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|> Interview: Edgar Froese [Tangerine Dream]
Interview for 'Grenzwellen' - radio ffn
- by Ecki Stieg | 4 /94
Ecki Stieg: If one looks for the roots of German electronic music, which is
the same as looking for the roots of electronic music in general, one finds
two different groups, two 'schools' at the end of the sixties: One comes
from the Duesseldorf area and revolves around musicians like Ralf Huetter,
Klaus Dinger or Michael Rother, who became popular with the bands
'Kraftwerk', 'Neu' or 'La Duesseldorf'. The other group, that worked far
more autonomously comes from Berlin, and calls itself to this date:
The band was founded in 1967, initially as a pure [free] rock formation. But just
a few years later the band around Edgar Froese began with electronic
experiments. Just like the early 'Kraftwerk' or 'Neu', Tangerine Dream did
not use purely electronic equipment on their very early albums such as
'Electronic Meditation', 'Atem' or 'Zeit', but worked with modified
conventional instruments and tape machines.
That is a major difference to
the current generation of techno and electro acts. This generation finds
that a large number of electronic methods of expression already exist. A
sort of electronic tradition, and a sense of esthetics has developed over
the years, something which could not be built upon in the early days.
Were synthesizers in those days only a means to an end? What philosophy is
or was behind the idea to use these machines and to further develop their
sonic abilities? Here is Edgar Froese about the beginnings of Tangerine
Edgar Froese: We certainly didn't invent the wheel. But still we would say
that these young bands today who try to express themselves in electronic
ways can find a whole vehicle ready for the taking, not just that one
That, of course, is a level of comfort we could only dream about in those
days. Electronic instruments like they are known today virtually didn't
exist then. There was only the large modular system by Bob Moog, then came
a so-called VCS3, which was a small synthesizer made by EMS that could be
used mostly only to make bleeps, whistles and ring modulations rather than
to create music in a conventional sense.
That was actually more something
of an adventure, a jungle and all that...away from the main road; but that
was our aspiration in those days.
We had put this thing into our heads: What is music? Music is nothing more
than an order of sounds. That means, you have the sound which is not in any
order on the one hand, then you have the quasi-ordered sound, and you have
the order which is totally and completely structured, an organized sonic
entity, which can then be found in its classical form in something like
But opposite that you find the squeaking of a streetcar as
it turns around the corner, which frequency-wise can also be put into some
order, only because of our experience, the learning process that our ears
have gone though, we call one thing pleasant and the other one unpleasant.
That was actually the original concept, so we started looking: where can
you find such objects, such sonic devices that support this concept, that
can bring you from total chaos, environmental noises etc, into a halfway
'organized' chaos? And then there were foremost the devices from
measurement and regulation technology like oscillators and generators, sine
generators, square and sawtooth generators; and these were then hooked
together, connected to delay units and so on. So there we tried to get away
from the traditional guitar/bass/drums setup, since we were actually a rock
band originally. Maybe not the very best, but we did try to sound a bit
Well, starting from those pioneering days, we then went on to the next
level, and so on, and so on, but of course this has nothing to do with the
feature-rich equipment that you find nowadays.
Ecki Stieg: How did a rock band from the sixties get the idea to suddenly
start making electronic music?
Edgar Froese: Well, to be honest, we really didn't have much of a choice.
As an equivalent to anglo/american rock and blues music we were simply not
good enough. We had this typical German groove, which was terrible. And to
measure our abilities on instruments with the others also didn't make any
sense, they were better by far. They had all their heritage, and that
mentality behind them. So that simply didn't work. With our abilities, we
wouldn't have been able to even pay the rent.
So what was left was to either change jobs, or if you really love music so
much and also want to earn some money with it, you have to start thinking
of something else. So we had to leave the main road, the road everybody
walks on. You have to cut right through the bushes. But even there, you
couldn't find too many opportunities.
But the decision was (and that was really the only concept we had in our
minds) to do something that cannot be compared with anything else.
