The New Tangerine Dream
An interview with Edgar Froese and Christoph Franke during their recent UK tour | Tangerine Dream
An interview with Edgar Froese and Christoph Franke, concert report and music pull-out "Choronzon" from the 'Exit' LP.
Tangerine Dream was formed in 1967 by Edgar Froese, who derived the name from 'Sgt. Pepper', and initially started as a powerful and unpredictable rock band. Froese's exposure to modern contemporary and electronic music made him determined to go beyond conventional modern music of the time. Despite a strong Underground following, TD was not exactly a commercial success, reforming twice for short periods. Then in 1969 Klaus Schulze (drums) and Conny Schnitzler (cello, violin and flute) joined Froese to make the group's first LP, Electronic Meditation in 1970, that consisted of tape sounds and experimental effects. Soon after, Christoph Franke (known for his jazz drumming) and then Steve Shroyder joined Froese to make 'Alpha Centauri' in 1971. Peter Baumann then replaced Shroyder to reform TD with Froese and Franke for the next six years.
A whole series of albums followed: Zeit representing their furthest departure from rock, yet coinciding with Ultima Thule Parts 1 and 2 that certainly was rock; Atem marked the group's move from Ohr Records to the British 'Virgin' Record Company; Phaedra which reached the Top Ten in the UK without much airplay, press interviews or British tour — this soon followed with performances in almost total darkness! An Australian tour in '75 put Michael Hoenig standing in for Baumann and brought many equipment problems in transit.
From 1977 some preconceived structure in live performances was used and TD gave a notorious performance at Rheims Cathedral and other unusual venues such as Coventry Cathedral, Liverpool Cathedral, York Minster and the Royal Albert Hall. Two further albums Rubycon and Ricochet emerged, the latter recorded live with the group's sound output often reaching 130dB. Then Stratosfear employed recognisable instruments and melodies, and a North American tour introduced laser effects.
Next came Sorcerer film music and shortly after Baumann left the band to pursue a solo career. Froese and Franke still remained the nucleus of TD, and added Steve Jollife (vocals, keyboards and wind instruments) and Klaus Krieger (drums) to record Cyclone. 1979 highlighted solo projects and experimentation, despite the more traditional Force Majeur. In February 1980, TD became the first Western rock group ever to play live in East Germany, joined by Johannes Schmoelling who remains current third member of the trio. Tangram, Thief and Exit have since been recorded and the latter shows yet another side to the music of Tangerine Dream, who continue to pursue their innovative production of electronic music.
Edgar: We get hardware mainly from America and Japan and the instruments are adapted by our engineers to our specifications. I have a number of keyboards including the OB-X, PPG Wave Computer 1 & 2, various Arp equipment, and four custom built sequencers made in Germany. I also play guitar and I use various instruments including Fender and Gibson. I don't really need to use guitar synthesisers as we have the keyboards. I like to work with the Roland MC-8 Micro Composer and TR808 drum machine. These are some of the instruments I use regularly, although we do have links with most of the synthesiser producing companies who supply us with new equipment from time to time.
For this present tour, I play one large keyboard rack containing the PPG2, PPG1, Korg Polyphonic Ensemble (which I use only for strings), and the Arp Pro-Soloist. There is also a Conn Strobe Tuner for matching pitches. To my right I operate the Soundcraft Series 1S 20 into 4 mixer which takes both keyboard and guitar signals. For the guitar, which is a Gibson on this tour, I have an Ibanex UE400 Multi-Effects unit and an MXR Digital Delay. The Ibanex effects are controlled by a foot switch box with compressor/phaser/distortion/chorus/flanger and I set the guitar volume with a Boss pedal.
The new sequencer unit on a large stand behind me was built by Helmut Grothe, and has 1068 steps for programming control voltages and triggers. We have a system that enables any one of us to send control triggers to the others. So from one piece to the next we would alternate 'control' responsibility. There are two 6" TV display screens in the instruments for checking out memory allocations and control function settings, along with numeric LED displays in each section that indicate mode selection, multiple sequences, tuning, program parameters, random note selection, routing and further sequence storage. Some of the PPG software is also here, and there's a Grundig Stereo Cassette which we use for setting up, but not in performance. In front of the sequencer unit is a PPG 61 note keyboard which is used to program the note sequences.
