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|> Interview[s]: Tangerine Dream

Light on a dark group - Talking to Tangerine Dream
     - by Karl Dallas
| 1974 / 75

extracts from conversations with TD [Froese / Franke / Baumann] in London and Berlin between April 1974 and July 1975

The Beginnings

Peter Baumann: In the shops where they played their records they had to renew the ceiling because it dropped down. This is when we heard the first time of Tangerine Dream. It wasn't just the volume ...

Edgar Froese: It was a free rock form with normal instruments -- drums, bass, guitar, flute and violin. In some of our earliest experiments we had arranged songs by the Doors and people like this and so when the group started in 1968 there were a lot of aggressive points inside it. It was not the kind of musical discussion like we have it now. It was another feel.
I started on guitar with the group, but I stopped because I found I was getting so much of my inspiration from the old ways, aggressive things, power things. Until then, we had known only one thing and that was the loudness. Then it was too loud, nobody could listen to the drums, the drummer couldn't listen to the guitar, things like that.
After a couple of years, it's over. You can't find out the very different things. The little things, the little sounds are whispering you know. Christoph sold his drums and we all sold our normal instruments. We were quitting the business, it was all dead. We had been a rock group and we had a good background for that but we couldn't listen to it.

Christoph Franke: We went through a long period of experiment. We used other instruments, special guitars and so on, to try for other feelings.
I tried to change the style of my drumming from beat drumming to other colours and structures. But it was very hard, because instruments have clearly defined borders, which you cannot cross. I tried other drums, not only European drums, and then I tried to make myself electric drums with special mikes.
Then I got rid of my drums and got a synthesizer which was a better way, because there are far more possibilities. On a synthesizer are very many instruments and each of us can choose the instruments he likes.

Peter: I was playing organ in another group, and I was always looking for something that I had never done before. I just wanted to play and keeping playing and I did that for two years without finding it. Then suddenly I heard a glass smash in a kitchen and I sensed the electricity in the moment when the glass fell down. When the glass fell in 2001, it was a bit like this.
I realised there were different ways of expressing yourself, and all that day I really started trying all sorts of different sounds, twanging the blade of a knife on the edge of the table, to find something to express what I wanted. Then, later, we found that the best way to find those sounds was electronically.

Edgar: The biggest shock I ever got as a guitarist was to listen to Jimi Hendrix, I saw what could be done with the guitar. On the other hand, I wasn't a very good guitarist. I was not a bad one but I was not really a good one. I put it through a fuzz box, put other things between the instrument and the amplifier, then I put it into a synthesizer to change the sound.
But we were still trying to transform the music and so I changed back to keyboards, which I'd played for about four years, ten or 12 years before.
I wasn't actually very, very interested four or five years ago in pure technical things. So I had to teach myself very hard, because I hadn't very much sympathy for that field. But after a couple of years, it's very open for me now. I think everyone could learn it.

Peter: We started at a point where nobody was interested in the music we were doing. There was such a small number of people interested that there wasn't a name for it. It wasn't pop and it wasn't avant garde, we just did it. It grew and the people who liked to listen to it grew too and so it has just grown by itself, with no one giving it a name.

Electronic music

Edgar: Our first idea after we got all the electronics was to find out the sounds that have normally not been heard before. We listened to a lot of electronic stuff on record and it's very well known to a lot of people.
If they went to an electronic concert they would know maybe 80 or 90 per cent of the sounds. But the problem for us is that we've tried to go further, to find out sounds that are very unknown. We are now at the point where there a lot of possibilities to mix all the things we have, but to find out really new sounds, we can't do that at the moment.

Christoph: Specially in America, there is a special image for synthesizer groups. There are a lot of such groups but they make very different music from us.
We like to make our image with our music, not with our instruments. If we use, next time, other instruments, maybe computers or wood instruments, then we are not a wood instrument group or computer group. We like to make our names only for music.

Peter: Why does somebody learn to play bass? Why doesn't he choose a guitar? Why does somebody learn to play organ and not Celtic harp? I mean, it's personal feeling towards instruments and there are some people who take a saw on the stage and saw a table apart and that's part of their musical expression. And there are others who take a glass and throw that against the wall.
We've found that we use those instruments as personal expression. They suit us best.

Edgar: ... we try to find the togetherness of all possibilities of sounds. There's a normal way of producing music, you can listen to the special sound: it's a guitar, or it's drums. You have so much association to all things you've heard before, that what's behind, it's impossible to listen to. So we've tried to change all that. We play the guitar, not like a guitar. We play an organ not like an organ. We change the instruments to change the experience of listening.

