Given their vast repertoire and a career that now spans work in six decades, albeit with an astonishing array of changing musicianship, it's worth going back to main man Edgar Froese's R&B groundings in West Berlin circa 1967. Here he'd formed The Ones (biggest hit was Lady Greengrass), though he would soon swap his idiosyncratic take on soul and beat for strides into the unknown, capes by a voracious enthusiasm for Berlin's urban take on surrealism, the theatre of the absurd, concrete art, painting and classical structure.
Having cut his teeth so to speak with fellow travellers Steve Joliffe and the legendary Klaus Schulze, the East Prussian-born Froese performed for Salvador Dali, and studied Schoenberg and Stockhausen as avidly as he mutated Chuck Berry rhythms into languid soundscapes. Edgar's Road to Damascus moments probably arrived when he teamed up first with Christopher Franke, a drummer and multi instrumentalist, and then Peter Baumann. Fusing psych and budding lower case krautrock onto an adventurous keyboard driven template, Tangerine Dream itself was given birth thanks to the pop/art lyrics in John Lennon's 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds'. After an important stint recording for Ohr (label logo: a pink ear) their tape collages and mellotron heavy melodies were championed by John Peel. He made the 1973 album Atem (roughly meaning 'breathless') his spin of the year. Landing next on Virgin was a logical choice: the label's relationship with the smart avant garde artists of the era suited Froese and co., who also loved recording in the Oxfordshire countryside at Richard Branson's state of the art Manor Studios - where plentiful supplies of wine and lawn tripping lovelies cleared the head after hours of flashing console lights.
The Virgin Years coincided with the Dream's rise. They'd already been the biggest selling import act in the business and now their album Phaedra shifted an incredible 100,000 copies in six weeks and found the band playing to rapturous crowds at the Royal Albert Hall and the Rainbow, as well as SRO tours of the far-flung North of Britain. Remarkable enough, given the times were underscored by pre-punk pub rock and American stadium acts, Tangerine Dream's attitude didn't falter. They continued to baffle critics as Rubycon, the live Ricochet and Encore albums, and the brilliant Stratosfear cemented their place in British hearts and discerning record collections in the era between 1974 and 1976. This despite a rather hands-off reaction from certain quarters of the weekly press, who were often suspicious of technology, and viewed computers with a Luddite's mistrust - as if these things were best left gathering dust in government bunkers or bank headquarters. What ho, chaps!
Froese and his fellows had however woken up and smelt the future espresso. Moreover they released at least an album a year, so even those who didn't understand could hardly typecast them. Plangent guitars, sound wave synth drums, full-fat Gothic organs and layered treated voices were the band's calling card. Live too; they were a magnificent proposition, performing under UV lights with sets that looked like mystic jungles. Far from playing behind some kind of Berlin Wall of sound their refusal to reproduce studio pieces, and their insistence on improvising new music from an urge to itch a scratch, ensured each gig was a unique experience. The cosmic couriers were also at the forefront of the good new stuff: mothers of invention, like kindred spirits Can and Popol Vuh. They weren't afraid to take risks and if they fell slightly sideways with the artificial head systems ultra hi-fi technique, or couldn't always reach a glitch free perfection for their pyramid style quad set-up, well … they didn't mind because innovation is always just around the corner.
The total progressive masterpiece Cyclone, the first Dream album with proper lyrics and vocals, saw Baumann leave to be replaced by old accomplices Jolliffe and Klaus Kruger, while the complexity of the instrumentation reached bamboozling heights as banks of Moogs battled with reeds and brass, oriental Burmese gongs, clavinets and sequencers. Staying in Berlin but now utilising the famed Hansa Studios, TD cut back on that prodigious amount of kit and sent out the stripped-back Force Majeure, heralding a return to roots and a glimpse of the uber-melodic sound which would be in demand for movie soundtracks – everything from Risky Business and Firestarter to Miracle Mile, Wavelength and Heartbreakers. Indeed for many the soundtrack cover line: 'Music composed by Tangerine Dream' would be their intro to this extraordinarily mythic outfit, ensuring new legions of admirers came on board as tastes and technology evolved.