Incidentally, we don't work with voices at all. Any sounds you hear resembling voices are usually from the PPGs. Each of us has a mixer to balance individual sounds and we have a monitor mix (which we hear through the foldback speakers on stage) and the main PA 'out-front' mix for the audience. Sometimes we do put everything together on a two track mix-down and like to be totally open about the way we balance the sounds. For instance, at one concert we started improvising totally without any sort of agreement. On the next night we might be tired from a long journey and use our 'corners which we walk along' to bring the music together.
Besides the new presentation and equipment used by Tangerine Dream, what is new about the music?
Edgar: It's now much more structured. That doesn't mean we have forgotten how to improvise. We can still do both — we can sit and structure the music as we want to play and yet we can still maintain our individual identity gained throughout the years. The whole idea of TD was to just sit down and try to perform a creative piece of electronic music. But one thing we have all had to agree to is the jump from analogue to digital to computer equipment. Of course, one has to be much more aware of the controlling abilities as well as the sounds. You can't just say 'let's drift away and let the hardware work'. Therefore we now have to structure much more carefully.
Chris: I use the rack mounted modular system behind me for most of the short repeating sequences and electronic drum sounds. A lot of it is Moog and contains various synthesiser modules (some of which we don't use in performance any more). In addition, there's a brand new digital sequencer and trigger selector which I designed with a 16 step, 64 program capability. The great thing about it is that it runs like an analogue sequencer, even though it has digital storage and can be continuously modified in performance. Linked to it is its own programmer and synth sound bank. There are more synthesiser modules from Projekt Elektronik (plus one EMU Audity voice card, PPG filters and Sequential Circuits sequencer) as well as drum voicing boards with VCO, noise, ring mod and EGs. Projekt Elektronik is a company that produces scientific instruments generally and makes music equipment only for us.
The analogue sequencers from Moog have 64 steps and switches for semitones, step (1-12) division, two control voltages of switchable 12 semitones, five octaves, two time controllers and eight select triggers. Six rows of separate pots derive control voltages for VCF, VCAs etc. We use one volt per octave CVs and have various interface units to match up to this and use 15 volt triggers throughout the systems. Gate lengths of each note can be altered and notes can have a delayed trigger which can take away some of the 'machine-like' feel that the sequencers produce. I have two random generators for slightly modifying time delays as well as pitch.
At home in my 24 track studio, I use the MC-8 and I'm building my own editing system with a large computer, capable of writing a three hour program with 10 million byte storage. Edgar also has a 24 track studio in his home, giving us 48 tracks in all!
Some people think that we are technicians as well as musicians, but we concentrate on the music and only learn the technical operating requirements for us to fully exploit our instruments.
Edgar: Johannes uses another sequencer similar to mine behind him and has the OB-X and MiniMoog synthesisers in front. Mixing is done through a Boss KM-60 6 into 2 mixer, with an MXR Digital Delay and Korg WT-12 Chromatic Tuner completing his line-up.
Edgar: Now that you can buy very sophisticated instruments that have done all the work for you in creating a range of sounds, it is easy for musicians not to bother to invent their own. (For example, we have been told that 90% of Oberheim/Prophet synths come back for service with the original programs in them.) They do go for the sound in the first place, but only 10 or 20% of the way!
Chris: There is this gap between 'synthesist' and 'keyboard player'. We find some people have the ability to create new sounds whilst others have the ability to play them.
We discussed how the non-musician is often able to come up with some extraordinary sounds by a different thought process to the musician — many young people in schools are now getting the opportunity in their music classes to do this.
Edgar: Through the centuries, we have been told what good music is and how we should play it. People never had the personal experience to be creative in making sounds to find out what music, besides all the traditions, could be. The last 10 years have shown us the possibility to create things, not just to overtake it from the past. My belief is that the young teenagers could be the first to step into this new approach to music making.
