On an annual pilgrimage to UK Electronica, Jonathan Miller met with leading exponents of the electronic music genre. Lightwave, together with ex‑Tangerine Dreamer Paul Haslinger, headlined the 1992 event in what proved to be an exciting collaboration.
It's a typical Anglo autumnal morning in late 1992, with wind and rain in abundance, as I'm whisked from Newcastle to Kings Cross on a new InterCity 225; I'm bound for the Astoria Theatre on London's Charing Cross Road, where it's my intention to meet with Paul Haslinger and the French electronic music group Lightwave, headliners at UK Electronica 1992, the Second International Future Age Music Festival.
As with most exponents of electronic music, Lightwave remain little‑known to the UK record‑buying public. Even so, they've succeeded in securing several prestigious concerts around their native city of Paris, through contacts with arts foundations and sponsors. Formed by Serge Leroy, Christian Jacob and Christoph Harbonnier in 1985, the group set about developing their own distinctive brand of ambient and somewhat avant‑garde electronic music, inspired by the 'classic' sounds of the '70s when artists like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream ruled the electronic airwaves. Such was the Frenchmen's disappointment at hearing that their German mentors' 1986 European tour would finish in Britain that they contacted the group to promote a one‑off Parisian concert. Contact with Tangerine Dream was maintained, and Paul Haslinger became a regular collaborator with Lightwave.
As a 23 year‑old classically trained pianist with a fascination for electronics, Paul joined Tangerine Dream in 1986 in time for their tour. His contribution to that year's Underwater Sunlight album was outstanding, with an excellent solo on the track 'Dolphin Dance' constituting his audition for the group. He collaborated with Steinberg on their groundbreaking Pro 24 sequencer and encouraged his colleagues to explore computer music software. Paul decided that the time had come to move on after an extensive world tour in 1990, having played a major part in defining the more melodic and classically‑inspired Tangerine Dream of late, with whom he recorded no fewer than fourteen albums, including eight soundtrack releases.
In the intervening period, Paul moved to Los Angeles and has not been idle. Facilitated by the large number of computer manufacturers in the region, Paul and Peter have created Studio Ultimo, an impressive setup which resembles a laboratory more than a traditional recording facility. The pair have also collaborated on an album entitled The Blue Room Project. Other musical activities since leaving Tangerine Dream include commissioned works for computer companies, two pieces having already been featured on the Octahedron promo CD for Microtech International; at the time of interviewing, plans were afoot to release a compilation of such material. A back catalogue of unreleased material from 1988‑1990 also exists. In addition to his recording activities, Paul has set up the Forefront Music Network, a non‑profit, computer‑based communication and information service to act as a link between artists, scientists and philosophers.
Lightwave's recording career began with several cassette‑album releases, including Cites Analogue and Ici & Maintenant, the latter being recorded during an epic live FM radio improvisation, following which Serge left to concentrate on running his own electronic music label. With the assistance of Jean‑Michel Jarre's right hand man Michel Geiss, designer of the Matrisequencer and other custom equipment for Jarre, Lightwave's debut CD, Nachtmusic, emerged in 1990. This was the result of many live sessions carefully edited into two dense and slowly evolving pieces. The group have since wholeheartedly embraced the digital medium, with synthesizer contributions to French‑Algerian composer Hector Zazou's CD Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Courses.
The first fruits of Lightwave's collaboration with Paul Haslinger appeared as two tracks on the French compilation CD Nunc Music. The second Lightwave CD entitled Tycho Brahe, an ambient and experimental work inspired by its Danish astronomer namesake, has just been digitally mastered with Michael Geiss once again at the helm. Paul is featured on four tracks.
Back to the job in hand: within minutes of entering the Astoria Theatre, I'm led through a labyrinthine maze of corridors to a dingy dressing room on the top floor and a scene from Spinal Tap springs to mind.
During an en masse mockery of my lack of foreign linguistic abilities as an Englishman, I am intrigued as to how Paul, a native Austrian, and his French colleagues communicate. They all claim to speak in Latin, but with a sneaking suspicion that English is their common language my panic soon subsides. Paul immediately assumes position of spokesperson for the group, though there are no plans for him to join Lightwave on a full‑time basis.
"Lightwave started back in the early '80s. Christoph and Christian are really the nucleus of the group — though people like me, Hector Zazou, and other people they work with, have a strong influence on Lightwave's music. The interaction of diverse opinions and talents is what makes it so interesting."
Unlike recent Tangerine Dream concerts in which distinct compositions are continuously segued, Paul's contributions to Lightwave cannot be so easily defined, given the nature of their ambient soundscapes: "Lightwave is not like where you have four chords and then you make an arrangement around them — they've worked for years on their style. We have a pretty good balance of elements — I'm a classically trained player and they are more in the Tangerine Dream tradition."
