Max Bell – “Tangerine Dream: Is This the End of Rock As We Know It?” (1974)

February 9, 2010 at 10:18 am (Krautrock, Music, Reviews & Articles, Tangerine Dream)

Another NME article on Tangerine Dream, this time from Nov. 16, 1974…

Ever heard of a group who would rather not be visible to their audience and let the music work on its own? Seems peculiar even in these troubled times.

Sure Todd Rundgren occasionally brings along his pre-recorded tapes (though remember he’s A True Star) and Sly Stone sometimes chooses not to turn up at all, but for muted image appeal Tangerine Dream have got them all beaten.

When we met at their Bayswater hotel, Edgar Froese, Pete Baumann and Christoph Franke set about explaining the enigma and defining what exactly their electronic democracy entails:

“The people make their own concert just as much as us; it’s a process of reflection. After a few gigs you get the feel of what we’re doing, but you won’t see superstars because our music isn’t dependent on big business or reflecting popularity.”

Hence the decision not to Play album pieces live?

“As we’re improvising all the time, everything is different. To reproduce only records would be boring. This way each gig is a unique experience. At a good moment, maybe two thousand people are going to feel the same thing.”

O.K., so what about the audio-visual synthesiser – which supposedly projected extensions of the sound, but didn’t?

Edgar admits that it wasn’t entirely successful, but hurriedly qualifies with a rejoinder that perhaps we, the audience, weren’t entirely prepared for the dual experiment. Too much, too soon, as someone once called an album.

“Next time around we’ll forget it, though we have been using a film of the Rainbow original since then.”

In the dream camp it is generally agreed that subsequent dates have easily surpassed the London opener, further proof that Southerners are the hardest to please.

Perhaps a plethora of concerts makes us blase. Edgar Froese agrees and explains that in the North reaction has been increasingly favourable.

“Liverpool was particularly interesting. We could feel the aggression in the hall – they usually have wrestling there – but after ten minutes: silence.

“It wasn’t entirely ‘our’ audience but no-one jumped up and shouted for rock ‘n’ roll – they listened.”

The discussion over the obvious lack of similarity between T. Dream and most other popular outfits brings them to an irate dissertation on the attitudes of the press; the vociferous Baumann is most heated on this point, while Froese nods in sage accord.

“We resent those who say that our concerts put you to sleep. This idea the papers convey is so patronising it makes the audience seem stupid, like monkeys.”

At this juncture Christoph Franke interjects for the first (and last) time:

“We want them to experience sound, which requires concentration; if they go to sleep, we have failed.”

Mr. Froese elaborates on this inscrutable pronouncement with a quick sophistry of his own – a Teutonic one-off.

“The audience is ‘doing’ the concert, so the music is an extension of them. We listen as we play too, you know.”

Thank you, I see.

Baumann pours forth on the old apparel-talent syndrome. It’s not what you do, it’s the dress that you do it in.

“Does it matter what trousers somebody wears, or who the fastest guitarist is?”

No, I suppose it doesn’t, but…

“Exactly. We play as a group but the distinction between us and a rock band is that they put on a show – we put on a mind show.”

But surely you’re not equatable with rock musicians anyway?

“Don’t categorise us. We’re influenced by everything; sound, pictures, a walk in the woods, looking at clouds from a plane even. Without Debussy, Presley, Beatles, Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream would be impossible. Our music is the end result of these things in that we become a filter, our instruments, the keyboards, moogs and VCS3’s are just the ones with which we can best express our sensations.”

Ah, the collective subconscious assumes heavier implications. Edgar lays it straight on the line:

“We are concerned with the deeper experience of music. For example, it is impossible for us to reduce and reproduce that feeling by issuing singles.”

For a band of such transparent integrity, the choice of record company must have proved a matter for substantial thought.

“Yes, we got a lot of good offers, but went to Virgin – not only because they’re economically stable, they’re behind our music and they don’t dictate to us.

“In turn, we don’t run to them and say ‘make us stars.’ It’s mutual proof of maturity really. Ohr Records betrayed us. All they thought about was money.”

The legal wrangling between T. Dream and their erstwhile employers continues. The group are more than a trifle upset at Ohr releasing early material in this country, as the product’s success won’t line the pockets of their lederhosen and may even detract from sales of present issues.

Still, they shouldn’t suffer too many sleepless nights having already shipped more British imports than any other band since Soft Machine.

Edgar’s Aqua, a paean to all things watery, is doing just dandy, while Peter and Christoph have solo ventures slightly nearer than the horizon.

Froese elucidates on the necessity for this sudden proliferation.

“There’s a lot of material which each member finds it impossible to include in the group. We’d be fighting one another off, so it’s healthier to branch out on diverse projects.”

The problem of total improvisation crops up again, this time with regard to that most ambiguous mental condition, the mood.

Suppose one night you don’t feel like performing?

“Then we play that mood. If we feel great then the tones of the music will be almost speeding or sometimes melancholic.

“Because we never repeat a concert it’s hard to define whether we get excitement or satisfaction from it. After a good presentation, we may not do an encore – there’s nothing left to give. If we’re not fulfilled and there’s an element missing, like at the Rainbow, we go out and pick up on a particular mood which we did enjoy.”

Tangerine Dream have yet to grab a slice of the American pie and their attitude towards touring, which includes imperative relaxation periods, may be hard to reconcile with those of the average promoter. Nevertheless, Froese is adamant.

“We can’t troop around playing night after night, that way we’d lose direct contact, with the music, anyway the business could kill you there. The money we spend on hotels is unimportant – it’s far better to have a positive fresh approach to performing.”

Meanwhile, there are New Year visits to Australia and Japan and various multi-media projects proposed, though after the relative failure of the Chichester Festival’s Oedipus Tyannus production (for which they provided the score) Froese is determined not to commit the group to film work in a hurry.

Nothing is yet planned, and anyone with a potential offer must be prepared to spend a lot of money. As for any excursions with new equipment, Baumann is defensive, obviously sensitive to possible allegations of moog chicanery.

Franke later confided that they are considering aligning the quad system pyramid-style to diffuse sound better and that Gunter Branschen’s artificial head technique has still to be perfected.

No-one mentioned incorporating laser beams, however. Now that would be something.

Max Bell

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