We have seen something that links with this happening on our tours. On one such tour recently, we were getting the 'Superstar' kind of image as we were escorted from one place to the next. But we wanted the contact with our audience and so we fired our managers and did the tour on our own with the help of a few friends. After the gig, we wrote autographs and met people as we wanted — but what astonished us was that the people were so young, around age 15 and hardly any older than about 22. Certainly, there is no awe attached to these machines we play for the youngster, in the way we felt when we began — and that means that young people will approach the electro-music of the future with an open mind.
TD have a reputation for playing loud.
Edgar: That's right, but we don't have distortion and the signal is clear. We never listen to very loud signals on stage through the foldback speakers.
Certainly the TD sound covers a very wide gamut of dynamics, from the quietest whisper to (if you're sitting a few rows from the front!) the loudest piercing penetrating soundwaves.
Edgar: We don't use as much classical material as we have done from time to time in the past. But we do want to keep the classical 'dynamics', because this is one of the most important aspects of any music making. The presence of strong rhythm in our pieces has in some countries, such as Spain and America, brought the audiences to their feet to dance to the music.
Johannes has been part of the new TD for nearly two years.
Edgar: Yes — we are very pleased with his contribution and also our efforts working as a group. You know, what split the band three or four years ago was purely the social aspect. For example, Peter Baumann had a totally different attitude about spending his money, and since we invest about 90-95% of our profits back into getting new equipment, it was an important factor.
One of the most complicated tasks for TD has always been the fading out of one part of the music whilst fading in the next one. It's a most complicated physical/aural function. It's easy to stop and start sequences but the skill lies in fading in and out, learning how to put a cluster underneath, how to fade in a new sequence, how to build bridges, how to keep the dynamics, how to explain to each other the structure of a piece and then to be able to carry out these procedures without any mistakes in half a minute.
It was very difficult when Johannes first came with us. Remember, it took Chris and me about six years to work out things with Peter Baumann. We realise how fortunate we've been to be able to work together as equals who contribute to the music composing, structure, interfacing and manipulation of the instruments in performance. When we split with Peter, we could have contacted many respected musicians across the world, but no-one would have fitted into the band. There were a lot of big names wanting to join us, but we ended up taking an absolute unknown musician who worked as a sound engineer in a Berlin theatre.
The new TD layout on stage is impressive, yet economically well planned. Each player sits at the keyboards and can easily manipulate sequences and other control functions from one position. There is, of course, the danger of becoming too static so that visual interest is not maintained, but somehow this is never the case and although the laser lighting has been dropped and a more or less standard light show remains, a feeling of space is created by the perspective of the overhead scaffolding and see-through net curtains. On the recent U.K. tour, at Hammersmith Odeon, London, one of these curtains spanned the entire front of stage so that you always 'looked through', and the back-projected lighting cast effective images across it.
Having seen the Revox tape machine in operation during the Coventry Cathedral Concert televised some years ago, I was interested to find out that it was merely used for echo effects and did not contain effects or music tracks at all.
Edgar: We never suspected that anyone would think we were using a backing tape. Of course, digital delays now replace the tape machines.
Chris: The effects we use comprise the usual delays, flangers and equalisers. I still have five Electro-Harmonix 'Big Muff' distortion boxes on each of the mono outputs from the Prophet 5. It gives it an amazing 'digital' flavour. The 'Big Muff' is the only fuzz box that I like with synthesisers, because it works well on the overtones without producing too much distortion.
In the past TD used curtains with laser lighting projection on them, but it was too expensive to keep on bringing new ideas out with this equipment. So we are trying the gauze now to produce more three-dimensional depth. If you use lasers, you are restricted to the creativity of the controller, the lack of sufficient rehearsal time, and also the high cost of the equipment.
The mixing desk for the audience sound (a Soundcraft 32 into 8 Series 800) is placed at the back of the auditorium along with the lighting desk. JBL/Gauss speakers are used in the 6000 watt PA and part of the stack is flown when necessary. We used to use electronic links to control the light directly, but now we rely on the operator to synchronise with the music.