Christian: "We've played concerts with just Christoph and me, and other guests. A year ago we were involved in a special project with Hector Zazou where we played a big 24‑hour non‑stop improvised electronic concert with three of his musicians. The audience were sleeping in the concert hall. It was very soft, minimal music and a very psychedelic experience. At the beginning we were perfectly on form composing rhythmic music, but as hours went by the music was growing softer and softer. At the end there was only continuous chords until someone woke up and made a different kind of noise! It was a crazy experience!"
Christian translates for Christoph: "He says it was music completely dependent on the biological phases of day and night. We got some very good press reviews for that concert", to which Paul interjects, "It's a very French idea!"
Fearing another 24‑hour epic, I worry about missing the train home when Christian claims to have no idea how long tonight's live set will be, but Paul reassures me that I'll make it.
Lightwave's studio in Paris is bristling with equipment names associated with a bygone era in American sonic history. Moogs, Oberheims and ARPs happily nestle alongside numerous RSF Kobol Expander modules. The Kobol is a rare French rack‑mountable dual oscillator analogue monosynth with extensive patching facilities. Given Lightwave's love of all things analogue, I assumed such instruments would be featured in abundance on stage, but Paul has obviously succeeded in changing the group's outlook.
"One of my main influences over Lightwave was to introduce them to computers and software. I'm using the Atari Translator which is an alternative MIDI controller. It looks like any other keyboard, but instead of keys, it has rows of pads that you can program to produce any scale or combination of scales or chord structures. These are supplied as separate software which encompasses Western scales plus those from the Eastern world that can be pinned down to half‑tone steps — with some Indian scales you can't do that. You just pick the scales and sound combinations that you like, then develop them with the Translator. The Translator has a flat surface so you can paint with your hands much more than you can on a keyboard. It's extremely touch sensitive with very fast triggering. Translator technology was originally developed in the United States by Jimmy Hotz for Mick Fleetwood. If you've seen a Fleetwood Mac concert during the last five years, he wears a vest with built‑in pads like on the Translator which he hits to trigger drum sounds.
"You don't really need a lot of equipment any more. We have an integrated setup where I can jump in either with keys or the Translator at any time. It's all MIDI connected, controlled from two Atari computers and pretty easy to set up. Our collaboration developed really in night‑long sessions of working with the system — it's a little bit like the early Tangerine Dream years, but we're making music with '90s technology and hopefully creating new visions in music."
However, Lightwave's old favourites are not entirely forsaken in favour of the latest technology, as Paul continues:
"I think the interesting thing about the Lightwave setup is that it reaches from real old analogue stuff — we have an ARP 2600 on stage tonight — to high‑end sampling with stereo 16‑bit digital audio, plus the computers. Sampling enables us to capture some moments and use them, but it's just a tool. You can sometimes work for a week on an ARP to get a certain sound and we can just sample that and use it as an element. We have a hybrid set‑up in the true sense of the word."
Christian: "In previous concerts Christoph has also used the Translator to control various sound modules as an alternative to traditional keyboards. The ARP 2600 will not be used tonight for tempered sounds because its tuning is very unreliable, but it's good for sound effects and patterns."
Lightwave's compositional style begs the question, will all three musicians be going on stage tonight with a definite idea of what is going to happen?
Christian: "It's a good question because I think within the Lightwave music with Paul there is always a kind of sharing between very structured parts and complete improvised and free‑form music. That means that each rehearsal and concert is quite different. Of course we have some fixed patterns and this is the structure, but we have the freedom to de‑structure if we like. We are using electronic equipment in a very direct, intuitive and human way. It's like a painter with colours and water and so on. According to his mood he will make big splashes or very subtle lines. Electronic equipment is very versatile so we have exactly the same possibilities in sound."
Are the group aware of audience reaction and adjust what they do on stage accordingly?
Paul: "Well if they throw too many tomatoes we take cover! Of course our setup and musical form allows a much better reaction to the audience than a completely pre‑structured event where everything runs from SMPTE for the whole show and you just have to play on the beat. To be able to influence things is the fun part of live playing, to be honest. There's the risk that things can go wrong, but if you don't want to take that risk then you shouldn't play live."
By virtue of its nature, electronic music is often a static affair in live performance. Paul is well qualified to address the problem, having completed several Tangerine Dream tours, criticised by some as a pyrotechnic circus lost in an array of dry ice and fancy lights.
