Tangerine Dream: Changing Use Of Technology, Part 2: 1977-1994

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Published in SOS January 1995
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The recently released 'Tangents 1973-1983' Tangerine Dream boxed set chronicles the 10 seminal years the German group spent on the Virgin label. MARK PRENDERGAST concludes his history of the band, and looks at the effect they have had on the development of modern music technology. This is the last article in a two-part series. Read Part 1.

 

During the 1970's, Tangerine Dream blazed a trail for electronic music with a string of hit albums that brought them worldwide acclaim. Part 1 of this feature, in last month's Sound On Sound, recounted how the 'classic' Tangerine Dream line-up of founder Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke, and Peter Baumann crafted famous albums like Phaedra, Stratosfear, and Rubycon using nascent, unreliable electronic technology. But tensions between Edgar Froese and Peter Baumann became unbearable following two extensive tours of the United States in 1977, and Baumann left to pursue a solo career in the Autumn of that year.

Baumann's departure had serious repercussions for Tangerine Dream. Edgar Froese and Chris Franke drafted in old Berlin chums Steve Jolliffe (flute) and Klaus Krieger (drums) for the making of the Cyclone album in 1978. But the new personnel and new instruments -- a Roland guitar synth and multi-trigger drums -- did not save the album from sounding poor. Jolliffe even sang -- the first time there had been vocals on a Tangerine Dream album. Not surprisingly, no track from Cyclone appears on the Tangents boxed set. Jolliffe was dropped, and the trio of Froese, Franke, and Krieger recorded Force Majeure at Hansa Studios in Berlin. On its release in 1979, this proved to be Tangerine Dream's return to form. The apocalyptic 'Thru Metamorphic Rocks' still sounds futuristic, even today.

Christoph Franke recalls: "It was a new phase, more structured. The music was more heroic, a little bit like art-rock again. We got some more keyboards, and our big Moog modular was more stabilised inside -- new oscillators came in, and new envelopes. But the Mellotrons and MiniMoogs were still there".

Tangerine Dream began 1980 by being the first Western rock group to play on the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall (documented on the live album Pergamon, released in 1986). More important than the concert's location, however, was the fact that it marked the debut appearance of Johannes Schmoelling as a member of Tangerine Dream. Edgar Froese had been very impressed with him when they had met at a Berlin theatre -- at 29, Schmoelling was already an audio technician, with a degree in electronics, a background in piano and organ music, and a specific interest in sound collage. Froese recalls: "Johannes had remarkable concentration, and could work for long stretches of time".

Schmoelling has his own memories of joining the group. "It seemed to be the ideal group to work with, as I could be composer, performer and sound engineer all in one person. Before I joined, the music of Tangerine Dream was basically built on sequencer loops, more or less in one key, with few harmony changes and long sessions of improvisation. When I came to the group, we tried a mixture of more structured elements, with more jazz-orientated chords, composed melodies and some synthesizer solos closer to rock. We really wanted a more dynamic sound."

Chris Franke: "Johannes wasn't so much a synth player, so I taught him a lot about using MiniMoogs and things. He was very good on the engineering side, which helped us with the recording. Also, he was a very good piano player, better than Peter [Baumann], so we got into more fancy keyboard styles, and in some ways the music became more professional -- a lot more than just capturing hypnotic and spacey feelings. So, in some ways, it became more conventional, and in others a little bit more advanced".

Technologically, the group remained on the cutting edge by liasing with the electronics industry as new developments occurred. During the late 1970s, Chris Franke made important connections with Oberheim and Sequential Circuits, the American distributors of Roland. He also went to Japan and helped design the Jupiter 8. His connection with equipment manufacturers led him to become a Beta tester for Waveframe and other companies. On 1980's Tangram (the first studio album to feature the new trio of Froese, Franke, and Schmoelling), the warm smoothness of new keyboards mingled seamlessly with older sequencer and guitar elements. According to Franke: "We got Oberheim synths, and went back to using a Clavinet to get string sounds, higher overtones, and more aggressive colours. In our early days, most synths weren't polyphonic, and we had had to vary monophonic lines. But in the 1980s, the polyphonic synth wave began, and it shows on Tangram".