Equally pertinently, a new brood of electro pop merchants were discovering the work of Froese et al; neither hidebound nor cynical the music of the Dream was deemed revolutionary and vital by many a young group – Depeche Mode being one important example.
Tangerine Dream's legacy on record alone is so vast it can't be shoehorned. Nor should it be. Discovery is the lifeblood for the interested listener. One can jump into Tangram and Hyperborea from the early 1980s, or sample all-encompassing paranoia on the Cold War classic Exit. Highly recommended starting points are The Virgin Years: 1974-1978 and the companion 1977-1983.
It doesn't stop there either. Tangerine Dream has been a family concern with son Jerome joining farther Edgar, and continues to this day. A recent album Starmus – Sonic Universe, celebrating 50 years of manned spaceflight, is a fantastic collaboration between TD and Brian May.
Froese's dream of music for a mind concert is alive and well. Check it out. These are movements from visionaries.
Phaedra is one of the most important, artistic, and exciting works in the history of electronic music, a brilliant and compelling summation of Tangerine Dream's early avant-space direction balanced with the synthesizer/sequencer technology just beginning to gain a foothold in nonacademic circles. The result is best heard on the 15-minute title track, unparalleled before or since for its depth of sound and vision. Given focus by the arpeggiated trance that drifts in and out of the mix, the track progresses through several passages including a few surprisingly melodic keyboard lines and an assortment of eerie Moog and Mellotron effects, gaseous explosions, and windy sirens. Despite the impending chaos, the track sounds more like a carefully composed classical work than an unrestrained piece of noise. While the title track takes the cake, there are three other excellent tracks on Phaedra. "Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares" is a solo Edgar Froese song that uses some surprisingly emotive and affecting synthesizer washes, and "Movements of a Visionary" is a more experimental piece, using treated voices and whispers to drive its hypnotic arpeggios. Perhaps even more powerful as a musical landmark now than when it was first recorded, Phaedra has proven the test of time.
Words: John Bush
TD's purest expression of "space music," this double album ebbs and flows effortlessly from one tone cluster to another. Almost classical in construction, the music is structured so as to evolve in sections as one theme literally melts into the next. Florian Fricke (of Popol Vuh) played the big Moog on this album and the overall texture of the electronics is warm and shimmering.
Words: Archie Patterson
Electronic trio Tangerine Dream embrace their equipment and take their audience on an actual journey through this especially good, two-part showcase recorded live in France and Britain. Featuring the early and memorable lineup of Chris Franke, Edgar Froese, and Peter Baumann, Ricochet continuously evolves to the next plateau of pulsing experimentation without getting lost or over-indulgent like other bands of the genre. This album finds the three at a time when they knew exactly what they were doing; rocking without the drums, and looking over their shoulder to make sure the audience was still enjoying themselves. For the number of albums and soundtracks this band has put out (over 50!), most fans hold onto this one because it is so energetic and timeless. It takes a snapshot of the band when they were young, influential, and at the height of the genre.
Words: Glenn Swan
Stratosfear, the last Tangerine Dream album by the great Baumann/Franke/Froese threesome, shows the group's desire to advance past their stellar recent material and stake out a new musical direction while others were still attempting to come to grips with Phaedra and Rubycon. The album accomplishes its mission with the addition of guitar (six- and 12-string), grand piano, harpsichord, and mouth organ to the usual battery of moogs, Mellotrons, and e-pianos. The organic instruments take more of a textural role, embellishing the effects instead of working their own melodic conventions. Stratosfear is also the beginning of a more evocative approach for Tangerine Dream. Check the faraway harmonica sounds and assortment of synth-bubbles on "3 AM at the Border of the Marsh From Okefenokee" or the somber chords and choral presence of "The Big Sleep in Search of Hades." The title track opener is the highlight though, beginning with a statuesque synthesizer progression before unveiling an increasingly hypnotic line of trance.