"It's very static, but then again a pianist in concert is pretty static too. However, there's a lot of direct control possibilities coming up like controlling lights from a Translator. They are now testing virtual reality cinemas in the United States which are equipped with moving chairs, so imagine a concert hall or just a special event where you have a concert with 3D movement interactively controlled from the music. Those kind of things are in the works and I think that before the end of the century we will see them in concerts."
Neither Christian or Christoph are in a financial position to pursue music full‑time so have been forced to take more budget‑conscious routes in their quests for visual appeal.
"We've tried a lot of solutions and found a very good dance company with people working in slow motion — they took fifteen minutes to move across the stage [I used to drink that brand of cider too — Ed!]. We've also worked with video and computer graphics — more abstract patterns developed by special photodesigners. One of our preferences is for concerts without any lights because our music requires a lot of concentration and we don't want to be disturbed by things that are not essential."
Our meeting draws to close with a dialogue between Paul and myself over the problems currently facing electronic musicians like himself. It would be fair to say that electronic music has struck a raw deal in the United Kingdom where there is little opportunity for promotion other than events like UK Electronica. Whilst travelling in mainland Europe I discovered that people generally appear to be more open‑minded about music.
"The grass always looks greener on the other side. In general we're in an economically tough time that reflects on the music business. England is a pretty big music market but electronic music is a pretty small scene. As soon as the big market shrinks, the small scene is hit even harder and that's what we're experiencing today."
I suggest that the decline of electronic music could be attributed to the current proliferation of mass‑produced synthesizers in other fields of music. Nowadays anyone can walk into a music shop and play the latest dream machine — the instrument is no longer held in awe. Perhaps the appeal of early electronic music concerts by Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze was the masses of technical‑looking equipment employed in their craft.
"The focus is now back on the music because in the early days people looked at the equipment and there wasn't really any critical investigation into what they played. A few of those recordings were really good because they were the first spontaneous interpretations of what you could do with those instruments, but today the focus has to go back onto the music, and again if the audience doesn't develop a taste and an opinion about it, then it's never going to succeed."
Surely it's partly a marketing problem? More people aren't going to develop a taste for electronic music unless they get to hear it. In mainland Europe it's probably not so bad and there are many specialist radio stations in the United States, but in England you'll never hear electronic music on the radio.
"People always blame the media but I think that's unfair because the media responds to the audience's requests. To tell you a story from Los Angeles — somebody introduced a one‑format radio station. One station would play only classical, one station would play only hit top 40 or whatever, and even though everybody agreed that artistically that was a bad thing to do, those stations were successful because people listening in their car want to program one button for classical; one button for rock; one for heavy metal and then they always get what they want. That's an example of how the audience influences the media.
"Let's look at a radio station. Their livelihood is dependent on how many commercials they get each month. So they test their audience and see in which area the biggest response is. It's a vicious circle in a way because people will always like the music that they heard in their youth so there's never going to be a lot of people who want to hear something new."
To a certain extent this is true, yet Paul is obviously unaware of the monopoly that Radio One has over the British record buying public, unlike Compact Disc Services of Dundee, a specialist importer/ distributor of electronic music. They have put together a short questionnaire and sent a copy to each of their customers to get some ideas about the kind of person who is listening to this music. The results will be analysed and used to prepare a lobbying paper aimed at persuading Radio One to allocate air time for an electronic music show. The Beeb's reaction remains to be seen, but already Compact Disc Services are in contact with a BBC DJ working in local radio to compile a tape of the type of show that they are proposing. Let's keep our fingers crossed that they are successful.
(Live at the Astoria Theatre, London, 25th October 1992)
Lasers efficiently cut their way through a barrage of dry ice to a backdrop of buzzing synthesizer drones and bubbling effects. In what initially appears to be an exercise in live electronic sound manipulation, Lightwave's atmospheric and far‑out introduction is very effective and would undoubtedly go down well with fans of The Orb. Indeed, it is some time before the familiar figure of Paul Haslinger, brow furrowed in deep concentration, is unveiled centre stage, respectively flanked to his left and right by Christoph Harbonnier and Christian Jacob.
As the intro draws to its conclusion, a more rhythmical section is introduced. From watching close‑up shots of the performers projected onto large screens either side of the stage, it can be deduced that Paul is using the Atari Translator to layer percussive and sequencer patterns to the slowly evolving composition. Surprisingly, Paul's equipment set‑up looks disarmingly simple, making much use of the Translator situated below a solitary Roland D70 synthesizer, and presumably connected to the Atari computer on his right. Nevertheless, inevitable comparisons with Tangerine Dream's stage appeal can be drawn with the impressive and varied instrumental armoury at his colleagues' disposal, including a rare RSF PolyKobol programmable analogue polysynth, similar to Sequential Circuits' infamous Prophet 5; ARP 2600; Ensoniq SD1; Korg Wavestation and M1; Akai sampler and Atari computer.
