Steve Jolliffe: Life After Tangerine Dream
One of Tangerine Dream's founder members has recently stumbled back into the limelight courtesy of a fine first solo album. Dan Goldstein spoke to him about its construction.
After years of being a musical gipsy, moving from one style to another without any apparent logic or planning, Steve Jolliffe re-emerged during 1983 with the release of his first solo album. Journeys out of the Body. Here he talks to Dan Goldstein about before, during, and after life as one of Tangerine Dream's founder-members.
In a quiet square just off one of London's more fashionable major thoroughfares, one of electronic music's most unpredictable characters rises every morning to the sound of birds singing and motorists cursing, and begins the day's work at his home studio.
For Steve Jolliffe, life has become worthwhile once again. Now freed from the constraints placed on him by several bands of various different musical persuasions, he is now almost totally self-sufficient, owning his own equipment, writing his own material, and recording his own albums.
It hasn't always been this way, of course. A couple of turbulent years at art school in England playing flute and saxophone led to a spell touring Europe that ended up with his unexpectedly enlisting as a student at one of Berlin's most prestigious musical academies...
'I think I was one of the few people ever to be admitted who wasn't able to read music. I can remember being examined by about six of the school's tutorial staff: they just sat there while I fumbled through some piano improvisations that were rather too reminiscent of Shostakovich. Still, they must have liked what they heard, because they gave me a place, I managed to get a grant, and I stayed there for about a year and a half, during which time I learnt almost nothing at all!
'I had one tutor for piano and one for composition, but all I was really interested in was learning how to read music, and neither of them were of much use to me. In the end I learnt how to read years later when I came back to England and started spending hours on end at the piano, picking up more and more as I went along: I'm sure it was the only way.'
Eventually, Jolliffe left the Academy, though he didn't leave Germany. Instead, he joined another band ('of sorts'), and it was while with them that he met up with Edgar Froese, co-founder of seminal German electronic music purveyors, Tangerine Dream.
'I remember going to an electronic music studio and meeting Edgar for the first time there. It was a very Stockhausen-ish place, full of old Studer tape machines they were running at different speeds. Anyway, it was obvious that neither Edgar nor I was particularly happy being in conventional bands, so I suggested forming a three-piece consisting of just lead guitar, drums, and flute. His first reaction was 'you can't have a band without a bass', but after a while he got to quite like the idea, and we set about looking for the right drummer, who turned out to be Klaus Schulze. At first we didn't think he'd be suitable at all - to be honest he looked like a bit of a thug in those days - but we soon realised he was almost ideal because, like us, he was simply yearning to do something a bit different.
'Edgar had thought of the name Tangerine Dream some time before, so that was what we called ourselves. The music was very odd, not only because we didn't have a bass player but also because our attitudes were different. A lot of our music was improvised - sometimes we'd begin a gig without any thought whatsoever of what we might do. We did any number of concerts around Germany, but after a while I began to feel a bit of a longing for home: I suppose a lot of it was connected to my simply wanting to hear people speaking English again. Late at night after one particular gig, Klaus got out of the car we were using to tour around in and shouted out 'there's nothing on the roof - it's all blown away!' I had almost my entire worldly belongings on the roof of that car, so that was just the final straw - I had to get back to England.'
This Steve then proceeded to do. He learned to read music and play the piano better than ever before, and subsequently joined a band called Steamhammer, whose career was rather less fruitful or exciting than its name might otherwise suggest.
After an album and a couple of tours with Steamhammer, Jolliffe left to contemplate his own musical position (the period shortly after Germany had seen him revolt against electronic musical instruments, to the point where he no longer wanted anything to do with them or with any band that used them). However, not long afterwards he received a call from Edgar Froese, who was by this time (1978) desperately in search of somebody to take the place of the recently-departed Peter Baumann.
'Edgar asked me if I'd like to re-join the Dream, and since I didn't really have anything better to do, and I had mostly overcome my dread of electronics, I agreed. Edgar came over here first of all; it had been such a long time since we'd seen each other, and such a lot had happened in that time, that we talked for ages and played a lot of music together. It really was tremendous.
