenhagen Bill Friedkin introduced the band (Dieter Moebius and Michael Rother having played earlier).

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    1. Thanks for visiting and adding comments, Andy.
      Apparently ACMI was in dialogue with Mr Friedkin for an audio hook-up, but it couldn’t quite be made to happen.

      PS. Saw Harmonia in Melbourne a couple of summers ago. Actually, probably four years! They were fantastic. More recently, Rother toured with Moebius and Hans Lampe. Brilliant.

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  5. […] Dream twice in a week, first live at the Melbourne Town Hall and then at ACMI in front of the film Sorcerer, Vinyl Connection was once again deeply in thrall to the veteran German band’s brand of […]

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  6. […] When the Tangerine Dream website hinted of a ‘different’ show in the offing, the flutter became a fibrillation and this particular fan took the ‘more news after 8th October’ seriously, visiting daily to get the scoop. Eventually it was revealed that the band’s other appearance would be at ACMI, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, playing their music for the 1977 film Sorcerer live in front of a projection of the movie. Liking that moody menacing analogue soundtrack, I signed up for that too, convincing Ms Connection that this would be a worthwhile concert for us to couple with. (Read about it here) […]

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  7. […] absolutely loved the ACMI film-performance of Sorcerer a week later (concert report here, Sorcerer here), it was a massive shock to hear of the band’s founder’s death a couple of months later. Tan […]

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  8. Like we chatted about briefly. Friedkin fan. Will be watching and listening to this soon. Kinda of looking forward to it. Sounds like you really dug the show.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was brilliant CB. One of my favourite live experiences, and only enhanced by the comfortable cinema seats!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Those are special shows especially when they turn out to be so good. A little envious. I’ll be cranking the volume up when I watch the film.

        Liked by 1 person

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