Next up is another drawn‑out section of enormously spacey textural evolution, leading into a haunting introduction to an uplifting sequencer‑based passage, which is well worth the wait. For some unexplained reason this is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's classic live recording 'Ricochet', and, for me, is the highlight of the set with an interesting percussive interlude, courtesy of Paul. Following yet more ambient soundscaping comes a rhythmic outro to the set, complete with menancing bass sequencer patterns and an abundance of screeching electric guitar samples, set to eye‑catching computer graphics on the screens.
In this listener's humble opinion, Lightwave turned in a very creditable performance and succeeded in steering live electronic music through previously uncharted waters, so much so that the audience failed to pinpoint the unusual ending to their set. Mark Jenkins' cajolery saved the day, prompting appreciative applause, yet at the same time exposing the audience's reluctance to venture so far outside the safe synthetic havens inhabited by the likes of Jean‑Michel Jarre and Vangelis. Perhaps this adds further credence to Paul's view that they have still to build up a taste in electronic music.
Highlights from the band's performance from UK Electronica 1992 are included on an hour‑long video which also features:
- Mexico's Alquimia.
- Ex‑Tangerine Dream member Steve Joliffe.
- Brazil's May East.
- Ex Van Der Graaf Generator member David Jackson.
- Mark Jenkins.
- Ian Boddy.
It's available together with a free catalogue of other synth music CDs and videos at £9.95 plus £1 postage from: Future Age Music Express, PO Box 387, London N22 6SF. Credit card orders/information 081 889 0616, Monday‑Friday 10am‑5pm.
Cassette‑album releases are marked with an asterisk and are no longer available. Christian Jacob requests that "...distributors should stop selling them because we consider that the real Lightwave music begins with Nachtmusik...". Octahedron is a special promotional compilation CD for the American computer company Microtech International and includes a Lightwave track in collaboration with Paul Haslinger called 'Jardin Secret'. This track is also featured on Nunc Music, a French compilation CD, together with another Lightwave/Haslinger composition entitled 'Carmen Orphicum' with ethnic recordings by Xavier Bellenger. Magic Age II is yet another compilation CD with the Lightwave track 'Tagmusik'. As implied by their titles, The Best Of Tangerine Dream and The Private Music Of Tangerine Dream are Tangerine Dream compilation albums, as are The Collection and From Dawn To Dusk. The Private Music Of Tangerine Dream features two tracks recorded after Paul Haslinger's departure from the group, but nevertheless serves as an excellent introduction to his work.
- Modular Experiments * Auricle (1987)
- Cites Analogue * Auricle (1988)
- Ici & Maintenant * Auricle (1988)
- Nachtmusik Erdenklang (1990)
- Octahedron Microtech International (1991)
- Nunc Music Takdisc/WMMD (1991)
- Magic Age II Erdenklang (1992)
- Tycho Brahe Spalax (1993)
PAUL HASLINGER (WITTANGERINE DREAM):
- Underwater Sunlight Jive Electro (1986)
- Near Dark (O.S.T.) Varese Sarabande (1987)
- Three O'Clock High (O.S.T.) Varese Sarabande (1987)
- Shy People (O.S.T.) Varese Sarabande (1987)
- The Collection Castle Communications (1987)
- Tyger Jive Electro (1987)
- Livemiles Jive (1988)
- Optical Race Private Music (1988)
- Miracle Mile (O.S.T.) Private Music (1989)
- Destination Berlin (O.S.T.) Hansa (1989)
- Lily On The Beach Private Music (1989)
- The Best Of Tangerine Dream Jive (1989)
- Melrose Private Music (1990)
- Dead Solid Perfect (O.S.T.) Silverscreen (1990
- Canyon Dreams (O.S.T.) Miramar (1991)
- The Man Inside (O.S.T.) EMI (1991)
- From Dawn To Dusk Jive (1991)
- The Private Music Of Tangerine Dream Private Music (1992)
For information about Lightwave contact Christian Jacob directly at the address below. Paul Haslinger can be reached via the Forefront Music Network. Those wishing to become sonically acquainted with these artists can obtain most of their releases from C & D Compact Disc Services.
3, Rue des Patriarches,
Tel: 010 (33 1) 43 37 49 32;
Fax: 010 (33 1) 43 31 37 22.
Forefront Music Network
2222 6th Street D, Santa Monica,
CA 90405, USA. Fax: 010 310/777 0245 or 010 310/399 6325.
C & D Compact Disc Services
Magnum House, 140 Seagate, Dundee, DD1 2HF, SCOTLAND. Tel: (0382) 76595; Fax: (0382) 736702