Then I went to Germany with him and we recorded Cyclone, my only album with Tangerine Dream. For some reason I don't think it was an altogether successful exercise. I enjoyed playing on it and recording it, and to some extent I enjoyed going out on tour with the band to promote it, because that in particular was a huge success, but there were so many restrictions on what I could and couldn't do, I felt a little bit claustrophobic. I also felt that, to a degree anyway, the Dream had lost its will to experiment, or to put it another way, some of the original fire that I remembered so fondly was definitely absent.'
So, after an album that will be remembered as TD's never-to-be-repeated excursion into the world of songs, and a tour that will be remembered as the one that finally brought them acclaim in their home country, Jolliffe left the band for a second time, again feeling the desire to go solo.
On returning to England, Steve began to experience his 'journeys out of the body' for the first time. He describes his state of being on these occasions as 'somewhere between wake and sleep', and they proved strong enough to provide inspiration for some powerful music that was entirely Jolliffe's own creation. What he wrote while recovering from various 'attacks' of halfsleep became the nucleus of his album, Journeys out of the Body, but initially he was composing purely for his own private consumption.
'I really had no intention of making that music available to the public, but a friend of mine persuaded me to send a demo of some of it to Dave Lawrence at Pulse Records. After I'd done that I phoned him to ask him what he thought, and although he expressed some enthusiasm, he said he didn't think he'd ever want to put it out on record. I assumed that would be the end of it but, astonishingly, I got a letter from Dave a few days later saying that he'd drastically underestimated the tape and that he'd be releasing it as soon as he could, which is about as big a change of heart as you can get!'
And so it was that Journeys out of the Body came to be re-mixed on eight-track by Jade Warrior's Tony Duhig (see elsewhere in this issue) and released by Pulse last autumn.
The music's mood is beautifully serene - rather different from what one might expect, given the unsettling nature of many of Jolliffe's experiences - while the diary extracts that accompany every copy serve to increase its emotional impact further. Given Jolliffe's impeccable pedigree, perhaps it's not surprising that the recording is of an exceptional standard and that the music remains consistently appealing play after play. What is surprising is that the entire piece was played and recorded very, very simply.
'My main instrument on Journeys was an SCI Pro One. I think it's an extraordinary instrument for what it costs. I like the fact that it's got no presets or memories, because that means you have to do all the work for yourself, and that way you get to know the instrument much better. I'm becoming more and more aware that a lot of people like using 'instant' synths that give you great sounds as soon as you turn them on, though I do think it would be nice if the Pro One had had memories: there are hundreds of sounds I managed to get out of it that I think I'd find impossible to recreate now, simply because I've forgotten how I went about getting them!'
Journeys sees the Pro One's synthetic tones counterbalanced by touches of piano, flute and guitar, while there's also some Emulator and Roland guitar synth, courtesy of that man Duhig.
'Most of the original tracks for the album were put down on a TEAC four-track. That might sound limiting to a lot of people but actually I enjoyed working with it very much. You really know exactly what you're doing when things are at that level, and I do feel quite strongly that it's better to have a little equipment and know it really well than it is to have stacks of it yet not really be fully aware of all its capabilities. Even my own set-up now is quite a modest one - I still don't like the idea of being absolutely surrounded by different bits of machinery whose capabilities I could never fully explore.'
After the completion of Journeys out of the Body, Steve set about re-equipping his studio and moving it from its previous resting place at Bruton, Somerset, to London. He's now the proud owner of a Tascam 38 eight-track tape machine and matching mixer, a Yamaha DX7, a Roland JX3P, and a Boss DE200 digital delay line. It may not be the biggest synthesiser studio the world has ever seen, but it fulfils his needs admirably.
'Moving on to the eight-track was a logical step to make, and as for the keyboards, it was almost inevitable that, sooner or later, I was going to get tired of the Pro One and aim for something bigger and better.
'As soon as I heard about the DX7 and what it was capable of doing, I knew it was what I wanted. I see it as the first electronic keyboard that's really professional in everything it does, though I will admit that programming it is a real headache. I really do think there's too much going on inside the machine for the human brain to cope with, especially as the display lets you see so little of it.
'I'm looking forward to getting a CX5 computer, because I near Yamaha have got some software that displays all the DX parameters on screen. That's definitely something the DX series needs: a better visual representation of what's going on.