THIEF AND POLYGON STUDIOS

Tangerine Dream's next album, Thief, recorded in 1980, made the group famous in America as soundtrack composers. The album also focused attention on the group's increasing financial independence, for they were now working quite happily in a $1.5 million studio of their own design -- Chris Franke's Polygon Studios. This was where the group had recorded Sorcerer years before, but the studio had been rebuilt and re-equipped over the years until it bore little resemblance to the original 4-track setup. Chris Franke explains: "On Stratosfear, we had run up studio costs of 80,000 Deutschmarks, and even Hansa Studios was quite expensive. We eventually realised that all this money could go into equipment. During the late 1970s, we found this old ballroom which had at first been a cinema, then a discotheque, and then a storage room. I rented it, fixed it up over the years, and then got some bank loans and bought all these 24-track machines and mixers. Thief was still recorded in analogue, and used a new ARP synth, which had a very nice sound thanks to its ring modulators -- some very rich overtone structures".

Franke justifiably says that Thief was full of sequences which directors still remember today. A huge GDS computer was brought in from Music Technology Incorporated to help with the audio-visual synchronisation. Edgar Froese remembers how easy it was to work with the versatile director Michael Mann. "He was very professionally prepared, and knew precisely what he wanted. After working on the score for three weeks, Michael came from LA to Berlin to arrange a final mix of all the instruments. In the meantime, the film was being cut down quite considerably, and this meant that some of our cue points were no longer correct. So we flew to LA for two weeks, and did some further alterations. Thief took place in a normal thriller setting, but nobody had ever heard sequenced electronic music in this kind of Hollywood film."

In fact, Mann's film, which starred James Caan and Tuesday Weld, was a huge critical success. The American press went wild over the soundtrack, and acknowledged how the German trio had succeeded in making electronic music sound organic and full of adrenalin. Not surprisingly, the album stayed three months on the Billboard chart on its release in March 1981. Edgar Froese still says today that the talented Mann "was the director who really helped us on the way".

EXIT

Even during the hullabaloo which surrounded the release of Thief, Tangerine Dream were busy recording another album, Exit, put down over the summer of 1981. Full of brief melodic passages and hypnotic sequencer phrases, the album again saw Tangerine Dream on the cutting edge of electronic innovation. Edgar Froese: "We built everything around our MCI mixing console, because we needed to have all the instruments quite near. We didn't use acoustic instruments much at all, and didn't need an engineer. We just had everything around us, the same way as on stage". Schmoelling recalls: "We experimented with drum-loops built out of spliced tapes, achieving the same effects as rap musicians do today using sampling techniques".

Chris Franke has more detailed memories of Exit: "All the gear had become more complex and reliable, so you could afford to do all sorts of unusual connections. The Mellotron had only run tape segments lasting eight seconds, after which you had to find another tone. But on Exit, we were into very long landscape sounds, so we applied tape loops to the Mellotron instead of these segments. We spent nights and nights recording them ourselves and putting them in. And so suddenly, I had very long string and choir sounds which could then be sent through a vocoder. Through another vocoder input, I'd send drum sounds in order to 'rhythmise' the choral and string sounds. This was a completely new experience. With the equipment we had by then, we could really concentrate on what was in our heads, on how to realise certain sounds. We were fighting the equipment when we began, but at last it was doing what we wanted it to do. The MCI console at Polygon was the first with computerised automation, and that allowed for many experiments. And the studio was 24-track, which was still a big deal then".

