2007 marks the 40th anniversary of the seven times Grammy nominated Tangerine Dream. To commemorate the occasion the band release their first vocal led album 'Madcap's Flaming Duty' in April on Voiceprint, and follow that with a special anniversary show in London.
With something like 107 albums under his belt and with a background of sculpture, art, ground breaking electronics and audio visual experiments often in the face of sniping critics, Tangerine Dream founder member Edgar Froese is clearly not a man for who change is something to be regarded with suspicion.
The public image of Tangerine Dream is that of an experimental electronic instrumental band, a niche cemented by the commercial break though of 1974's 'Phaedra' on Virgin. And yet the band has always changed with the times enjoying a musical journey that started with Froese experimenting with tape loops, and that in turn led to the use of mellotrons, sequencers and ultimately digital technology.
In fact the journey that started in German underground clubs took Edgar firstly to the UK and subsequently all the way to Hollywood for successful film scores. But look under the surface and you will find a musical career that is as colourful as the metaphors Edgar uses to illustrate a point in an interview. Ever the maverick, Froese refuses to be pinned down, and in that respect the seemingly new radical departure of Madcap's Flaming Duty' has to be tempered by the fact that this vocal led album is in fact a quasi-return to earlier experiments with lyrics, if not vocals.
You can go as far back as 1978's 'Cyclone' and more recently the1987 'Tyger' album to catch the antecedents of the new album, drawing as it did on the text of poet William Blake, although the lyrics were quoted rather than sung. On 'Madcap's Flaming Duty' Tangerine Dream bring to life the lyrics of Walt Whitman, William Blake and Percy Shelley etc., in tandem with new vocalist Chis Hausl, and of course Froese's characteristic soundscapes.
With a career embracing Trans, Ambient, Techno and World Music I started by asking Edgar Froese about his musical longevity
Are you in any way surprised to still be composing and performing after 40 years?
Well, quite simply I would say, what else is there for me to do? (laughs). After all this time of playing, producing and composing, there is no other way to go. I did do other things in the world of arts, and studied other things, but over time it becomes clear that music was the priority for me, and even if I really loved other arts, it was music that always came first. Over time you actually become a servant of the music, so if you accept that as being the case, the time element is not so relevant, the music is an on going process. It's what I do.
Are you still driven by the same enthusiasm and aims that occupied you all those years ago?
Yes I still have that 60's spiritual feel. I think a lot of people from that era still do also. It's like having one leg on a path full of experiences and atmospheres, and I hope I can bring my experience to bear on the music. I am still totally driven as a musician. It's the difference between committing yourself to being a lifetime musician, or seeking out a comfortable life.
But at the same time no matter how you feel, you have to recognise that it is indeed 40 years on and both the public's taste change, scenes change and of course there is the commercial consideration. And given all those things you don't stay the same, but you do stay true to your inner self.
After all this time do you see yourself in the forefront of electronic music?
In a way I do, but you never consciously set out to take on that role. It's the same as being in first class on a Boeing 747 and when you get to your destination and touch down you don't necessarily think about the early pioneers that existed before you. You just do it and that is it. You never really think about your art. Of course you produce it at a given time, but in a way it's timeless.
After a while you do become aware of your heritage I suppose. I was born in Germany and to be honest Germany was never regarded as being very rock & roll, and we were never really honoured for what we did.
But the fact is there wasn't too much coming out of Germany that was startlingly new and innovative. And in that respect the best move I made in terms of music and the business, was to bring my music to the UK and team up with Virgin records. So one step led to another and it is really about following your inner self, being part of the art form and creating the music rather than a consciously thinking about being in the forefront of electronic music.
'Madcap's Flaming Duty' is a song-led album which subtly blends both Edgar Froese and Thorsten Quaeschning's keyboard parts with the voice of Chris Hausl. Why was there such a long gap between the last such project 'Tyger' and this one?
You do at some stage have to listen to the business advice in matters of recording. But I feel uncomfortable doing that, especially with taking advice from record companies. You can end up compromising what you do, because of their expectation of you as 'an instrumental band'. So I thought to myself after all these years of experimenting, and being what they thought we were, yes it's OK, to do what can I do. And the result is something new, but it's still Tangerine Dream.
