There are 40+ Tangerine Dream albums in the Vinyl Connection collection~. Apart from the obvious focus on synthesisers and electronic devices, the one thing they all have in common is Edgar Froese.
Herr Froese founded the experimental band in 1967 (more about the beginnings here) and was at the helm through many journeys: as they explored the disconcerting realms of inner/outer space in the early 70s, found a measure of success during the Virgin years of the mid-seventies, and continued into the digital age. Froese piloted Tangerine Dream towards a rich and varied parallel life as composers of film soundtracks and even invited his progeny to join the band in 1990#. Jerome was one of many collaborators over the decades; co-creators came and went, with most fans having a particular line-up they especially favour*.
Then, in January 2015, shockingly soon after playing concerts in Melbourne, Edgar Froese died. With the founder’s death, it looked as if the career of perhaps the most influential and famous electronic band ever was no more. Fans would have to content themselves with albums from recent collaborators, such as the talented Ulrich Schnauss and twenty-first century TD member Thorsten Quaeschning^.
But this week, during a lunchtime browse in Carlton, I came across an album by Tangerine Dream. What’s this? An archival release of outtakes? Live recordings from the last tour? A dodgy eastern European bootleg? The back cover suggested Particles is a new work. Yet some of the titles were very familiar. “Dolphin Dance” is a track on Underwater Sunlight, “White Eagle” the title track of a 1982 album, as is “Rubycon” from 1975. And what’s this? A cover of the main theme from Stranger Things? What’s next, the Dr Who music? Well, only one way to find out.
I’ll confess to a buzz of excitement as I slit the transparent seal and opened up the gatefold of a new Tangerine Dream album. Inside were photos of the musicians responsible: Ulrich Schnauss, Thorsten Quaeschning and Hoshiko Yamane. Opposite them, wearing shades and an inscrutable smile-grimace, is Edgar Froese; founder, progenitor. The three younger musicians clump together for safety in the face of the master’s weighty legacy.
Onto the turntable goes the first side. It’s an epic, a pulsing, sweeping, hypnotic journey in the grand TD tradition of Phaedra or Stratosfear. But whereas the average length of a 70s Dream-side was seventeen minutes, “4.00pm Session” clocks in at almost half-an-hour. Although it is interesting and enjoyable throughout, there is a sense of absence, of something missing; “4.00 Session” is like a well developed draft, just waiting for a little injection of magic—a flash of melody here or a piercing guitar jab there—to elevate it to greatness. Perhaps what is missing is Edgar Froese, that’s what I think as I flip the record for side two.
Two pieces here, a reworking of “Rubycon” (17:25) opening with some experimental sounds before settling into the classic analogue pulse. It’s great, if not revelatory. Then a fair dinkum cover version, the theme from “Stranger Things”. Well done, sure. But, er, why?
The second LP is a live set, recorded in concert at Schwingungen Festival+ in 2016. It is a kind of brief introduction to post-seventies Tangerine Dream, offering nicely crafted performances of a selection of TD pieces:
“Mothers of Rain” from Optical Race (1988)
“Power of the Rainbow Serpent” from Mala Kunia (2014)
“White Eagle” from the album of the same name (1982)
“Dolphin Dance” from Underwater Sunlight (1986)
“Shadow and Sun” also from Mala Kunia (2014)
It’s well done, all of it. Yet somehow you feel like you are listening to a very accomplished Tangerine Dream Tribute act. In fact, that’s the feel of the whole set. Something tentative about claiming the name; some missing adventurousness maybe. As a tribute, it’s fine, but Particles is marking time.
Schnauss, Quaeschning and Yamane have done a sterling job of creating an homage to their fallen leader, but if they want to really breathe life into the brand they need to be bold, to move out of the master’s shadow without abandoning his legacy. They need to integrate the particles of Froese’s vision with their own manifest skills. There is no doubt at all this trio is capable of that feat. Let’s hope they give it a go.
~ Less than 50% of the TD recorded output.
# Jerome was a member from 1990 until 2006. His first appearance on a Tangerine Dream album, however, was as a two year old on the cover of Atem in 1973.
* Many revere the 1971 to 1977 Froese, Franke, Baumann configuration. I’d not argue with that.
^ Their 2017 album, Synthwaves, is excellent. Read JHubner’s review here.
+ The German word Schwingungen pleasingly translates as ‘Vibrations’. It was the title of a 1972 Ash Ra Tempel album.
Tangerine Dream — Particles was released on CD in December 2016 (Eastgate Music) and on vinyl in June 2017 (Invisible Hands Music).