THE SAMPLING BREAKTHROUGH

Over the next two years, Tangerine Dream entered a mellower, though still prolific, phase, touring the world, and playing large festivals in Berlin. March 1982 saw the release of White Eagle, which marked the beginning of another technological breakthrough for the band -- digital sampling. Edgar Froese recalls: "During the production of White Eagle, we were able to use an instrument which had just been developed, and whose inventor we knew well. This was the PPG Wave 2.0, which was followed later by the Waveterm -- one of the first professional samplers. The graphic monitor's representation of partial wave forms allowed us to create completely new musical structures. It was a very complex and expensive procedure, but for our adventurous imaginations, this development came at exactly the right time".

As the band continuously toured throughout the Far East and Australia, Johannes Schmoelling began to really make his presence felt in the live arena. This can be heard on Logos Live, released at the beginning of 1983. Meticulously crafted, this album shows Schmoelling to be a master of melody, texture and nuance. His fascination with jerky sampling rhythms also strongly influenced Hyperborea, released at the end of 1983. The classical Greek symbolism of this album recalled the band's debut for Virgin ten years earlier, which was fitting, as it proved to be the final studio album for the label. Ten years on, Schmoelling is still very happy about the Hyperborea album, with its electronic sitar, and exotic North African flute and tabla sounds. "Like Logos Live, Hyperborea was determined by the new generation of digital synthesizers and sampling technology. We were able to memorise sounds, and used a lot of sampled drum sounds. We also invented new rhythm structures by using a special arpeggiator technique." Edgar Froese also has happy memories: "On 'No Man's Land', we first used the Waveterm computer as a digital sequencer. The result came as a real surprise, especially in terms of tuning and editing".

But Chris Franke has different memories of this period. "I felt that from White Eagle to Hyperborea, we were all in a phase where the music became smooth but also a little bit more boring. It was becoming repetitive, because we didn't have the punch or the bite or the hunger anymore. We were more established, and it's the absolute truth that musicians lose a little bit of their bite when they get established.

"In terms of equipment, we really got into all the polyphonic synthesizers. Every couple of months there was something new, despite ARP going out of business -- a new Korg, a new Roland. We were surrounded by keyboards -- our studio became a keyboard store. We rented a Synclavier, which I found very interesting. I had already bought an expensive audio computer, and then I was going to buy a Synclavier. But at the last minute, I realised I could get two Waveframes at half the price, so I went for those, because we always needed a back-up model -- we always had down-time and couldn't depend on just one. So I bought two Waveframes and we just rented the Synclavier. The Waveframes were great for stage and studio work."

At the end of 1983, Tangerine Dream performed a classic concert in Warsaw, and the album taken from the performance, Poland (released not on Virgin, but on the Jive label), reveals just how ahead of their time the German trio were. The hypnotic beats and electronic rhythm of the title track sound very close to music made today by German techno guru Pete Namlook.

Despite having begun their relationship with the Jive label for the Poland album, Hyperborea proved not to be the last Tangerine Dream record to be released through Virgin. In 1983 the group made a substantial contribution to the soundtrack for the film Risky Business, which starred Tom Cruise. Elements of both Force Majeure and Exit could be discerned amongst the tracks, and the title piece, also known as 'Love On A Real Train' involved repetitive elements that were close to the minimalism of Steve Reich. Still, for all its excellence, the making of the Risky Business soundtrack was not without its problems (see the separate 'Soundtrack Problems' panel).

THE DREAM CONTINUES...

The Tangents boxed set covers the years 1973-1983, and it is this period which has been the main focus of this two-part feature. Two further film soundtracks, Firestarter and Flashpoint, were issued via Virgin and MCA in 1984, and come from the same Froese, Franke, and Schmoelling period. Excerpts from both appear on the boxed set. Briefly, post-1985, Schmoelling left Tangerine Dream to concentrate on his own Riet studio in Berlin. It was here that the five CDs of the Tangents boxed set were digitally pre-mastered. His replacement, computer genius Paul Haslinger, was instrumental in the recording of the brilliant Underwater Sunlight in 1986 for Jive Electro. Detail of Haslinger's time in Tangerine Dream can be gleaned from the interview with him in Sound On Sound's November 1990 issue. In 1988 Christoph Franke left Tangerine Dream (see the separate 'Falling Off The Cutting Edge' panel), and various musicians passed through the ranks after his departure. In 1990, Jerome Froese joined his father's band, and also helped out on the re-editing and re-recording aspects of Tangents. Edgar Froese now plans a second boxed set, which will concentrate on the early days of the group, as well as the latter-day Tangerine Dream. For now, Tangents is an important document of a group in constant development and growth.

