Tangerine Dream

published in The Wire No.437, London, 2020



A close listen to the record reveals that each performer/composer/conductor shapes micro-evolutionary passages: something is born, nurtured, matured, decayed. There are neither solos nor backing, but an ongoing simultaneity of effects. It's not as sophisticated as the harmonic parallelism deployed by numerous strands of jazz at the time, but for music purporting to be cosmically in synch with its oneiric oneness, Phaedra's key trio-composed tracks "Phaedra" and "Movements Of A Visionary" see Froese, Franke and Bauman run atemporally with the each other. Their tripartisan melds are further modified via post-production editing and cross-fading to further enhance the sensation of morphing time and space. Shifts occur every few minutes with an irrational Satie-like progression, resulting in an accrued sense of dread, immanence, and unknowingness. The somewhat gaudy synth tropes function like pantomime, setting a stage, climbing its peaks, and narrating the vistas below and above. It's the opposite of Neu's erotic mathematics, Kraftwerk's electric cabaret, Cluster's electronic gardens, Klaus Schultze’s cosmic calliopes.

The sonic sum is a fluid and weightless pastoralism. Any moment of these staged passages is like a micro locked-groove of a fragment of Romantic-era melodiousness (from Debussy and Sibelius to Chopin and Liszt). As such, they conform to Brian Eno's British pastoralism (he called it Ambient; I don't) created from transfiguring Johann Pachabel into loops that evoke distant memories of Benjamin Britten (Discreet Music, 1975). Tangerine Dream are semiotically wired to this sensibility - or rather, both are properly rooted in the Romantic tradition of describing beauty as its effects upon the viewer/listener. Despite the superficial notions of electronic futurism and mind-expansion which marketed Tangerine Dream to a drug-favouring demographic, the band were Romantics. (And if we jump ahead from here, the same looped melodic environments of fluid pastoralism figure strongly in early 90s ambient-oriented artists like Aphex Twin, The Orb and FSOL - not to mention the subsequent manifold strains of Anglo Arcadian electronica.)

Tangerine Dream's remaining 15 albums leading up to 1990 collectively stretch outward from Phaedra's compositional template, and in doing so ground the Romantic mindscaping fostered by their Prog leanings (Cyclone, 1978; Force Majeure, 1979) and cosmic flirtations (Stratosphere, 1976; Tangram, 1980). However, a wild card interferes with this normative morphology: their score for William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977).


Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Tangerine Dream.