Something that is only comparable with itself. That was maybe the only real
trick we had.
Yes, it was a trick, which we used deliberately. We told
ourselves: as a guitar player, you will be measured (in those days) against
people like Eric Clapton and Hendrix and Albert Lee and who knows which
others, so you there's no point in even competing. But if you run five sine
generators against each other, who are you going to be measured against?
Not even Stockhausen, or Musique Concrete, Ligeti or what ever else was
around in those days. You can only be measured against how to hook up five
sine generators to a delay unit.
So that really opened up a completely new opportunity. But from this trick
actually later a passion emerged, we ourselves then realized the *huge*
potential. There was no music industry in that area, there was no
instrument industry, there was no one who was at all interested in this.
But what came out of all this in the end was uncontrollable.
Ecki Stieg: The very experimental albums 'Electronic Meditation', 'Alpha
Centauri' and 'Zeit' were followed by the first almost entrirely electronic
albums 'Phaedra' and 'Rubycon' in the early seventies. These albums were
recorded in the classical lineup Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke and Peter
Baumann, a lineup that was to last for 6 years and that led to the huge
international breakthrough of Tangerine Dream.
In those days, Tangerine
Dream recorded a cosmic, repetitive music like no other band created.
Consequently, the variety of labels attached to their music showed a degree
of helplessness in categorizing this music, even today some call it 'New
Age'. How did Tangerine Dream define themselves back then, and how did they
view their audience, which found it hip to consume large amounts of drugs
in those days?
Edgar Froese: We actually approached things almost 'virginally', and looking
back it seems almost unthinkable that things developed the way they did. We
didn't know anything about this ourselves. We were only fascinated by the
possibilities, nothing else.
There was much randomness involved. The point
we started from - this was like our motto which we had then (and we still
do to this day, although nowadays some limitations are unavoidable due to
the industry format, we can maybe talk about this later) - in those days we
said: If someone has an idea and links it with a statement like "Now, we
really can't do this, this is going too far", then this would be the
starting point for something we want to do. And this is what we kept doing
for a few years, very determined and we got more smacks in the face for it
than we got praises.
Nobody knows this anymore, and it is just some historical blabla, but in
the first five years we were pulled from the stage more often than we were
able to climb it, and I will never forget: The 'City Hall' in Hof. That was
the shortest performance in our career, seven and a half minutes exactly,
we timed it. After seven and a half minutes, the entire stage was filled
(E.S. plays Rubycon Part I)
Ecki Stieg: 'Rubycon Part I', Tangerine Dream from 1975. A record that
ranked high particularly in the british charts. How were these tracks,
these sounds created? What was more important on records like 'Rubycon' or
'Ricochet' - the sound or the composition? Was there even such a thing as a
structured composition? Especially impressive from the seventies' phase is
to this day the live album 'Ricochet'. How did a track like this develop,
what were the roles of the individual band members?
Edgar Froese: Even for me it sounds almost unbelievable when looking back,
but it is true. 'Ricochet' was recorded (I mean the track that you find on
the album), at the Festival Hall in Croydon, that is a suburb of London. We
have analysed this later on, also to find out if it really happened this
way, or if we're going crazy.
In those days we had sequencers which
couldn't be transposed like it is possible with modern computer technology
today; instead they kept on running on a predefined interval pattern in the
baseline, and there they stayed. We only had three options, three basic
patterns, so we picked C, A or E. So when listening to our music, one will
find that most of our tracks from that time are in one of these three keys.
The reason was, that once these boxes were switched on, we were unable to
shift or transpose.
Well, we could have, but then the risk existed that
once everything had been synchronized, one of the systems would lose the
synchronization and everything would get out of hand. So once turned on,
the stuff just ran right through...we enjoyed this adventure, we really
Anyway, Croydon Hall, on the 'Ricochet' tour, I believe it was in '76, we
went up on stage and called out the key to one another, and we said 'ok,
tonight it's E', (I don't remember today if it was really E or maybe A, I
think it was one of those two), and we didn't know anything else...really
that was all we knew. So we went up, and one of us started with a
soundscape maybe, or sometimes with a flute, or someone surprised us by
kicking in with the rhythm right at the beginning, and then things started
to converge and everything ran together - or it didn't converge at all; it
was a total adventure.
