Electronica pioneers reinvent some of their classic work.
Time: 11 Tracks / 78 mins
Tangerine Dream were true innovators, pioneering the use of synthesizers as a sole instrument and creating a mainstream genre in the process.
It took a while. Their initial work was what a school friend called ‘brick music’ – as if you would put a brick on a keyboard and come back five minutes later to move it along the keys a bit.
Moving to the Virgin label for 1974’s Phaedra changed that, introducing sequencers and structure, adding interest to their atmospheres. The follow-up Rubicon progressed the idea, its soundscape evoking a river, from the burbling spring-like opening section, through the faster-flowing 'canyon' section, driven by sequencers, and ending with the blissed-out washes of the sea shore.
Further albums developed the variety and energy of the band until they began live albums and soundtrack work, even adding guitar and lyrics at times. This is where the quality became more random.
Founder Edgar Froese, who died in January, has been the only member of the band to stay from the beginning, but current bandleader and keys player Thorsten Quaeschning has been with them for fifteen years. He’s joined by keys player Ulrich Schnauss and (barely perceptible) violinist Hoshiko Yamane.
As the name suggests, this collection (the first to feature no new material from Froese) reworks many of these classic tracks with today’s more sophisticated technology.
The band has taken different approaches to different tracks. So “Tangram 2019 (Excerpt)” is based around a rare quiet section from a 40 minute album and makes it even hazier. Similarly, despite being shorter, “Phaedra” has less definition, with some of the synth patterns removed or buried deep.
By contrast, “Monolight (Yellow Part) 2019” ignores the first twelve minutes of the original (and the end section that, ahem, ‘borrowed’ Pink Floyd’s “Saucerful of Secrets” chord progression) and makes the central part’s sequencers far more insistent, losing the harmony lines and the shifting subtleties of the original. This repetition is where we can see the band’s influence on electronic dance music.
Tracks like “Horizon 2019 Part 1” and “Los Santos City Map” are typical Tangerine Dream, with vibrant sequencer rhythms and ever-morphing washes behind, all at a strong tempo and with plenty of colour in the sound. Looking back, it is striking how similar some of the tones are, when they have thousands of sounds available to them. For example, there is a constant bass synth note in the brooding “The Claymore Mine/Stalking” that is just the same as one found on albums like Rubicon.
Three particular highlights are well-formed and melodic tracks at the end: the bright and summery “Yellowstone Park 2019” gives way to a true account of the ten-minute “Stratosfear,” which was always one of their best tracks, with its distinctive overlapping and ever-changing lines. Then the beautiful and spacious “Der Mond is Aufgegangen Part 1 &2” (sic) slows things down to the close with its piano timbres leading a hymn-like verse.
This colourful collection’s coherence makes it easy to listen to as a whole as it represents many of the band’s best qualities.
Regular fans might want the follow up to show the more adventurous spirit of the previous release, but this is a decent place for enquirers to begin, and these variations of classic pieces are always welcome.