Exit…Stage Froese

I don’t think there’s any other band that was as prolific as Tangerine Dream. In the 70s and 80s they were dropping albums once or twice a year. Once they started doing film scores that rate of creativity and productivity increased even more. Edgar Froese and whomever was in the band with him at the time were constantly moving forward, adapting with the times(at least through the 80s.) I have these vague memories of being a kid and having this fascination with the name “Tangerine Dream”. The name evoked so many things in my childhood noggin. Something like this colorful, sweet flavor mixed with semi-consciousness. It was both mysterious and inviting.

I think the first time I actually saw the name Tangerine Dream was when I watched Firestarter for the first time. Drew Barrymore was intriguing, Keith David was a solid dad with telekinetic abilities, and George C. Scott was scary as hell. The music was this hazy calm in a sea of frightening powers and disturbing scenes. In retrospect the movie was pretty terrible, but the music was and still is amazing. It wasn’t until many years later that I bought my first Tangerine Dream LP. It was Tangram and I found it for the low, low price of $1.00. If it hadn’t been that cheap I probably wouldn’t have bought it(sorry Edgar.) Glad I did, though. I ended up loving it and it began my love of all things Tangerine Dream.

I hit up most of the mid to late 70s stuff, and the soundtrack stuff as well. I need to hit up Alpha Centauri and Zeit soon, but on a recent trip to Half Price Books I found an excellent copy of 1981s Exit. Tangerine Dream have once again grabbed my attention and adoration.

Like I said, Exit came out in 1981. They had done the score to Michael Mann’s Thief the same year so they were riding high from that exquisite piece of synth heaven. Exit is decidedly more low key than Thief. There’s a darkness on this record not heard since their work on the Sorcerer S/T. It seems to be a warning kind of album. A plea for the world to get its head out of its ass. This record is just as relevant now than it was then, me thinks.

First track “Kiew Mission” is a slow burner that has one of the few vocal tracks featured on a Tangerine Dream record. An uncredited Berlin actress chants in Russian the names of the continents of the world. It’s a protest song of sorts, as we were in the throes of a pissing match with Russia and the possibility of nuclear war was frighteningly just around the corner. For an album in Tangerine Dream’s 80s collection it’s a very sobering opener.

“Pilots of Purple Twilight” is a little more upfront but still carries with it an air of trepidation. It’s most definitely an “80s feel” kind of track, with Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, and Johannes Schmoelling digging deep into the sound of the neon decade. It’s reminiscent of Tangram, and really foreshadows the sounds rock bands like Rush and Van Halen would pepper their future records with.

Speaking of sounds, I must share the equipment used on this album. The synths here are like the color palate of a painter. They make up what the record ultimately becomes. On Exit, the following equipment was used:

Moog Modular Synthesizer, Project Electronic Modular Synthesizer and Sequencer, Sequential Circuits Prophet-5Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, ARP OdysseyOberheimOB-X, ARP Pro/DGX, Minimoog, Elka string synth, SynclavierPPG Wave 2, PPG 360 Wave Computer, PPG 340 Wave Computer/380 Event Generator.

Just reading that list makes my palms sweat.

“Chronozon” reminds me of the opening music to some early 80s post-apocalyptic movie. You can see the protagonist driving down dusty open roads in a ’72 Nova with sheet metal attached to it and a flames coming out of the exhaust. Dilapidated vehicles and burnt out buildings pepper the side of the road as a glowing, orange sun drops into the horizon in front of him. As the song plays you can just tell this guy is going to have some great, dystopian adventures with scantily clad she-warriors and kick some serious mutant ass. At least, that’s what I see when I hear this song. Apparently it was used as the opening music for a Hungarian political show called Panorma. Who knew?

Title track “Exit” is glorious in its mournful, analog buzz. It feels like a title track. Le Matos captured this kind of magic with their Turbo Kid S/T. For my money this is where Tangerine Dream are best, wrapped inside a dense, heady melodic piece of music like this. Froese is the master of mood and this track proves that. A little side note about the song, it was used in episode 6 of Stranger Things. It’s okay, I’ll wait while you go cue it up and check it out…..Yes, episode 6……Cool, huh?

“Network 23” sports some four on the floor rhythms and wavering, hypnotic synths that lay in the air just out of reach. Strangely enough, this track sounds like Kraftwerk doing the theme for Law and Order(having just typed that I really want to hear Popol Vuh do the theme music for Barney Miller.) Anyways, this one a great, driving Berlin School slow burner.