It was just like somebody telling you 'You're gonna
jump from this plane, but I won't tell you if you have a parachute on your
back or not'. So you say to yourself 'Ok, I jump', and only after one
hundred meters you pull the line and find out if you have one or not.
That was a form of risk that we probably would not be willing to take
today, but it was part of the philosophy of the band back then, and the
tracks were played through without mercy. It was part of the concept, and
it did happen a number of times that after 10 minutes we reached the 'game
over' point. It was 'game over' simply because nobody knew how to go on.
There you had three people on stage turning and twisting knobs and
switches, but it was over, nothing came out of it.
So these poor people in
the audience had to wait for maybe fifteen minutes or so until we managed
to work ourselves out of it, until one of us began again and found his way
again, and then everything continued. It never happened that we had two
hours of complete garbage, but I'll happily admit from today's point of
view, that we did have concerts in which let's say a third of the time was
utterly useless, nobody could think of anything and it was absolutely on
the edge, but it was a calculated risk.
We took it, and on the other hand
if things got running and all of us were right on target, then it was such
an experience that we all had shivers running down our spine, nobody knew
why but then it ran incredibly well, and it ran and ran and ran...
(E.S. plays 'Stratosfear')
Ecki Stieg: 'Stratosfear', the final album which Tangerine Dream recorded
1976 in the classical lineup with Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke and Peter
Baumann. A very strange album that somehow went wrong is to this date the 1978
release 'Cyclone'. Recorded with two new members, Klaus Krieger and the
british Steve Joliffe, who on top of everything, sang on this album.
Tangerine Dream music with vocals, a unique and ambiguous experiment.
Edgar Froese: That was a solution only to help us out of a problem: we had
to make this album because a tour had been booked since nine months ago
already. This was for the European tour 1978 and we couldn't back out of
that one. We had the problem that we had parted with Baumann in '77 and
were left as a duo. The tour had been booked, we hardly knew what we could
do, and so (the exact circumstances are of lesser importance here) we got
ourselves two people. One drummer and one keyboard player who also played
various wind instruments. We believed that in doing so, we had taken care
of the issue.
Well, that was the most horrible tour I ever experienced, it was pure
torture, because I personally only had this experience before with three
people who could totally rely on one another. Even if they did crack in,
they were completely aware that these things happen and that we would get
out of it somehow, we know about these situations.
And now there were these
two people who didn't know about this at all. Indeed, we had rehearsed and
rehearsed and things started out quite well, but what we hadn't considered
was that moment when you are up on stage under those circumstances of
pressure. And there was a lot of stress involved, so how would these people
function then? Well, they didn't function at all, they went on to play
You know, Christoph Franke and me, we wanted this group-
thing and so it was a terrible tour. The preparations of which were then
crowned with the release of 'Cyclone', for me still an unfortunate album. It
was believed important to top things off by changing everything completely,
'one could try with some vocals maybe...'. Although one didn't feel very
comfortable with it, the album was released anyhow, and that was the end of
(E.S. plays 'Bent Cold Sidewalk')
Ecki Stieg: 'Bent Cold Sidewalk', Tangerine Dream from their '78 album
'Cyclone'. After this LP, the lineup-carousel turned yet again. The albums
'Force Majeure' and 'Tangram' followed, albums which lacked the 'cosmical'
qualities of the early Tangerine Dream. Tangerine Dream became more down-
to-earth, a bit more rock-oriented and also dainty, surely also a contribution
of new musician Johannes Schmoelling.