Edgar Froese, who is still for many the living embodiment of Tangerine Dream, has his own last words: "If you listen to all of TD's albums chronologically, you practically have a history of synthesizers, sequencers and samplers, with up-to-date analogue and digital sounds. In truth, our music is a diary of the history of musical instruments in the '70s, '80s and '90s."

 

TANGENTS DISCOGRAPHY

Phaedra (Virgin 1974).
Rubycon (Virgin 1975).
Ricochet (Virgin 1975).
Stratosfear (Virgin 1976).
Sorcerer (MCA 1977).
Encore (Virgin 1977).
Cyclone (Virgin 1978).
Force Majeure (Virgin 1979).
Tangram (Virgin 1980).
Thief (Virgin 1981).
Exit ( Virgin 1981).
White Eagle (Virgin 1982).
Logos Live (Virgin 1983).
Risky Business (Virgin 1983).
Hyperborea (Virgin 1983).
Firestarter (MCA 1984).
Flashpoint (MCA 1984).

 

SOUNDTRACK PROBLEMS: RISKY BUSINESS

Edgar Froese: "When John Avnet and Paul Brickmann [the producer and the director of Risky Business] arrived in Berlin to hear our completed soundtrack score, we were devastated to hear that nothing we had done suited them. They said they had imagined something completely different. Something like this can be a real pain, especially if you've worked on a score night and day for three weeks. But as a professional, you've got to swallow your disappointment and find out immediately where the mistakes and misunderstandings are. We tried doing this for five days, with no success. Nothing could satisfy the producer and director. We were gradually getting tired and rather annoyed at the whole film business. We almost gave up trying to find a solution, and there were only two days left before they went back to Los Angeles. We sat in front of our instruments, totally unmotivated, turned off the monitors which showed segments of the film, and started improvising some rhythmic patterns and loops without a beginning or end. Brickmann was suddenly electrified, and claimed that this was exactly the kind of atmosphere the film required. After that, we recorded the complete score in two days and two nights, and ended up bringing the master tapes at 7am to the gate where the director's plane was ready to take off. Risky Business was one of the USA's three most successful films of 1983. There simply are no absolute laws which rule the world of business and music."

Christoph Franke: "That soundtrack was a case of too many chefs in the kitchen. After doing everything with Fender Rhodes and strings, we stumbled upon a minimal kind of thing, like Steve Reich or Philip Glass. It was a new way of drawing a romantic theme, which we still get credit for today. The Roland MC8 sequencers -- which were new then -- were central to this, as a lot more of our melodies could be programmed. And we built our own sequencers. Sequencers in the early days could only handle six or 10 notes. Suddenly, we had sequencers which could deal with 64 notes, which meant that our music had much more structure."

 

FALLING OFF THE CUTTING EDGE: CHRIS FRANKE ON LEAVING TD

Chris Franke left Tangerine Dream in 1988. As he says, much has been written on this subject [for an example, see the Chris Franke interview in May 1994's Sound On Sound], but he remains clear about his reasons today. "I felt I needed a creative break, because I think we started to repeat ourselves. We ended up with so much equipment that we took on a lot of jobs to pay for it, became overworked and did too many things at the same time. We did not have time to explore our minds for fresh ideas or explore the great computer instruments we had at our disposal. Kids with much more time than us, but less experience, began producing better sounds, and I began to feel our quality was dropping. This was a very bad feeling for a group who always wanted to be on the cutting edge of music.