Edgar: The composition of our electronic music is a long process that first involves setting up the equipment in the way we want it to interface — that takes 60-70% of our time and includes the tuning, etc. We've got quite a good system to find out our good days for composing the music. A few days from time to time are totally forgettable to work with, so we look at the biorhythmic aspects of each of us and find that some days, although we feel we can do something, our subconscious has closed down and whatever we do the results are no good at all.
Chris: What we are suggesting is that to write our music, over the years we have found ways of putting ourselves in a state of mind that enables us to compose. Some people use meditation, and others will receive triggers almost subconsciously.
Edgar: I never think that 'I am doing something'. I always think 'I do it with myself', which is a completely different aspect.
We don't meet every day. The compositional ideas sometimes come from doodling at a session, other times we have the idea which can be a musical theme or structural framework and we need to develop this. There are always times when something happens by chance, especially when interfacing instruments together.
We already have plans for linking our studios by telephone datalink through a modem. But, of course, it is very important that we mentally interact together on a piece and don't just pass a tape over for the next person to work on. So there are three main factors playing their part in our compositions. First, our way of composing is very personal. Secondly, we need to interact emotionally to the piece, and finally we need to transfer ideas and program data.
Johannes is still learning our ways and at this time is in the process of getting closer to becoming a third part of the band in terms of involvement.
There is a much wider dimension in our music than simply making use of sequences. One LP can never embrace our range of musical experience and experimentation. There are a lot of times when we'll make a sequencer orientated piece, then others will start with drum and bass lines. Our varied backgrounds also help to make different pieces and often we'll simply try to paint a picture in sound. For example, at the beginning of December we've got a concert for TV going out all over Europe and we gained a lot of our inspiration by going to the Picasso art exhibition in London.
Prior to their latest LP, Tangerine Dream brought out their film music for 'Thief' (now entitled 'Violent Streets' and on general release in the U.K.) composed in 1980. Edgar commented that it enabled him to buy a lot of computerised equipment. And so we moved on to Tangerine Dream's latest recording.
Edgar: It's the last record of a decade for TD. Whatever we release will not be that sort of TD anymore. It will be a total change, and it has nothing to do with our not using sequencers in the way we do. We simply want to risk a bit more in life. Most successful bands these days buy big houses and so on — rather than risk experimenting further afield with their music, but I think once in your life it's worth taking that chance.
We discussed the six pieces of Exit in turn and both Edgar and Chris diversified around the music make-up.
Edgar: The basis of this piece came from improvising for some 1½ hours and out of this we took about five minutes of music. The opening collage of sounds with the gong was added later. The 'frequency modulated' gong is actually made on our Synclavier (which we keep in the studios at present), and the pink noise output is controlled by one of the digital sequencers. Our instruments in performance for any of the pieces are not necessarily the ones we used for the LP. On stage we now use the PPG2 and the MiniMoog pink noise.
The drum rhythm is the same for every bar of the piece — often the case on the other tracks as well — but without consciously analysing the drums alone it's certainly not evident in the music and has none of the monotonous feel that home organ rhythm units can produce.
Chris: Our drum part does not play the same role as in the rock band — it merely supports the music at the appropriate places. We have a number of 'clock' oscillators that give the drums' pre-programmed tempo. We also set up tempos for the triggers that control the sequencers with pre-programmed oscillators linked to digital counters.
Once the sequencers are running, the melodic parts and the sound effects for the pieces are interchanged amongst the three of us. Since all the instruments can become the bass or monophonic melody and most can be polyphonic, there is plenty of scope for experiment. Onstage, each person would know the part he had to play in the piece, and this is where the pre-defined structuring is important to create the required balance, but within that framework there is freedom to improvise and experiment.
Edgar: The words in this piece are Russian — we have many friends in Russia and it's a sort of message for the peace movement, against Nuclear Power. The words are spoken by an actress from Berlin.