Edgar Froese: Well, speaking for myself now, I personally never left that
'rock-feeling', and I never wanted to, either. For me, rock-and-roll was never
a form of protest, but a form of self elected freedom. Liberty to create areas
of freedom for oneself that simply don't exist in other types of music, and
this was also important for the things that we did. Johannes indeed played
an important role, every new member that joins the band leaves its marks
behind, of course. But it also was fun, plain and simple. This is something
one does not dare say these days. The record companies assume that you do
it..., or rather that you must do things for commercial reasons, for
revenue; the fans assume you have certain intentions, usually also more or
less financially oriented, so if you stand there and say: ok, I change my
style a little, or I write certain pieces of music, and I do it because I
enjoy it, because I just feel like doing it, then no one believes you. But
that was it, we wanted to do something different, introduce some rock
elements maybe, and it was fun, and that's that, end of story.
(E.S. plays 'Choronzon')
Ecki Stieg: 'Choronzon', a track from the 81 Tangerine Dream LP 'Exit'.
This album, and the ones succeeding it like 'Hyperborea' and 'Le Parc'
presented a new Tangerine Dream sound that had little in common with the
cosmic collage of the seventies. The tracks became shorter, more compact,
avantgarde electronics were mixed more and more with conventional rock
music. After the departure of Chris Franke, only Edgar Froese remained from
the original lineup. A development that turned off a lot of the old fans.
Edgar Froese: You can follow our different periods stylistically by watching
how we changed from record company to record company. That was always something
of a break, and so there were the Virgin years that lasted until '83, then
from '84 onwards the Jive/Electro label distributed by Zomba, then here in
Germany on Teldec as it was still called in those days, and then until 88
Private/BMG and then so on and so on. And each phase had its distinctive
elements. Back in '83 we had an inner desire to do shorter tracks, so we
started with 'Le Parc' for example to do tracks that suddenly were only 4
or 5 minutes long, some were 7 or 8 minutes maybe.
In those days we had to listen to terrible things from our fans, or rather
from the people that had enjoyed our music until then. It went so far that
people sent us our records smashed to pieces back to our homes, it was
really tough. Oh yes, the feeling of rejection that people suddenly had
against the band was demonstrated in a most dramatic manner, which I find
to be ok, as funny as this may sound, but I always thought that this was
It even went sofar that...we once had a bomb threat on our answering
machine: If we were to do this and that again then somebody would stick a
bomb into our mailbox. Not a very nice thing to say, but it just goes to
show you how deeply involved people had become with our music, how much
they identified with it. But please: This phase from '83 until '88 was very
important for our development. I think that people must accept that an
artist, or musician sometimes throws off a layer of skin.
And the musician
cannot, if he honestly believes in himself, orient himself after what
10,000, 100,000 or 500,000 people expect. He must not ever do this, if he
does, I believe he will have lost his role as a musician in the true
meaning of the word for himself. He must always work on full risk...always,
100%, totally. If he doesn't do so...it doesn't matter if he turns around
and maybe says: I want to play only bavarian folk music today. So he will
maybe lose 99% of all his fans, ok, but if he believes that this is what he
must do, then that is what he's got to do, as crazy as this may sound.
This will certainly not happen to us, but there have been cases were people
were absolutely mad at us. There was also a change of generations, where
suddenly a lot of young people came in, which we always appreciated very
much. My own generation was always very suspicious to me. I noticed that
around me, everything always started to get senile, also the band
members. That's also why there have been 34 personnel changes in TD over
the years. It was always like...first there was success, then came the
money, then came a certain degree of comfort and suddenly there was
stagnation. For me it was always difficult to carry all this dead wood
around with me.
I don't mean this on a personal level, that was always ok,
they were all real nice guys. But it was extremely difficult for me to come
in and say: Ok, friends, we just had a fiver in the lotto, but now let's
play marbles, that's more interesting at the moment. And then the yaws fell
open, and everyone wanted to enter a new lotto drawing and go for another
fiver or the jackpot. And then came Froese and said, 'let's play marbles',
so they all said 'he is nuts' and I said: ok, maybe I am nuts, then we have
to split and you go do your thing and us, we will continue here. This
situation happened quite often.
