An introduction to, and retrospective on, Tangerine Dream.

Many of us in here have a fond affinity for the band Tangerine Dream, whose groundbreaking work in electronic music brought the attention of this kind of music to a huge number of people. Their classic works contain a large number of beautiful pieces of music, to enjoy, to be inspired by and to learn from, so I thought I would offer my perspectitive on them, as an introduction to their music for people who might not know them well, and as a retrospective on their history, their significance and their works.

As an obvious disclaimer, it goes without saying that all of this is my highly subjective point of view, so you don’t need to tell me that I’m wrong in the comments :slight_smile: But your own perspective and experiences are most welcome.

For me, the giants in electronic music have always been Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre, in that order. I’m very well aware that there are many other great electronic musicians, in the past and the present, as well as many early pioneers on the technical and academic side. But these 4 artists brought electronic MUSIC to the world in a massive way, and served as huge influences and inspirations to countless musicians and listeners after them, me very much amongst them. Of all of them, Tangerine Dream has always to me been the most groundbreaking and the most interesting, opening up a vast landscape of music that simply didn’t exist before, and I’m still in awe of their best works as it simply transcends music across all times and ages.

The band was founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese, who was in my mind a musical genious when at his best, and the only permanent member of the band until his death in January 2015. They have released over a hundred albums and are still recording and touring as “Tangerine Dream”, although none of the original members are left, and to be honest I no longer associate them with what was Tangerine Dream and don’t find them interesting or relevant anymore at all.

In the way of introduction, if you know very little about them, you might ask: So, what do they sound like? What’s a quintessential Tangerine Dream track? This is not an easy one, but after much handwringing I have come up with this one. This is the track “Search” from the album “Sorceror” (1977):

The classic lineup of musicians of their great years, the ones they are mostly remembered for, are:

The band have had several distinct “ages” or phases during their lifetime, and this is how I would group them. When beginning listening to Tangerine Dream I highly recommend you focus on what I call “The Golden Age”, which is where the good stuff is, IMHO.

Proto-TD (the pink years): Electronic Meditation (1970) - Atem (1973).

This is not the music you would normally think of as Tangerine Dream. It’s a band knowing they want to do something different, something new, but they don’t really know how or what. They don’t really have any proper electronic instruments yet, so it’s mostly wild and weird experimentation using whatever they could get their hands on. They are in and coming out of the so called “Krautrock” years, together with other bands like Kraftwerk, and all this is brilliantly documented in the documentary “Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution”, which is an absolute MUST SEE for any lover of electronic music: Kraftwerk & The Electronic Revolution (documentary) - YouTube

There’s a few enjoyable gems in there but mostly it’s, in the immortal words of Klaus Schulze, “rubbish”. Forgettable and only noteworthy for it being the steppingstone towards something different and quite brilliant.

The golden age (the Virgin years): Phaedra (1974) - Tangram (1980).

This is the age of what I think most people love and think of as “the real Tangerine Dream”. They now have real electronic instruments, starting with a Moog modular and a Moog sequencer, and also including the Mellotron as a big part, and increasingly more and more great, classic synthesizers. Edgar famously loved his Mellotrons. The best of this age is marked by sheer, unmatched, ingenious brilliance. Massively pushing the envelope and moving the needle of what music is, and what electronic music can be. The best of this music is truly immortal and always a joy to listen to, decade after decade. Truly pioneering stuff and they have a massive breakthrough with this kind of music in the public. Phaedra marks the beginning of what we would now call Berlin School, and the sound that no one would mistake for anything other than Tangerine Dream.

The decline: Thief (1981) - Logos (1982).

The band is beginning to loose wind and catching themselves up. They’re no longer pushing the envelope hard and it’s equal parts hit and miss. There’s enjoyable moments but they’re seemingly starting to loose their inspiration, being content to repeat a lesser version of themselves, and the music starts to be a mixed bag and downright boring at worst.

The aftermath: White Eagle (1982) - Present.

Sigh… how the mighty have fallen. This is where I’ll probably really start to divide the waters and if you love the music of this period that’s great; good on you. But that’s not me. This is a band that has lost themselves and almost everything that made them great. Less in the beginning more towards the end. There’s still occasional gems here and there, such as the delightful “Love On A Real Train” (1984):

But mostly the music ranges from, at best boring, generic and without imagination, just repeating a shallow formula, to, at the worst, a pile of unlistenable, sugarcoated garbage. I know, it’s harsh words and it pains me to say it, and I’ll never understand how such massive talent could turn to such nothingnes, but there it is. I could speculate as to why but I won’t. Most probably, if you didn’t hear the music of their golden age first, like I did, you might think that some of it is quite good, and all I can say is: Well, wait till you hear the good stuff! I don’t really consider the music of the mid/late 80’s and onwards as really being “Tangerine Dream”, certainly not the band I know and love. Anyways, enough said about that.

I tend to think that the engine of the band, the driving force, was the combination of the pure musical genius of Edgar Froese, combined with the radical new sound of repetitive sequencing mastery from Chris Franke, lazed with the highly experimental, searching and romantic influence from Peter Baumann.

A reasonable question to ask, if you don’t know them well, would be: What albums would you recommend to start with? Which ones to listen to first? My recommendation is this: Find a quiet place, put your favorite headphones on, close your eyes, and then listen to the B side of the album “Ricochet” (1975). This is “Ricochet (Part Two)”:

It’s a sublime piece of music, my favorite of theirs, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be floating with the gods and smiling afterwards. And when you’re done you might as well listen to the whole album because it’s all great. Ricochet: Tangerine Dream - Ricochet [Full Album] - YouTube

When you’re done with that I recommend moving on to:

And then the rest of the golden age after that.