The sonorous synthesiser bell effects come from a PPG2 and the make-up of the piece highlights another extremely important aspect of TD music: the sequence ends before you become tired of it. (Consider the number of experimental electronic music recordings you've heard that seem to say it all in a few moments, yet plough on for the whole side.)
Edgar: Don't forget one thing, working it out on record is totally different to doing the live concert. All the adjustments we have to do in the live concert make it much more complicated and even if you want to press a particular knob, it's so easy to miss it in a certain bar or press another, so that the sequencers are slipping out of sync, and the piece then develops in a slightly different way.
Chris: When we record a piece, it is some time before we are able to put it on stage. Some parts can be very difficult to set up in real time.
Edgar: In the studio, I have an editing facility that shows me the notes I play as I'm improvising. Afterwards, if we find something interesting, all the notes are there for us to play. We don't follow the old fashioned way of writing down everything exactly. We memorise our parts for the keyboards and my guitar in performance and that, of course, implies knowing the control settings required as well as the notes. If any writing is done, it's in the alphanumerical code required by the computer system in use. Once the information is stored in the computer, we don't have to recall it again. We define semitones, octaves and even 100ths of a semitone (micro and macro tones).
Many of the sounds on the LP as a whole are of the same character and therefore help to amalgamate the pieces together. Generally, the pieces on the album have no direct link to each other apart from being written within the same time period. In the past, we have put together all the pieces for an LP in the space of a few weeks and then there is an obvious feeling of affinity from one piece to the next.
Chris: Because there are only three of us, we have to program a lot of the sequences to run themselves, once they are started, throughout a piece (as in Choronzon). That's why our music is much more complex than four or five years ago.
A 'sequencer' is perhaps not the right word anymore — I now call it a 'consequencer' because a sequencer means really just a repeated group of notes — but often our layers are long and don't repeat within a piece.
Coming back to the first piece, the interesting string unison that arrives in the middle comes from the Prophet. But once again, actual instruments are not too important — it's the character of the sound that is interesting. The track is dominated by the sound of digital PPG waveform shaping, which was a new sound for the group at the time. The 64 waveform scan can make a tremendously rich harmonic sound with no lack of high frequencies that is often noticeable in analogue LPF systems. (The PPG Wave 2 was reviewed in detail in E&MM July 1981 and is also on demo Cassette No. 3.)
The piece ends with a reference to the opening theme and fades away to end.
Edgar: We had to do this on the record because of the time factor and we preferred to fade out rather than add a poor ending point — it was a compromise, and we don't like to do it.
This uses just one sequence running through the piece. The way the music begins half way through the bar gives a fascinating start to the rhythms and it takes a while to orientate yourself to what is happening. The OB-X is the sound maker except for the 'bleep' melody line later, produced on the Wave 2.
Edgar: A lot of the melodic lines we compose are more easily played directly on the keyboard. Other complex sounds lend themselves to sequencer treatment, but if you want to add accents it is better done manually in performance. The best thing about the sequencer is that it frees you from the notes to concentrate on tonal adjustments.
The noise effects come from the Mini-Moog. Edgar pointed out that a lot of the effects TD do are much simpler than you imagine! Chris could not recall the notes of the sequence as this was programmed some time ago and so I have made an approximation that fits in suitably on the printed music. The electronic drum start is unusual for TD and reminded me of a recent Ultravox concert where nearly all the pieces started in this way.
The polyphonic glide is done on the Oberheim and the main theme is played on the MiniMoog using two oscillators. We agreed that synthesiser sounds never need be static — they can always be changing and this makes electronic music much more acceptable in the long term.
Chris: As far as panning is concerned, it's nicer if you see a spectrum where you see every instrument sitting instead of walking around in a field! That's why we do not use it very often except for one or two effects such as noise sweeps.
Edgar: Maybe one secret in the way we mix or record music in general is that we don't think of panning a sound in a single movement, but move the colour of the sound. There's a different sort of feel this way — for example, the same signal can be derived on the PPG2 in stereo but with completely different tonal qualities that can be panned from left to right.