“Remote Viewing” is classic Tangerine Dream, regardless of the decade. It’s ghostly and dark, with an almost space western vibe. Sinoia Caves has pulled these vibes for inspiration for sure, as this sound is all over the Beyond The Black Rainbow S/T. Endless black space permeates the song throughout it’s 8 minute time span. Froese, Franke, and Schmoelling let their Komische flags fly high on this excellent album closer.

It took me years to find my way to Tangerine Dream. Like, REALLY find my way to them. They were in my peripherals even as a kid(Firestarter, Legend, Near Dark, Three O’Clock High), but it’s only been the last 8 years or so that I’ve found that real connection with them. It’s like a Vulcan mind meld going on between me and the old TD. I adore the classics like Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, Stratosfear, and Cyclone, but I also like these little records. Albums like Tangram, Le Parc, White Eagle, and of course Exit. They’re like these bite size versions of epic. They show that Tangerine Dream can write a concise, on-point piece of music without using up a whole album side(nothing wrong with that, though.) Exit is turning into one of my favorites.

It’s the Komische mind meld.

 

 

 

 

Dr. Destructo Strikes Again

Summer break is winding down. It hasn’t really felt like much of a summer break, honestly. Amid an early summer infestation, gutting the upstairs, and just trying to find some kind of normalcy the new school year has snuck up on us without a sound. We hit the southern hills of Brown County for a week’s length of recuperation, and just last weekend my wife took the kids to the great King’s Island in Ohio for some breakneck rollercoasters and much needed mania for a day. Me? I stayed home with the dog and did some much needed R&R. I did some weeding in the backyard early in the day. After that I did a lot of reading, some reconfiguring in the studio downstairs, and listened to some records. I also spent time with the extended cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. I highly recommend it if you can sit through over 3 hours of pretentious New Yorkers, self-centered teenagers, and adults that don’t know what the hell they’re doing with their lives. Despite that description I think it’s a new American cinematic classic.

I also watched Michael Mann’s Thief for the third time.

I bought the Criterion Collection edition of this classic Mann crime film over two years ago after I’d listened to Tangerine Dream’s excellent soundtrack. The film stars James Caan as a professional thief who decides to retire but is pulled back in for one last job. Of course you know how those kinds of stories go. They don’t go well. I loved the movie.

Even when Michael Mann makes a stinker, there’s something to love about it, whether it’s the cinematography or the soundtrack. The Keep was a turd, but it looked great and oozed mood. One thing that The Keep and Thief had in common, besides Mann himself, was Tangerine Dream. They scored Thief first for Michael Mann, and then scored The Keep. I think a lot of what went wrong for Mann’s The Keep was the fact that Paramount took his 210 minute cut and shaved it down to under 2 hours, then down to 96 minutes. They hacked it up so bad that the film had huge plot holes and the ending was even missing. Music cues were ruined as well. It ended up being an absolute mess by the end of it, to no fault of Mann as far as I can see.

Anyways, we were talking about Thief.

So the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is pretty stellar. About a week after I had the movie in my hands I found a first pressing of the score on Discogs for well under $20. I couldn’t pass it up. It really is a classic in the Tangerine Dream discography, and as far as their soundtracks go I think it’s one of their best. Tangram showed a band that was lightening up their sound. The heady atmospheric sound excursions were becoming shorter songs with more of a melody-driven lean. Sorcerer was pretty dark, but Thief saw Froese and company heading into more of a rock sound, complete with drums and electric guitar solos. This didn’t diminish TD’s heady electronic soundscapes. To my ears it felt like they were just trying to accommodate the times and the story. Something like Firestarter benefited from a slower pace and more moody musical pieces, with Thief the rock and roll stance felt like the right feel for a tough Chicago crime story.

For me, Tangerine Dream seems to fill some musical cavern dug out by the slow migration of emotional icebergs over the course of my childhood. Things I never quite understood as a kid remained empty spaces in my head and heart until as an adult music I would rediscover seemed to fill those cavernous valleys in me. I think there needs to be a certain amount of intellectualizing in order for Tangerine Dream to connect with you on an existential level. As a kid they were a huge part of me and I didn’t even realize it. They soundtracked so much stuff that I wasn’t aware of until I was an adult looking to fill some voids of my own. Firestarter, Three O’Clock High, the short-lived TV show Street Hawk and it’s opening theme was Tangerine Dream’s “Le Parc”. Near Dark, Legend, Risky Business, The Keep,….

and of course Thief.

