THE MUSIC OF TANGERINE DREAM, PART TWO
After Electronic Meditation, Klaus Schulze moved on from Tangerine Dream, leaving band leader Edgar Froese in need of a replacement.
There was a young musician Froese had encountered in the Berlin scene as the drummer of Agitation Free (a brilliant, inventive band I hope we’ll get to at some stage). Chris Franke was very interested in the emerging electronic music scene and had his own VCS 3, an early synthesiser built by UK company EMS. As soon as the new line-up was completed by the addition of organist Steve Schroyder, Ohr Records supremo Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser booked studio time for the band to begin their second album.
That’s where we^ take up the Tangerine Dream story again, exploring the other three quarters of the output from the band’s ‘Pink’ years (named after the colour of the Ohr label organ of hearing).
ALPHA CENTAURI 
Personnel: Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, Steve Schroyder
The psychedelic Alpha Centauri was a heady brew of wasted droning voices, eerie organ and drifting flute that creates a hazy, shifting atmosphere. Here the band offers exploratory collages with a rough-around-the-edges quality; there is grit, some edginess, a hint of danger even. A frequent (though somewhat lazy) comparison is the music of Pink Floyd in their late 60s/early 70s concerts: lots of spaced-out, often sparse improvisations. But Tangerine Dream here are less bounded, deeper in space, darker. The tone is gothic, eerie; particularly in the side long title track. Alpha Centauri may be the closest star to our Sol but this is far from celestial music.
Personnel: Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, Peter Baumann
(This line-up was mostly stable until 1977)
Guests: Steve Schroyder, Florian Fricke, The Cologne Cello Quartet (all on “Birth of Liquid Plejades”)
1972’s sprawling double LP Zeit is a monumental and deeply affecting album. In some ways a prototype for dark ambient music, this divisive album comprises four lengthy abstract compositions totalling 76 minutes of music that can be terrifyingly unrelenting one moment and immersive the next. Large stretches of it are simultaneously deeply isolating and suffocating, yet it’s also oddly engrossing and enveloping.
Opening side “Birth of Liquid Plejades” creeps into the room like a swarm of gigantic cosmic mosquitoes, moving inexorably towards you to suck out your soul. It is a chilling introduction to the world of Zeit where time moves differently, glacially. Phased synthesisers and sombre organ drones glide through a macabre quadrille with the groaning choir of cellos. This movement – for there is movement – slowly gives way to an organ-synth section that evokes some sort of twisted folk melody, the sort of tune that arises from a foetid swamp populated by unquiet ghosts. For Lord Of The Rings devotees, picture Gollum guiding Frodo and Sam through the noisome swamp in the approach to Mordor; the hobbits crawl through the ooze, staring down at the dead faces of warriors long long gone… this is music for that scene. The ghostly atmosphere and sense of isolation intensifies with electronic blips and alien textures, before more assertive organ starts to dominate alongside moaning winds that sound like souls in torment. There is a beauty here, like flowers for the damned.
The second movement is “Nebulous Dawn”. Waves of electronics pulse like an other-worldly heartbeat, disturbed by harsh, shuffling electrical static that sounds like a predatory presence scratching at your door. Don’t answer. After deep saw-tooth cello notes straight from the galactic version of Psycho, we’re eventually transported to a bubbling ocean world, immersed in an alien floatation device. But there is nothing peaceful here, only tension, paranoia. This bath does not rejuvenate but leech away your being; less nebulous dawn than cosmic disintegration.
After a stiff drink and a couple of prozac cookies, we launch into side three, “Origin Of Supernatural Probabilities”. A thick humming washes in and out, joined by waves in middle and upper registers; nearby is a slowly strummed electric guitar, creating a despondent mood suitable for the beach bar at the end of the world. The next section has echoing, keening notes like the cry of some extinct leviathan. Burbling synths are pierced by shards of noise and a wild warping rumbling alien heartbeat pulses through a swirl of cold electronics. The music is beyond time, born of a primal landscape staring up at infinite space, belligerent and terrified.
The final movement is “Zeit”, the German word meaning time. This piece does not so much begin, as insinuate itself into the room. You may only notice its effects when you start at a flickering shadow or find yourself hugging a cushion. Then again, maybe you’ll lie on the carpet and watch the ceiling dissolve into nebulous clouds of floating, whispery synth lines, revealing a vertical panorama as deep and mysterious as anything a BBC doco about the universe can deliver. “Zeit” is the most sparse of the four movements; moments of near-silence are punctuated by distant ghostly wails, muted machine-like buzzing and chittering alien voices – all softened by interstellar star-dew.
Devoid of melodic structure – and for that matter, of melody itself – Zeit is brooding, uncompromising, inaccessible, and totally alien. It is a monolithic album and an extraordinary achievement and while this is not music to spin constantly, it has that rare capacity to alter the environment around you. Consuming, compelling, and never experienced the same way twice.
Michael: Zeit is probably one of the unhappiest and darkest albums I’ve ever heard, yet there is something oddly enveloping and gripping about the music as it takes hold of you with icy fingers that refuse to let go.
Bruce: This is a lonely, austere universe aching for an atom of humanity to crush in a dark-matter embrace. A powerful and unique album that was unlike anything else (and still is). It is thrilling and unsettling to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here.
Julian Cope: Aaaaaah… the harmony of Zeit is the greatest of any rock ‘n’ roll lullabies. Its soothing medicating soporific tones are an exquisite flying carpet that takes you ever so gently up into the Land of Hyper-nod. Music that hangs in Deep space. Songs the size of planets with titles the size of cities. 80 minutes of utter Kosmische beauty. [Krautrocksampler, p.132-3]
Personnel: Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, Peter Baumann
The first contrast leaping out of the grooves of Tangerine Dream’s fourth album is the return of percussion. The title track announces itself with massive pounding tom-toms which herald the arrival of warriors and lumbering war-mammoths at Jupiter’s city-sized colosseum. Or so it seems. But things are rarely as they seem in this inter-planetary realm. A waterfall cascade of aluminium jets giving way to tortured organ begs for science-fiction imagery featuring reptilian soldiers who may just eat your brain. Then it all suddenly quietens down. It’s rather tranquil, in a blue-green misty sort of way. That the violence of the opening does not return is something of a relief, even though the synthesiser undulations become more urgent in the final few minutes.
The second side of Atem has three pieces. “Fauni-gena” is like pre-dawn in a night-bird sanctuary, all twittering flutey bleeps and slow stately waves of mellotron. This is possibly the only piece from ‘Pink Years’ Tangerine Dream that could be described as pretty, building tension in an agreeable way as it moves towards a chirping, thrumming almost-climax. “Circulation of events” delivers what it says on the box and follows nicely from what has preceded. Final track “Wahn” (mania, delusion) has deranged echoing voices attacked by punishing drums, providing a circularity with the opening of the album that makes for satisfying, if uneasy listening.
Eerie dreamy ambient passages giving way to unnerving primal drama are a feature of Atem. It means breath, or breathing. Maybe because there is a tendency to forget to breathe as the atmospheres seep into your cortex. This album is a world away from the electronic atmospheres and melodic washes that the band would embrace over the next few albums following their re-location to the Virgin label. Atem marks the end of an era. Though there are few passages containing actual tunes, Krautrock fans and lovers of experimental lost-in-space music should consider buying a ticket. But try not to get lost; it could be a very long way back.
^ Thanks to Michael Hodgson for his enthusiasm about the idea of collaborating on a TD post and for his insight and substantial input. The idea may well have germinated while queuing for entry to the Melbourne Tangerine Dream concert late last year and although it has taken a while to reach fruition, it has been fun to exchange ideas with a fellow lover of progressive music on this seminal electronic band.
Michael has been an enthusiastic fan of all things prog for over twenty-five years. Spurred on by the invention of early Queen albums he rapidly embraced the major ‘prog’ bands (Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis) and was soon taking chances on albums by artists as diverse as Eloy, Renaissance, Gong and Focus. Having embraced all things musically progressive, Michael now works for the Prog Archives website as a collaborator under his prog-de-plume Aussie-Byrd-Brother, where he has written an astounding 374 reviews covering a wide range of prog related sub-genres.