Peter: We have tried to find the sounds we want by conventional means. But we found in the end that the most direct method to get the sounds we wanted was electronically. And so if the audience finds it simpler to think about the electronics then we won't mind. But the real point is to find exactly the right sound for the mood we are trying to create.

Edgar: Electronic music isn't our theme. it's a little help of ours. We can find every tone, much more for instance than a flute or guitar. You know, you hear it's a guitar. You hear the guitar lines. We shook it free of that.

Peter: I think you shouldn't talk too much about electronic music because it sounds like lots of patterns, just sitting there, and some kind of mathematic We just use electronics to do what we want to.
There is a relationship between every kind of music because music exists from certain factors -- tempo, dynamic, height of the tones. This is basically what music is and there is a relationship between every kind of music.
But if you ask if there is a special emotion or a special touch to our music, I don't think we consider our music as any new kind of rock music. We don't consider it at all. I think maybe there's no need.

Edgar: We like to be thought of as a group working out good ideas, new ways of music and possibilities for the future, but we are definitely not a "synthesizer group". We like to integrate all sorts of music, but I think a lot of readers of the papers may begin to think of us as just human potentiometers. We are still musicians. The musical conversation

Edgar: On one hand we are always talking about the togetherness, how we must play together, we must do our things together, we must feel together the same things at the same time and on the other hand we are very different persons, we have really different thoughts about music. And maybe it's that point why we have come together on stage with our music, that each member of the group can give from their different backgrounds.
Maybe one member of the group sitting down won't get any ideas about the things he wants to do now. Then he gets a message from left or right. And then the talk between us stops because one will give a question to another and someone gives an answer. It is just like conversation.
But what you can't do when you are talking is for one man to say the same thing as another, only louder. He has to wait for a space and then when he has spoken he has to fade out his voice so that the others can give their comments. It's the same in music.

Peter: It's silly to say that we play at every concert something that we haven't played before. We can't do every day two hours of completely new music. Of course, we could play for ten hours just demonstrating what we've got on our instruments. This is no problem and you won't hear us repeat anything for ten hours. But this is not the togetherness of the music which happens if it is a good concert.

Edgar: Some of the spirit on the first one or two albums, perhaps, may have been mine. And even today in the recording studio, perhaps, where you can stop the tape or emphasise one thing at the expense of another and make overdubbing, but on stage it is impossible for us to have a leader.
If I were the leader I would have to give signs about what's happening now or to play louder now or what should be done on the instruments but it's not possible. Each member of the group has to respect the others. Another way is not possible.

Peter: We are different persons, of course, and we have different backgrounds, so we play differently on the same instruments. He uses the same synthesizer as I do, but he will never play the same as I do, nor will I play the same as he does.
Everyone looks at the instrument in a different way. So you can't possibly say that Christoph is playing Moog, that's why he's making the most synthetic sound and Edgar is playing Mellotron, so he's doing the most classical sound. It's very hard to define by the instruments.

Edgar: Our way of playing music is the togetherness of all the people in it, and it's not only the way of playing, of working with an instrument, but the feeling behind the instrument.

Peter: It's all improvisation, but since we know each other there's some kind of harmony between us that you cannot explain. We have some basic feelings and emotions that will appear all the time, but there are special ways, special scenes, it depends very much upon the scenery where we're playing, they influence the music so that every concert is different.
The tendency of the music of course is the same, but we never have two concerts the same.

Edgar: I think we know exactly what the other one feels and the way of playing is when one of us starts with a special thing, the other two help him to work it out.
And so, when he has done that, another one of us starts to work his thing out, and the other two help him. It's not a thing of solo parts, and to fight it out how I want to be the biggest now. It's not our way.
Of course, in Berlin we are not always together. We meet, one or two times a week, for rehearsal or for talking about it, and so we don't see each other in the meantime. Each person has his own way, his own thing, his own private atmosphere. So when you start to play again each person can bring in new feelings, new experiences.
If we sat around each night and talking and talking and talking, it will always be the same.

Christoph: Liquid, that's a very important word for our music, each part flowing from one point to another, very smooth, very liquid. You don't have very big cuts or breaks. It's like water.
Sometimes there's a waterfall, maybe, but no stop.

Edgar: On the Mellotron I have about ten sets of tapes, each with three different possibilities. There is one tape with a lot of different noises, you know from steps on the floor or bells ringing or drums, traffic noises, all sorts of strange sounds. What we want to do now is to record our own tapes.
You can also use the Mellotron with something like a wah-wah pedal or a fuzz box. I did it one time, but I wasn't very satisfied with it The only thing I did is to change the sound with a phase shifter or put the Mellotron into the synthesizer.
By that I could filter the sound or have a special attack on a single key or I could change the wave form a bit, things like that.

Peter: Hearing music at any time will never be the same as any other time because the situation is very important and the time you hear the music is very important. Every time you're going to hear different aspects and you wander around in the music. The music is there somewhere in the room and you walk and look at the music and feel the music and see different aspects.

Edgar: The time, it's moving, and so for the music, for the feeling, it's the same. In one moment like this, we are just sitting around, but this situation will never be again. It's only in this time, only in this connection. It's the same with a concert, it's a situation of maybe eight o'clock in the evening and only then. It will never be again. Communication from the darkened stage

Edgar: We like to go on stage in a dark situation, without any lights and things like that. Going on stage and sitting behind the instruments and starting to play and then going off again, and not saying anything, you know, that's the image that we have. But now I think it's not enough and I don't know how we could work it out, but I think we must do some other things to get a better communication.

Peter: When we first went on stage in darkness it was such a new situation for the audience that they really got into what we mean. But now, maybe it's become, "Oh yeah, Tangerine Dream, they play in the dark." They know when they go there what to expect. It's much too predictable.

Edgar: The audience at the Royal Albert Hall was really marvelous. It doesn't matter if the audience is a bit noisy because we start mostly with synthetic sounds from the synthesizer so we can always integrate what they are doing. After a couple of minutes they come down, they will be very quiet.
At the start of our second piece we used a tape loop from the Rainbow concert of people handclapping and whistling. We tried to show the people that they are a part of the music and there is a feedback from them to us.

Christoph: Sometimes I get very angry if we finish a piece and one second later a big noise is in the audience. Maybe we could find out a system to keep the audience to one minute's silence. Maybe with a very low tone, and the people understand "Wait a minute", to keep that impression of that piece.

Peter: Maybe we won't play together on the stage any more. Maybe one on the stage and one in this corner and one in that corner. I'm just suggesting, maybe something where we can get to the point of what Tangerine Dream is about, again to the people. When we started to do music it was a smaller audience. When we started having bigger audiences, we realised that the bigger the audience, the more the distance was to the audience. Now we try to get back to the audience, very, very close together.

Christoph: Maybe we find out some new systems for rehearsal, especially our personal interaction. Then maybe that will mean we have to play with the lights on to see everything we do, so that our music is maybe just a thing for the ears.

Edgar: I want to work more on the way to change sounds. You know, it can be boring for me to play one and a half hours of only Mellotron and organ, so I have to learn a lot of things about how to change sounds, especially on the Mellotron, to work out new technical possibilities with the Mellotron. It's one of my main instruments ...

Christoph: I'm working with traditional instruments like the harpsichord for my solo album. Then a new thing, an instrument called a speech synthesizer which can produce vocals and consonants in a way that you can synthesize your own speech. I'm not interested to make sentences in a semantic way. I want to use speech only as an instrument. On my next album I have a rhythm programmer because
I use pulses from one sequencer to another at the same time, so that I have several different rhythms in it. I can programme it up to maybe fifty bars but I can make it return when I want, maybe after one bar, after three, or after fifty bars. I can make a notation for it and then I play it from the notation, with pins and notes and switches, how many notes. For example, I have a scale, C, D, E, and so on, and I take C, D and another C and in the next bar I switch off the second C and take A on it, and in this way I can get together any melodic line I want.

Edgar: The main change for the future will be that we have to work much, much harder. With the group it means working harder on a new project and working much harder for ourselves. I don't know if it happens all the time in other groups, but I think that success could make you very lazy.
When you've used two hands for half a year, then after a couple of success situations you are only using one hand and maybe one year later you would be using only two fingers. You know what I mean? And so we found out that we must work harder than we did in the past.

Peter: We weren't lazy two years ago. It was just a part of the music. We are not the group to go into a rehearsal and start to do some sounds and tunes. What we did and intended to do was to go on stage and play what we felt.
You know, if you have done that for 3/2, no four years, up to now, then it starts to get a little dishonest because you know each other very much and you get in that way, lazy, because you repeat what you know. It sounds quite good, and the people like it because they have heard it not so often. But you lose the feeling of the tension that you played the first time.

Edgar: We have been working on the new things for the tour that we have to make of America, not that it's an important gig or an important tour, each concert for us is important, whether it's the deepest countryside of England or Germany or France or Carnegie Hall in New York, it's all the same for us, there's no difference.
For us it's a great feeling we need before each concert that we join the stage and really don't know which way we have to go. We only know the three persons, one by one, and that's all we know.
It's really good to have an open field, without any barriers. It's inspiration, just inspiration.

Based on extracts from conversations in London and Berlin between April 1974 and July 1975. Copyright, 1975, Karl Dallas.

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