'I'd also like to see an alternative method of presenting the information, though that may be not quite so easy to achieve. I do feel that terms like Operator and Algorithm aren't really going to be understood by a lot of musicians, and my personal ideal would be to have a display that would have diagrams of different musical instruments in different corners of the screen, so that if, for instance, you wanted a sound that was a cross between a flute and a violin, you could move a cursor between the two and get hold of it that way. In general I think I'd like to see technical terms translated as far as possible into musical ones.
'Before I got the DX7, I had a brief spell with a Roland Juno 6, which I liked for much the same reason I liked the Pro One - it hasn't got any presets. I soon realised that the DX7 wasn't as good at supplying the great spreads of sound I was getting out of the Juno, so I set about looking for a synth that could not only do that but would also link up to the Yamaha using the MIDI, and that's how I got the JX3P.
'I've had no problems connecting the two together, though I have heard of some people who have; in general I think they complement each other very well. The only thing I am a bit worried about is what may happen when I get a CX5, because both my keyboards are very early examples and I'm not sure whether the MIDI specifications will be the same: if need be I'll have to get the keyboards updated to bring them into line.'
This brings us nicely on to what is rapidly becoming Steve Jolliffe's pet subject: the role of computers in modern music.
'Yes. I'm very, very excited about them. I'm looking forward to almost every aspect of what computers can do for the musician. I like the idea of using a Music Composition Language, and I love the prospect of being able to edit sequences so precisely. I'm also keen to use computers as a sound source and to start modifying them from scratch, because there would seem to be almost no limit as to what they can do. If there is one thing I'm not quite so interested in it's sampling, which is odd because that's what almost everybody else is talking about. There are two reasons, really. First of all, most of the samples I've been exposed to have sounded a little bit impure - I think you can always tell they're not the real thing - and the second thing is that I have a feeling that in time sampling itself won't actually be necessary: you'll be able to generate virtually any sound using FM or PCM techniques, starting with electronics from scratch.
'I can see myself becoming, in the not too distant future, more a computer programmer and operator and less of a keyboard player, though obviously I don't want to drop keyboards altogether because I still enjoy the physical sensation of playing them, in just the same way that I still get a lot out of playing sax and flute. Mind you, I am very excited about the prospect of a lot of different musicians owning something like a CX5 and writing different sorts of software for it - just think of the possibilities it would open up.'
Moving a little more down to earth, Steve has already all but completed a new album, provisionally titled Death of Japanese Butterflies and due for release by Pulse sometime this coming autumn.
'I wrote it last year in absolutely idyllic surroundings down in Somerset. It has a totally different feel to it: in fact I'd say it bears very little resemblance to Journeys out of the Body. That's quite important I think, because one thing I'm anxious to do is make each album a completely different concept to the previous one: I don't see much point in making sequels just for the sake of them.
'Obviously the album has quite an Oriental feel to it, which is something I've never really done before, and of course the instrumentation is completely different to what I was using before. In addition to the DX7, the Juno, and JX3P, I've also been helped out by a Japanese percussion player, Joji Hirota, who plays all sorts of different things, kotos, gongs, whistles.
'Recording that percussion was actually rather more of a problem than I envisaged. For one thing, a lot of Joji's instruments have weird tuning and I found myself having to record them at different speeds in order to get them in tune with everything else, and for another, they're almost impossibly difficult to mike up properly, though fortunately I discovered the Realistic PZM, which has proved a godsend.'
1984 also sees the return of Steve Jolliffe to the live concert arena, from which he's been absent since he left Tangerine Dream second time around.
'Well, you've guessed it. I'm very very excited about playing live again. I think what happened was that I had so little control over what went on at the Dream gigs, I lost my taste for playing live, and it's taken this long for me to get it back. The set I've devised is designed primarily to be a solo one, but it's flexible enough for me to play with Joji or with Tony Duhig on a particular occasion if I want to. I'm hoping this year's concerts will be successful, because I'd like to do some next year as well. I'm now so in love with the idea of playing live, I've started writing new material with live performance in mind, which is certainly something I've never done before.
'You see, I see myself primarily not as a composer or musician in the strictest sense but as an environment-maker - somebody who translates emotions into musical landscapes. I see live performance as being a very important part of that now, just as I see computers as playing an important part in shaping the way I create those environments in the first place...'
Steve Jolliffe plays the Festival of Mind, Body and Spirit, Earls Court, London, July 6, and Westwood Festival, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, August 11.
Interview by Dan Goldstein
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