"Edgar and I still talk every three to six months, and we discussed the boxed set, although my film music schedule didn't allow me to get directly involved. I think he did a very good job on the music, and the booklet notes are most informative. I'm very happy with how it all turned out."

 

FURTHER INFORMATION

The Tangents 1973-1983 boxed set is out now on Virgin Records, catalogue number CDBOX4.

Sound On Sound has featured several interviews with Tangerine Dream personnel over the years. Early member Klaus Schulze has been interviewed twice, once in August 1987 and again in February 1993. Paul Haslinger, member of the band since 1986, was featured in November 1990, and Christoph Franke spoke at length about his current work and his favourite equipment in May 1994. Back copies of these issues are available from: SOS Mail Order, Media House, Burrel Road, St. Ives, Cambs, PE17 4LE. The August 1987 and November 1990 issues cost £1.50 each, while the February 1993 and May 1994 issues each cost £2.50.

 

TANGERINE INNOVATORS

Both Edgar Froese and Christoph Franke have strong views on the effect Tangerine Dream have had on the evolution of electronic equipment over the years. Edgar Froese: "Our contribution, in all modesty, is surely quite great. Why? In the first 12 to 13 years of producing albums, we hardly ever used a sound which was common or readily available. Almost everything was custom-made. Over 80% of our income went, directly or indirectly, into sound research and the development of new instruments. That naturally changed the listening habits of our colleagues in other countries, just as it changed the the awareness of our listeners in general. We had a sound library with over 2400 sounds of our own creation. We named these sounds 'Hybrid Stacks', because they were made up of different sounds from different sources. In the early years, these sounds were stored as complex events on tape loops in the Mellotron, and later on, they were put into synths and sampler units. To a certain extent, we have kept to our philosophy; on our latest album from 1994, Turn Of The Tides, there are 52 sounds which are not for sale with any sound module or sampler. The disadvantage of this gigantic sound research is that we have been plagiarised and sampled more often than any other band -- it would take an army of lawyers years to chase down all the stolen TD samples.

"Generally, I feel that the computer and sampler are overrated pieces of equipment. They can only be time and work-saving means in the hands of a musician who has a story to tell -- a musician who could 'express' himself just as well on acoustic guitar and grand piano. If you need a 'sound adventure' to turn your ideas into sounds, complex computers are just a useful help"

Chris Franke: "Sampling was a very important aspect of Tangerine Dream and the electronics industry -- we were definitely the group who showed the industry that they must make a sampler. In 1983, I went to Mellotron and said that they should make a digital Mellotron, without the flaws of variable, short and noisy tapes; and I also went to Tom Oberheim and said "You must get some hard disks together and do a digital Mellotron". Both said "Aaah, you can't do it". I had already built a little machine that could store 100 milliseconds of sounds, which I used as an electronic drum machine. And then the LinnDrum came out, and people worldwide knew you could digitise sound. I even wrote an article in Keyboard magazine campaigning for a digital Mellotron. Fairlight eventually did it, in a very expensive way, and Emu did it cheaply, but it sounded pretty terrible... Today, I have a machine with 250 sample voices, 300Mb of RAM and 3Gb of hard disk space -- there's been such a big revolution in eight years!

"I did a lot of designs myself, for sequencers and controllers. I never believed that a sequencer should be just a piece of digital notepaper -- I think it can be an interactive tool with a musician. It can be an algorhythmic composer, something you can really play with and use to make improvised music. I've worked with Steinberg and other companies, like Intelligent Music in San Francisco, who see the sequencer not just as a linear recorder, but as a tool to create new sounds. I worked on Cubase and I'm still a Beta tester to this day. I still talk to Steinberg. So yes, it's true that TD were responsible for several sequencers. Also, we emphasised how important filters were in synthesizers. We convinced Roland and loads of people about filters, because this is where the oscillators started to really come alive. Today, it's samplers which are getting good filters, yet some companies are building samplers without filters at all, which is terrible. So I still call them up, and rap them on the knuckles for their shortcomings."

This is the last article in a two-part series. Read Part 1.
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