Like most great bands, the true greatness was in the combination of the musicians. But the individual musicians were very good as well. First and foremost Edgar Froese, whose compositional genius, love of the Mellotron and sublime musical imagination and sensibility could stand more than very well on his own. On the 1975 Tangerine Dream tour in Australia he composed this masterpiece of an album, his second solo album, which might as well be an official Tangerine Dream record. I kind of regard it as such and it would be right up there in their 3 best albums. It might be my favorite album of electronic music of all time, and if you ever want to truly float away on electronic music, forget about the world and just let it take you places, this is it. Flying with the gods for real. It really is a stunningly beautiful work in my view. I give you: Epsilon In Malaysian Pale (1975):

In the words of David Bowie: “It was the soundtrack of my life whilst in Berlin”. Of his other solo albums the first few are quite good, but then follows the same arc as Tangerine Dream towards irrelevance.

Peter Baumann is an interesting musician and person as well. I really like his first solo album: Romance '76 (1976):

It’s deeply original and radically different from anything else you’ve heard. Very captivating with a romantic twist.

So there you have it and I’m amazed if you’ve read this far :slight_smile: I think I’ve expended enough words now, and hopefully have given someone an introduction to Tangerine Dream, enough to bite into and get a good start, and with luck some memorable musical experiences and inspirations. They will always be a huge musical influence in my life, as it is to so many others, and I will cherish their greatness forever.

What about you? Do you have an interesting perspecitive on the band, the music or their influence? Or perhaps an interesting anecdote? Sound out in the comments, I would love to hear it!

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Thorsten Quaeschning, Hoshiko Yamane and Ulrich Schnauss.

IMO the best Tangerine Dream ever.

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Pergamon definitely belongs on the best list. I partially agree with this commentary. My first concert was Optical Race. It hooked me, but in hindsight it was too “pop” music for me. As was most of the later work. I like the later stuff, but the hair on the back of my neck doesn’t stand up. And recent efforts, either live or recorded, to perform the old stuff, mostly don’t do justice to the original works. I was out of my mind to hear Cloudburst Flight finally performed live at the time. But the original is better. You can’t capture lightning in a bottle as rule.

Best ever? Edgar is turning over in his grave. :upside_down_face:

If I didn’t know better, I would accuse you of eavesdropping on my conversations. Well-written piece.

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Very nice piece on TD. I grew-up with Frose on his career, ie: I first bought Aqua back in the 70’s, Edgars 1st solo release, followed by Pheadra. I was hooked. I have many LP’s for the first releases, including the double album Epsilon In Malaysian Pale I have attended three live concerts and got to meet Edgar after the last show I saw. He is the Mozart of our century as far as I am concerned. I also own the two latest master releases. love em!!

btw, just made the purchase of VCV 2.4 + drums

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Froese was a guitar god, who also dabbled with synthesizers. >ducks< XD

I grew up with TD in movie scores as a kid and worked my way back through their catalog starting at 1980. This was also how I discovered Klaus Schulze, Michael Hoenig, and Conrad Schnitzler even though they weren’t involved as deeply as the others.

Got to see them finally in Boston during their Rockoon tour, and it was unfortunately pretty dull. Or I wasn’t feeling it. I am happy that Edgar Froese was making the music he enjoyed with his family for the rest of his life, even if his creative focus had become less interesting to me. Artists are lucky when they can form properly synergetic relationships, and that’s often quite temporary. Having been in creative peak range for arguably a good ten years is still an amazing run.

Their live shows were often amazing. There was a fan effort years ago IIRC called Tangerine Trees which tried to make a comprehensive archive of their live output. I have enjoyed probably 20-30 of their 70s concert recordings.

Even though I rarely listen to Tangerine Dream these days, they were a major influence on the trajectory of my experience of music.

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I’ve got a smattering of TD albums, covering a range of years. Oddly ‘Tyger’ is one of my favourites, even though it’s so different from their usual stuff that it’s hard to really consider it TD at all.

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That’s what I think of a lot of TD work, first bought Tangram AFAIK because I liked the sequenced parts. Same with Schulze, when he is meandering all over the place I like to skip it, bought X and love those repetitive parts. Bought Encore by TD and liked all the sequenced parts especially when the bass sequences are slowly mixed in*. The soundscapy parts are just not for me, maybe thats why I liked JMJs first 2 albums so much.

*case in point

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Yeah, it’s a real TD trademark and I love it as well. I think that’s the huge fingerprint of Chris Franke, at least initially. The meandering can be too much for me as well, if it just feels like filler material going nowhere. But when it’s done really well, in a composed way, like Edgar does it on Epsilon in Malaysian Pale, I think it’s gorgeous, but it can definately be overdone.

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Proper

Yes, we do :smiley:

TD have periodically re-visited their mid-70s to 80s style, with varying levels of success. In 2014, they released a revised version of Sorcerer. Froese was still with us, and Thorsten Quaeschning - the current leader of TD - arranged it. It’s interesting to contrast the newer version with the older one.

TD’s latest is another attempt to move towards the earlier classics, and uses some older material. The press release says they had “full access to Edgar Froese’s Cubase arrangements and Otari Tape Archive with recordings from 1977 – 2013”. The full album release is in February, and this is a pre-release track from it.

The Tangerine Tree and Leaves releases are online. Great variety, and demonstrating how improvised their performances could be. And some of them were used for the official Bootleg releases.

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I think Love on a Real Train was on the Risky Business soundtrack and was definitely the first Tangerine Dream I’d heard. Although I was into New Order and similar bands at the time who’d started to use sequencers, and some JMJ and Kraftwerk before that, I think it may have been my first exposure to the addictive qualities of evolving pattern sequences. It sounded like the future.

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So I’ll leave it here :smiley: