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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: 'Tangerine Dream'.

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 Dream:

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 wheel.

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 classical music.
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 anglo/american.

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 with fruit.

(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 enjoyed it.

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 their ego-trip.
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 that story.

(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 ok.

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 or not.

(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 symbiosis.

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 took it.

(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 pattern.
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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