(E.S. plays 'Marakesh')
Ecki Stieg: 'Marakesh', Tangerine Dream from their '88 LP 'Optical Race'.
Meanwhile, Tangerine Dream have become a pure family business. Next to
father Edgar, second member is his 24-year old son Jerome. How did this
unusual constellation come about?
Edgar Froese: Jerome really has always been part of it. We never turned
this parent-child relationship into any sort of 'ownership', he was
basically allowed to do whatever he wanted, so he lay in front of stages,
under stages, on top of stages since when he was one year old. And it was
like this all the time, he always practically inhaled this kind of
atmosphere, so when he switched and went on stage himself, it wasn't such a
big step like it may have been for other musicians I have played with. But
what is much more important: We freely decided this just like among
colleagues, that we wanted to do this together, we never forced him into
anything. And: if he hadn't had anything to add to the music, then there
simply would have been no room for him in the band, no matter if he's son
(E.S. plays 'Touchwood')
Ecki Stieg: 'Touchwood', Tangerine Dream in the lineup Edgar and Jerome
Froese from the '92 LP 'Rockoon'. 'Rockoon' is not just title of the album,
it is also a philosophy. Rock music and electronic going hand in hand, a
Edgar Froese: It is indeed the case that we never wanted the separation of
these two elemens. We also tried to make it very clear that we are not at home
in the field of pure avantgarde electronics, but instead always used eletronics
to express ourselves in rock music. That has always been an important
statement for us.
So quite frankly, to hang around people like those
technicians at IRCAM in Paris, a pure electronics lab, to deal with algebra
and algorithms, that absolutely would not be my world. I have read about
these things, have listened to this type of music, and of course I also
learned a lot from it, that is obviously true. But the ways to express
oneself, to express life, are -at least for me- completely different from
this sterile work in encapsulated rooms for example, so much about that.
But above everything our music is more like rock also because of the fun
you get from working with people that are only half your age. For me this
is like an adventure, this is IT, this is the thing above everything else,
it is much more fun than maybe 25 years ago. This is were things come alive
again. The time inbetween, working with people sometimes that were my own
age, that was like...a nursing insurance.
(E.S. plays 'Promenade')
Ecki Stieg: 'Promenade', a composition by Modest Mussorgsky. A musical link
within his classical work 'Pictures At An Exhibition'. This promenade, this
link between imaginary acoustical pictures is also used by Tangerine Dream
on their new album 'Turn Of The Tides'. Why the choice of exactly this
piece of music? Are the tracks on 'Turn Of The Tides' also musical pictures
of an imaginary gallery?
Edgar Froese: Exactly, yes, in a way. Without digging too deep now, but it
is an exhibition of pictures, images of one's life. It's like if one would
express one's experiences and impressions or even one's consciousness in
images, that is the direction here. And Mussorgsky, forgetting for a moment
that his popular music was of course beaten up by bands like ELP and who
else, we didn't want the connotation of that, we just wanted to do this
because of that particluar piece of music. This piece of music was ideal,
this symbiosis between the end of the one and the beginning of the next,
that was simply wonderful for us. Then the title, and the symbolysm that
stands behind it and the overall theme, for us that was 100%, that's why we
(E.S. plays 'Firetongues')
Ecki Stieg: 'Firetongues', Tangerine Dream from their current album 'Turn
Of The Tides'. 'Turn Of The Tides' sounds very clean, very digital.
Compared to the old Tangerine Dream productions, the two are worlds apart
from a production quality point of view.
Electronic has developed its own
tradition over the years, with different esthetics. What was regarded as
cold and machine-made some time ago, sounds very warm today. Digital music
equipment can be found in many children's rooms today. Something that had
been an experiment beck then, creation of electronic music, has now become
common in everyday life. How does Edgar Froese view this development?
