South of Heaven: Diving Into Tangerine Dream, Part II

A closer look into one of the year’s most exciting and essential box sets alongside an exclusive archive interview with the late Edgar Froese

Tangerine Dream In Search of Hades, Virgin/UMe, 2019

Founded in 1967, Tangerine Dream has to be considered in the forefront (or high up in the mix) of – well you name it – krautrock, prog, electronic, techno, trance, ambient, and new age music. When I last saw them at Boston’s House of Blues in 2012, I heard those whooshing, rushing melodic waves and crisscrossing rhythms and it was an evening of entrancing bliss. 

The band, led by the late Edgar Froese, released more than 100 albums, including numerous soundtracks. (When we chatted seven years ago, Froese told me he thought there were 64 soundtracks, the best-known being Sorcerer, Thief, and Risky Business.)  He made 20+ solo albums. Truly, he was the Stephen King of electronic music. And, oh yeah, Tangerine Dream scored the movie made from King’s Firestarter.     

Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson has called Tangerine Dream’s 1972 album Zeit his favorite disc ever. Kasabian named them as “spiritual influences.” The late DJ John Peel said, “They have made the music the star of the show, not the musicians and not the means of the music.  A new creative energy.”

Steven Wilson

Tangerine Dream just got the remaster/rerelease/bonus tracks treatment concerning seven albums they recorded for Virgin Records between 1973 and 1979 – Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, Stratosfear, Encore, Cyclone and Force Majeure

The set includes to two blu-Ray discs of previously unreleased concert footage new stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound remixes of Phaedra and Ricochet, by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson.  

On his website, Wilson said: “Tangerine Dream were one of the true pioneers of electronic and ambient music and the albums they recorded for Virgin Records between 1973 and 1979 remain classics of the genre. In Search of Hades: The Virgin Recordings 1973 – 1979 is the definitive statement of this period in Tangerine Dream’s history.

“My role was to create new stereo and 5.1 mixes of whatever could be found of the original album multitrack tapes, but that turned out to be only Ricochet and 2 tracks from Phaedra. However, a number of reels of unreleased music were also found, such that In Search of Hades also includes a generous 8 CDs of previously unreleased material. Perhaps most notable amongst these is the previously unreleased full soundtrack to Oedipus Tyrannus (75 minutes) recorded in July 1974. Extracts from these recording sessions have previously been included on Rubycon, Encore and the Virgin sampler album V  but the full 75 minute recording has for the first time been mixed in stereo and 5.1 for the box set.

Also newly mixed and included are two CDs worth of previously unreleased pieces from the Phaedra sessions, and a 15 minute out-take from Rubycon. Finally, 3 London concerts recorded by the Manor Mobile are included in full (Victoria Palace Theatre in 1974, The Rainbow Theatre in 1974 and Royal Albert Hall in 1975).

In Search of Hades is lavishly packaged with a hardback book featuring new liner notes (including some by myself) and rare photographs and memorabilia. As a big Tangerine Dream fan myself, I’ve waited a long time for a definitive set covering their classic period, so of course was very happy to be involved in putting this one together. Edgar was one of the true pioneers of electronic and ambient music and the albums they recorded for Virgin Records between 1973 and 1979 remain classics of the genre. ‘In Search of Hades: The Virgin Recordings 1973 – 1979’ is the definitive statement of this period in Tangerine Dream’s tapes.”

In Search of Hades artwork

This is part II of a Tangerine Dream/Froese lookback, an edited version of the last interview I did with him in 2012. Yes, there’s some sad bits, especially when Froese talks about what he envisions what the future may bring.

 

You just had a birthday. Happy 68th. As a step back question, did you ever think in your 20s that you would still pursuing this, uh, Dream at this point in time?

Froese: If you are always concerned that you will beat Methuselah – aiming at 120 – therefore 68 is just a half way through. A calendar is set up by those folks staring the whole day and watching their skin shrinking. So, seriously, if you are working on an art form which is timeless you will participate through body and mind.

 

Why have you?

As a child, I always felt strange, born into a jailhouse with no key available. I needed 68 years to work my way through the brick wall – now the next 60 years I will be sending sound files not heard before, you will be experiencing how music sounds outside the jail.

 

And what’s your main motivation at this point? Has that motivation changed over the years?

It always depends from looking forward or backwards. Most humans after they have reached a certain age are just looking backwards. But that’s the cow’s business always masticating the same grass and hay a hundred times. And I am not a cow. That’s it.

 

You told me in 1991, “I remember about 10 years ago, most people said, ‘I never touch synthesizers because it sounds like a machine. I don’t want to be a robot. If you ask the same people today, they’ll say, “OK, I was wrong, but it sounds more human today.’ But this is foolish.” Any thought today on how the world has become more synth-friendly?

People can talk endlessly about their cars, refrigerators, laptops and electronic programs of their washing machines. As soon as it comes to music, they are calling for the exorcist. All instruments including synths are not more or less than crutches for an artist to express himself. Defining those instruments in categories like “robots” and “human” just shows how little the common music consumer has understood about what sounds really are. There are still folks around who set a mark on their records “no synth used”. So, finally, Tangerine Dream music would be the right term.