The voice sound on this track is again the PPG (Preset no. 60!). The PPG slap sound in the middle piece comes from the MiniMoog with envelope two working on the oscillator to make a sudden sweep down in pitch within 10 milliseconds, so you are just left with the sound movement. The resonance is increased, but not enough to put the filter into oscillation as a resulting sine tone would be too weak. The two oscillators are set to a pulse wave with noise added. The reverb that follows the effect is done with two EMT plates in the studio, but on stage if we do have to add anything to the hall acoustics, we use the AKG BX-15 or BX-20.
That led to us questioning the use of echo and reverb on certain instruments and not on others.
Edgar: Where have these rules come from? They are just a fashion — one producer's good for four or five records and then someone else takes over!
Chris: We produce all the material for our LPs ourselves — right down to the final mixdown. So really the studio itself becomes an instrument for us.
(You can play the Choronzon piece from the music in this issue.)
This is a smoothly performed piece with a floating quality that is pushed gently along by the repeated two bar two-note sequence and 'spiked' bass sound. There's a tape reversal effect at the start which is a cymbal backwards and Edgar calls the filter sweeps 'splashes'. Once again a very strong theme is played on the PPG which appears four times. The syncopation is very precise and gives the subtle move away from the beat that is a feature of TD music. It is derived from Chris and Edgar's liking for modern jazz. The fast running notes up and down in the next stage of the piece are made on the PPG1 Sequencer with a random reset point selected by Edgar during recording to give a free feeling. As the music moves on, real thunder sounds are treated with flanging and phasing.
Edgar: We love to use natural elements against our electronic sounds and as a result we don't actually perform this piece on stage. Some effects such as this do restrict us from playing several pieces live, although for example, we now do the reversed cymbal effect on the MiniMoog.
Chris: In our performances we don't play too many pieces — our program is in two parts lasting around 45 minutes each (plus two planned encores!).
The piece ends with treated 'rain' washing away the music.
Treated sampled sounds reveal a steady tempo with ringing filtered notes and a passing 'seagull' effect. Once again the filtered single sequence dominates, until a split channel (left and right) three note motif overtakes, with interesting interjections from flute-like and other echoing sounds. Panned 'seagull' flies past, with polyphonic chords anticipating the beat and 'voice' PPG sounds crying out. Finally, the Bass Drum is noticeable as the music fades away.
Here's a different sound altogether, with ethereal blends of strings, voice images and ad lib beats. A more ominous mix of sounds brings metallic PPG notes and continuous fades of other layers that eventually become a single flute. Behind the flute hangs three repeated sequences and an octave bass quaver group. As the flute whistles a meandering melody with vibrato, maracas shake semiquavers gently. The volume gradually increases as other PPG sounds improvise over the rhythmic sequences and the bass changes imperceptibly. Back comes the flute to close.
This exciting piece is a good example of the new Tangerine Dream music and will be a rewarding challenge for any electro-musician to play. Every note of music is given, along with sound effect suggestions for you to experiment with. This type of electronic music is based on repeated sequences that are faded in and out — in fact there are five 'note groups' for DRUMS (D), BASS (B), SEQUENCE 1 (S1), SEQUENCE 2 (S2), and POLYSYNTH (P) that could be recorded continuously throughout the piece on separate tape tracks and simply faded in or out as shown on the score.
Only two further tracks remain: EFFECTS (E) and MONOSYNTH theme (M). Thus the piece is suitable for an eight-track recorder (e.g. Fostex) or it can be layered on to a four-track (e.g. Teac) or bounced across two stereo machines (e.g. Sony, Revox, etc.). For simplicity, whenever a note group is repeated, it is labelled with its letter code instead of being written out. This is quite normal when composing and leaves room for EFFECTS, MONO theme and any other new music that is used. Do listen to this track on the EXIT LP and study the way sounds blend together — the balance is important, although you may prefer to try your own mix. Because it is possible to learn one part at a time (merely a few bars), it should not be difficult for a music reader to enjoy Tangerine Dream's world of electronic music.
Interview by Mike Beecher