Words: John Bush
The members of Tangerine Dream continued to hone their craft as pioneers of the early days of electronica, and the mid-'70s proved to be a time of prosperity and musical growth for the trio of Chris Franke, early member Peter Baumann, and permanent frontman Edgar Froese. The three of them had been delivering mysterious space records on a regular basis, and their growing confidence with early synthesizers (the best that money could buy at the time) made them virtuosos of the genre, even as they kept things organic and unpredictable with gongs, prepared piano, and electric guitar. Rubycon has aged gracefully for the most part, making it a solid companion (and follow-up) to their 1974 album, Phaedra. The somewhat dated palette of sounds here never overshadow the mood: eerie psychedelia without the paisleys -- Pink Floyd without the rock. "Rubycon, Pt. 1" ebbs and flows through tense washes of echo and Mellotron choirs, as primitive sequencer lines bubble to the surface. "Pt. 2" opens in a wonderfully haunted way, like air-raid sirens at the lowest possible pitch, joined in unison by several male voices (someone in the band must have heard György Ligeti's work for 2001). Rising out of the murkiness, the synthesizer arpeggios return to drive things along, and Froese weaves his backwards-recorded guitar through the web without really calling too much attention to himself. The piece evolves through varying degrees of tension, takes a pit stop on the shoreline of some faraway beach, then ever so gradually unravels a cluster of free-form strings and flutes. The rest are vapors, your ears are sweating under your headphones, and the smoke has cleared from your bedroom. This is a satisfying ambient record from the pre-ambient era, too dark for meditation, and too good to be forgotten.
Words: Glenn Swan
Tangram marked the beginning of a new musical direction for Tangerine Dream. It's closer to straight-ahead, melodic new age music and more tied to their soundtrack material. The first of the two side-long pieces progresses through several different passages that use gently brushed acoustic guitars as well as the requisite synthesizers. For new age fans, this is the first glimmering of Tangerine Dream's eventual direction during the '80s.
Words: Keith Farley
Although Tangerine Dream is usually associated with synthesizers and the ambient movement that followed over a decade after such albums as Phaedra, Stratosfear, and Rubycon were recorded, Force Majeure shows the band displaying its roots in space rock. This time around, guitar and drums (played by Klaus Krieger) are as prominent as the keyboards. As the name would appear to indicate, the music on the album doesn't seem played so much as propelled forward, the overall pace rarely slackening for long. The title track is a suite that incorporates several distinct themes that segue into a cohesive whole via musical bridges. "Cloudburst Flight" is really an excuse for Edgar Froese to display his virtuosity on the electric six-string, which he does with amazing intensity. "Thru Metamorphic Rocks" begins with what sounds to be an album-ending theme, but then cross-fades into a hypnotic piece that builds upon a constant bed of pulsating sequencers and processed drums with various sound effects and still more keyboards until it fades out completely some 14 minutes later. An absolute necessity to those who might be at all curious about the band, or even successful experiments within the rock genre. Sections of the album would later appear in slightly altered versions on the soundtracks to the movies Risky Business and Thief.
Words: Brian E. Kirby
Logos Live is an album of electronic music released by Tangerine Dream in 1982. It is a live album from the concert at the Dominion Theatre in London, England. Much like Tangram with short movements connected by atmospheric segues, Logos captured a period of Tangerine Dream's evolution from experimental to melodic, documented also by their soundtrack to the motion picture Risky Business a year later.
The German group's lucrative film scoring career began here, one year before Peter Baumann left for a solo career. The trio's eerie electronica was an early inspiration for Sorcerer, director William Friedkin says in the soundtrack's liner notes. If he had known about Tangerine Dream, he says he would have used the group's music for The Exorcist.
Words: Mark Allan
Underwater Sunlight was the first album Paul Haslinger recorded with Tangerine Dream and his presence is immediately felt. With Haslinger, the group relied more heavily on strict structures and jarring compositional flourishes, which is only appropriate, since he came directly from a classical background. The group hadn't quite figured out how to fully incorporate these techniques into their music, but the results on Underwater are nevertheless fascinating.
Words: Rodney Batdorf