Tangerine Dream concert poster

So many players have passed through the portals, Tangerine Dream would seem to be, at least to an outsider, you plus whoever else you take on. Is that the way you see it or is more of a collaborative effort that evolves over time with its different players?

As a man who never looks back, I think of my comrades on this long way with respect and often good memories. Not all of them have been masters of a funny entertainment league, but all of them have left their colors to the band. But it would have been impossible to go with the same people for more than 45 years and keep on talking about the good old days at the war front firing sound missiles into the nowhere – silly. Each new idea needs a form to transport it – that’s why I love to work with professional newbies. 

 

Of course, you’ve made numerous records under your own name as well. What differentiates an Edgar Froese disc from a TD one?

Ten fingers against 40 fingers. No, truth is that you never can satisfy every member within a band with your concept, composition and later performance ideas. Working with others on a fair basis means democracy instead of dictatorship. Even with your best ideas you have to listen to what your colleagues may have to say – so finally your composition has to convince others as well as it has to reflect your own musical identity. On a level of pure solo work, you are only responsible for yourself, it sounds easier but it’s sometimes even harder.

 

You began TD by playing very cacophonous music and you told the Washington Post, about your early, stormy work: “It was wild. An experiment against everything. Maybe it had the same root that punk came from. You stand up and you’re against everything — the establishment, some social movements, tastes in music, the mainstream. And you say, ‘Okay, let’s turn everything upside down and start again.'” Does that spirit still run through you today? 

The Post was absolutely right, we have maybe been the first electric punks in history in 1970. But besides the wilderness and fight against the old-fashioned ideals of the establishment myself had by founding the band in 1967, the basic idea to go with a great number of colleagues all the way from the absolute chaos to the highest level of perfection in studio work and life performances – that was the great idea behind TD.

 

I also might remind you of something you told me in 1991 when we talked about that early experimental period. You called it, with a laugh, “horrifying.”

Yes, of course it was horrifying. Think about leaving a safe road where everything is signposted and all communication works and is proved by authorities and finally by law. You just make a U-turn and drive straight into a jungle, in which you never have been before. Everything can happen within a few minutes. You just follow the law of causality – if your next turn is false or stupid because of the inexperienced situation in general, you can’t blame anyone except yourself. Also – because it’s your idea – you will get all the shit by your colleagues who had a different opinion – that’s often horrifying.

 

I liked the sense of foreboding, the chilliness of the mid-.70s music.  You later moved away from that to more lush, textural music. Can you talk about that transition?

As a kid, life is a complete mystery to you on each and every level. Your perspectives to the world are endless. There is a horizon, the final line far away, but it’s not there for you, it’s only there for others. Your drive and energy to look behind every hidden curtain is nearly endless. Later when the disharmonious stupidity of the business forces you to make compromises, it definitely changes quite a few of such unlimited perspectives. Also, you are getting older, becoming an adult in knowledge and experience. That changes your consciousness and therefore life philosophy. So, each phase in musical life has its highs and lows – it just matters if the confidence you have in what you originally wanted to do is strong enough in order to keep your basic identity. I’m pretty convinced that I worked hard enough to let this originality shine through to all of TD’s work. 

 

What do you think of musicians who burrow deeply into the avant-garde, atonal, “difficult” music?

It’s so easy to do. A computer offers you so many possibilities, so you drift away and say, ‘O.K., I’m going to live in my little tower and know I’m a genius and the rest of the world is very idiotic and stupid, so I live on my own and I make a record and nail it on the wall and look at it.’ That’s bullshit!

 

I’ve enjoyed your sound-tracking very much, especially Thief where your music added a whole other, deeper level of tension to the story. Can you speak about the sound-tracking process, what you enjoy about it?

When we first came to Hollywood and started scoring in 1977, we didn’t know anything about the business. Bill Friedkin gave us the fantastic chance to support our career in a way we had never dreamed of. Scoring is a hard and professional team work. You have to understand the logic and logistic of how sound and a picture is combined in order to reach a certain effect. Often the people in the theatre just subconsciously realize that there is a score which has a great influence on the ongoing movie sequence. Finally, it’s a great learning process working for pictures and understanding the philosophy of directors, producers and forecasting musically the reaction of the audience.

 

They called James Brown the godfather of funk and Elvis the king of rock and roll. Any particular title you’d like in terms of synth-rock?

When I am gone, they should search for the mystery of the dark candle in the big white room.

                                                  

Afterward: When Froese died, Jan. 20, 2015 of a pulmonary embolism, his son and sometime TD partner Jerome Froese, posted this: “The Captain has left the ship. I’m very sorry to inform you that my father Edgar Froese passed away.  And as you already know: Life plays no encores. Rest in peace Edgar. You will be sadly missed.” 

And on the Tangerine Dream: “Edgar once said, ‘There is no death, there is just a change of our cosmic address.’ Edgar, this is a little comfort to us.” 

 

STREAMING: In Search of Hades by Tangerine Dream 

 

 

Jim Sullivan

Jim Sullivan has written for The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, the Boston Herald, Boston Common, the Christian Science Monitor, and Creem. Follow him on Twitter @jimsullivanink.

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