I sat in the family room in the basement writing this and spinning Thief, while upstairs my daughter conversed with old friends she won’t see for some time. She’s heading back to school this Friday. My son sat on the couch next to me catching up on some comic books he hadn’t read in awhile. Summer went by too quickly, as really all summers do. We’ve just got to enjoy the moments as we’re in them, I suppose. Why waste time lamenting about how quickly it goes? As long as we’re in it we can savor it. Summer break may be fading quickly, but there’s still those quiet moments to enjoy. Tangerine Dream is a great way to fill the empty spots and missing dialogue.

Dr. Destructo strikes again, thankfully.

Edgar Froese: A Eulogy of Sorts

So back in the summer of 2014 I got on this Tangerine Dream kick. I mean, I’d owned a couplePhoto of TANGERINE DREAM and Edgar FROESE records of theirs since back in 2009, but I wasn’t really a fan until this past summer. My local record shop had pulled in this huge haul of used vinyl and amongst the giant catch were a few Tangerine Dream records. Two really caught my eye: Phaedra and Rubycon. I knew they were both very pivotol albums in their discography so I immediately snagged them up and took them home.

To my ears, Phaedra was the culmination of years of experimental space noise and desolate aural landscapes for Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream. It was dark, ominous, and just four tracks. Zeit seemed to be the ultimate space freakout record, and Phaedra upped the ante by honing their musical visions. After Phaedra, Rubycon wasn’t as ominous but more ambitious. Just two songs. Two musical suites. Each side felt like a dream explained in wisps and whooshes. Froese really seemed to be painting a picture with synthesizers and it was rather magnificent.

If there was a sound that would proceed what we know as classical music in some lunar colony future it was definitely what Tangerine Dream created from 1974 through 1980. This was music created for space exploration; whether the explorations took place on a spacecraft circling the fifth moon of Zandar, or during some hazy, weed-fueled Midwestern afternoon in a ranch-style home’s basement managed with some Koss headphones and a beanbag chair. Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream made some heady, dreamscape music that I found myself digging on heavily this past summer.

An interesting thing happened with Tangerine Dream. Not very often this happens, but after such an incredible musical output they not only continued to make music in the 80s they flourished. And you see, here’s where, unbeknownst to me at the time, Tangerine Dream made an indelible mark on a young J. Hubner. Risky Business, The Keep, Firestarter, Legend, Three O’Clock High, and Near Dark; these were all movies that colored my formative years heavily. Not only for what was there visually, but what was there playing through the speakers because Tangerine Dream scored every single one of those movies. As a kid I didn’t pay attention to the credits, but I knew there was something unique about the music in those films. They really carried the action and the story for me. Thirty years later I know why, but back then the music just made the film that much better for me. Over the last couple months I’ve since gone back and discovered the amazing soundtracks Tangerine Dream wrote for the films Sorcerer and Thief as well, going so far as to track down Thief on vinyl(as well as Firestarter.) That’s the great thing about a Tangerine Dream score: it’s great in the film or as a standalone LP.

How Edgar Froese informed me as a music lover didn’t really come to fruition till the last couple of years. I found myself completely drawn to very synth-heavy artists in 2013 and 2014 and I believe I have Edgar Froese to thank for that. Bands like Sinoia Caves, Jakob Skott, Boards of Canada, Bernard Szjaner, Rudiger Lorenz; as well as film composers like Clint Mansell, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and Cliff Martinez have filled up a good portion of my record collection in the last two years. Every one of those artists owe a huge debt to Mr. Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream. None of their excellent music would exist the way it does without what Froese created over the last 45 years. I mean, just listen to Cliff Martinez’ excellent Drive score. The film and the score are a homage to what Michael Mann and Tangerine Dream did in both Thief and The Keep. It’s heavy, pulsating, and ominous. It’s both slick and aloof at times. For my ears the Drive S/T is one of the best standalone film soundtracks released in the last thirty years and we have Edgar Froese to thank for that.

It seems Edgar Froese, even after Tangerine Dream died down, kept busy and kept creative. He put out albums under his own name as well as continuing the Tangerine Dream “dream”, as it were. The latest conception of the band had his own son in it up until the mid-2000s. One of my favorite synth composers, Ulrich Schnauss, was in the latest incarnation of the band.

I’d just heard yesterday that Edgar Froese passed away on January 20th, 2015 of a pulmonary embolism. He was 70 years old. It’s very sad news, indeed. We have 45 years worth of music to remember him by. I find that rather comforting.