Edgar Froese: Well, if you want to imagine that making music is in principle a
fantastic thing, not only to "express oneself" - this commonly used terminology
- - but also to have a good look at one's own psyche, to relax, to achieve
an environment with other people (if one plays together with others) that
can otherwise hardly be attained, then I find this to be a good thing.
Actually I think every 15-year old should have some music equipment at
home, everyone! For one, he could escape the parental frustration. So, if I
would rule, I'd say that every 15-year old would have to
make music, no matter if he is able to or not. That doesn't matter, just to
produce sounds: whether it is chaotic or organized, whether it is
classical, punk, wave, whatever, is of no importance. Just to experience
oneself as one plays around with sounds like you begin to play around with
clay. Yes, play around! Not this indoctrinated imitation of something that
already exists, like you find it in music class at school. Just like kids
muck around with computers and games, they should also play with tones,
freely associate with them. That is what I find fundamentally good.
In addition to that, it is also a good thing from a psycho-therapeutic
view. When I look at those kids today, and those defective
social structures we have, then I get nightmares. That's where I always
start to think how little would be needed
to steer this towards creativity. Because basically, they're all very
creative. They are screaming when they are on the streets, with all that
bullshit they sometimes do, they are really crying out: "help us. We want
to be helped, we want to, but what can we do? We don't know where to start,
the folks at home are no help, and these and those, nobody is." So they do
some other garbage that troubles them and their sorrounding tremendously.
Well, the other point is: The sounds of those days, whether they were
created by Kraftwerk, TD or others, simply put, these had been analog
sounds. The creation of analog sounds, basically things like oscillators
being controlled by voltage, filters controlling oscillators and vice versa
and so on, created by natural or physical laws an inherently distinct sound
By for example just the overtone structure alone, these patterns
can technically not be compared to what happens in todays creation of
electronic sounds. And if you then take what finally comes out of the
loudspeaker, then this is something that maybe - I'm thinking of just the
first sounds that came out of a DX7 for example - then this sounded cold in
comparison. Yes, it did sound cold. But why does one sound strike us as
cold, and another as warm? It is also a question of habitual experience,
what do I perceive as 'known' and what is 'unknown' to me? Things 'unknown'
of course have something cold, rejecting about them.
(E.S. plays 'A Journey Through The Psychotic Dimension')
Ecki Stieg: "A Journey Through The Psychotic Dimension". No, this was not
Tangerine Dream, but 'Project Pitchfork', a new young band of the nineties,
whose sounds have doubtlessly been inspired by Tangerine Dream, at least on
this track. And this is where we come full circle. Tangerine Dream are
currently experiencing something of a renaissance. One need only look at
the musical developments in the ambient-trance and also the electronic-
body-music scene. Does Edgar Froese view himself as the father of this
development? How much does he follow it?
Edgar Froese: It is astonishing, and I listen to it from time to time. And
I have to say: None of these young bands have found...The early TD had a
trick. Well, of course I am not going to give it away here, but no one has
yet found out about this trick. I always listen to records to find out if
somebody finally manages to discover this trick. We had this to help us out
of a need, so it wasn't an intellectual planned achievement, but borne of
this need we had a certain pattern in our sequences and in the way we
treated the sequences, that had to do with the intervals and so on, I don't
wish to say more about this now. I would really like to see that someone
finds out how this functioned. It wouldn't have to sound exactly like TD,
but it would give one the possibility, that much I can say, to cover a wide
spectrum, which sofar, like it has been done until now, cannot be covered.
There is one thing missing, one element. It is a very small thing, but
suddenly you realize that a whole new musical cosmos opens up...
Ecki Stieg: And of course Edgar Froese did not tell me about this secret
either. All hobby electronic musicians may now think and guess, but
without me, since this was it: That was the Tangerine Dream special in
'radio ffn Grenzwellen', and that was it for today.
Ecki Stieg / 'Grenzwellen' | 4/94
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