The passing of Tangerine Dream founder Edgar Froese in January 2015 was a shock. That he died in his seventieth year, so soon after taking the Phaedra Farewell Tour around the world adds to the sense of loss.
Herr Froese left behind a massive body of work spread over five decades. Fans will have their favourites though few would dispute that the mid-70s saw the peak of Tangerine Dream’s creativity. Here at Vinyl Connection we favour an orderly approach to the appraisal of a major artist’s catalogue, so we will begin at the beginning.
Edgar Froese had been playing music in various settings since he was eighteen years old. Born in Russia in 1944, Froese studied drawing and painting at the Berlin Academy of Arts in the mid-60s. An early adventure arose from the young Froese’s connection with Salvador Dali. Invited to the great artist’s mansion in Spain with his band The Ones, Froese was exposed to an exploratory and iconoclastic expression of the arts that would influence his own artistic development.
‘Happening Afternoons’… were a mixture of music, literature and painting, (and) might be called an early form of multimedia presentation. Highlights of these meetings were Dali’s attempts to play Satie on a piano which was set up in waist-deep sea water; or the ballet dancers, who danced to the music of Debussy on enormous egg shells floating in the water. In July 1967, Edgar composed the music for the inauguration of Dali’s Christ statue, a sculpture made of rain barrels, bicycles and metal. [Tangerine Dream Official Bio]
Asked by The Quietus  about the influence of the famous surrealist, Froese said that Dali’s philosophy ‘of being as original and authentic as possible had touched me very intensively at that time’.
Back in Berlin, Edgar formed the first incarnation of Tangerine Dream in September 1967. Firmly in the ‘alternative’ camp, they played a few gigs and festivals but did not start moving towards the vision in Froese’s head until he met up with drummer Klaus Schulze and the pair recruited experimental non-musician Conrad Schnitzler. This was the short-lived line-up that recorded the first Tangerine Dream album in 1969. Ralf-Ulrich Kaiser had recently formed the Ohr (ear) record label and was keen to release the record. It appeared in 1970 with an unsettling cover photo by Edgar Froese’s wife Monique; for no apparent reason, original pressings also included a balloon. The Vinyl Connection copy, a 2002 re-issue by Earwork/Sanctuary, lacked the balloon but did include a nice postcard (of a later line-up).
Electronic Meditation is jagged and confronting in parts, discordant and unsettling in others. Imagine the interstellar improvisations of early live Pink Floyd transported out of the hippy womb of the IT club and dumped unceremoniously in a disused Berlin factory with a dodgy tape recorder and lots of attitude. There is nothing spacey or dreamy about Tangerine Dream’s debut. Yet the invention, the experimentation and the raw energy of creation leap out of the grooves. Despite the avant-garde nature of the work, it is curiously accessible for those with an adventurous spirit and a willingness to be discomforted just a little.
Fittingly, the album opens with “Geburt” (Genesis), where ghostly noises and industrial clanks usher in Schnitzler’s tortured cello. The meandering wraiths are joined by a swirling flute (Thomas Keyserling, uncredited on the original album) and distant, frenetic drumming from Klaus Schultze. Eventually it settles down to a groove of sorts, but not for long. The whole thing collapses into bemused alienation and shuffles into “Reise durch ein brennendes Gehirn” (Journey through a burning brain). Paranoid organ joins the murky emotional mix, punctuated by cello plinks and guitar plunks. In this bleak rhythmless wasteland you find yourself clinging to the threads of organ melody as the only humanity on offer. It’s Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright ripped from bucolic Cambridgeshire and dumped on a Berlin bombsite. Guitar shards stab, tom-toms pulse; it builds to a psychedelic climax… beware the brown acid! There’s a peaceful-ish coda of organ and flute but it’s as wholesome and convincing as a leper in a tie-dyed shirt. This is probably not a brain you’d want to inhabit permanently.
Side two opens with “Cold smoke”, evoking a foggy night in a disused factory where whatever looms out of the darkness is not going to be good. What does emerge is a thunderous Schulze drum front almost totally unconnected to the ghost-in-the-machine organ. Tension builds, jolts disorient, noises intrude, guitar yowls. Stubbs puts it neatly, “Atmospheres build, but they’re jagged, halting, catastrophe-prone” [p. 288]. Suitably, the piece ends with tape-cut suddenness; just a panting breath of escape.
There is nothing remotely funk to funky about penultimate piece “Ashes to ashes” though the onset of percussive rhythms and noodling guitar align this closer to rock music than what has gone before. But even here there are disruptive noises, feedback shrieks. Said Conrad Schnitzler, “They (Froese and Schulze) played rock music and I was there to break the rock music, to make it kaput. I did everything against it, putting as much noise in as possible.” [Stubbs, p. 287].
The benediction to this bleak sermon is “Resurrection”, which begins in true arcane fashion with a backwards recitation by Edgar Froese (though it is not black magic he is incanting, but the terms and conditions from a ferry ticket). This conjoins a final section of suppressed menace, the sound of a lost soul treading an endless inner plain… Flip the album and start again; you’ve come a meandering circle back to the same desolate starting-place and still with just yourself for company.
Though Klaus Schulze later dismissed Electronic Meditation as “rubbish”, others disagree. Cope calls it “pure manic inspiration” [p. 131], the Freemans offer “raw and intensive, bordering on the avant-garde”. That last is rather under-stated if you ask me. Electronic Meditation crashed right through the rock border post, scattering the Allies in a shower of smashed boom-gates and splintered huts. Meditate on this, Englisch pig-dogs.
Cope, Julian (1996) Krautrocksampler. 2nd Ed. Head Heritage, UK
Freeman, Steven & Freeman, Alan (1996) The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. Audion Publications, UK
Stubbs, David (2014) Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany. Faber & Faber, UK