Tangerine Dream 2007 (from left to right) Linda Spa ,Thorsten Quaeschning, Edgar Froese, Chris Hausl, Bernhard Beibl, Iris Camaa
Tell me about Chris Hausl and his role in the new album?
Chris was a relative unknown singer who I had heard in an underground club in Berlin. I guess I found a connection with his voice, and thought it might work with our music. It's very difficult to sing with an electronic band, and I can only think of a handful of singer that might be able to do it, maybe Jon Anderson from Yes for example, and a few others. So far he has done very well and I think the album works well.
How did you go about interpreting the songs and the lyrics of the poets?
We did some preparation both in the studio and before, and had to pay attention to things like pronunciation and explain the meaning of the lyrics to Chris. It was a case of training him to bring expression to your music by being able to sing and understand the full sense of the lyrics etc. We also worked with Bianca (F.Acquaye) whose job it was to search for the right kind of lyrics in books and the internet. We looked for example at people like Thomas Stanley and William Blake etc, so we gave her the ideas for what we thought might fit.
I think in a way this is the most English album we have made in terms of feel, atmosphere and togetherness. I love the old English lyrics and Blake was a revolutionary man and a very special writer. That's why we chose him. And Walt Whitman is simply one of the greatest American poets, who wrote about the big issues of life and death, and we like to bring him back into the public eye. Shelly's lyrics are more to do with the subconscious but can be understood.
And funnily enough I think with the words and songs we might just be able to reach more of a female voice.
In the past Tangerine Dream has been regarded as a cold band by some critics, and seems to have attracted a predominantly male audience. Maybe it was due to the fact that we are regarded as an electronic band etc, but with Chris' voice and the meaning of the lyrics, perhaps we can reach a wider audience.
So having found the lyrics and trained Chris, how did you approach the musical side of things?
I always compose on a keyboard. I go right back to the basic on the piano and search out the harmonies and tunes etc, and then transfer them into a different sound base, I go back to the original music basics and ultimately turn them into what made Tangerine Dream what we are. My role is to extract the sounds and then do the production.
I have a modified lap top so I can sit down and make my notes and store ideas which I will then take to the studio, and work with on a piano, and then on a computer. It's a bit like an architect who needs the stones to work with, but always works to a bigger picture….an idea of what it all should be.
How do you think fans will react to the new album? You've said for example that you cannot rely on the public voice, so how do you continue to make a connection with your fans?
Although you can't count on the public voice, you must stay aware of it. Obviously it's important to know what people think about your music, and to that end you listen to what people say and read about it. But it's really all about the zeitgeist of what is happening now.
So with the fan base it is important to be aware of what they think but you never listen to just what they want. If you did that you would wake up the next morning only to find they have gone 'upside down' on their views. For one thing there would be no sense of artistic development if you did that. So I have always stood up for what I think should be done.
It's a case of listening to your inner voice and always being honest with yourself, and ultimately staying with what you did. The next album might for example, be extremely experimental. You don't really want to become that actor playing the same role over and over again. I think an artist is in danger of losing his art if he repeats himself. I think there is always a need to change. So for those fans who don't really like the new album I say, thanks for being with us, have a good day (laughs).
And why the dedication to Syd Barrett in the album title?
'Madcap's Flaming Duty' isn't a musical tribute to Syd as such. It is rather an acknowledgment of Syd's influence and that of the early Floyd music in general rather than the tabloid caricature that is too often painted of Syd.
When Tangerine Dream was playing clubs in the late 60's in Germany we used to love 'Piper at The Gates of Dawn' and we played 'Instellar Overdrive' just about every night. The early Floyd stuff was so strange and so different from everything at the time.
I think the dedication to Syd is really meant as a credit to the old days, the spirit of the music, and his role in it, rather than just another way to catch the public eye.
And having come this far what can we expect from you in the future?
Actually I have about ten projects at the moment. I've obviously just finished 'Madcap's Flaming Duty' and have a documentary about India to finish as well as a new feature on National Parks in America. There is also a plan for what might turn out to be a solo record about London, called 'Views From A Red Train' which looks at London in different ways from the city to the suburbs.
So is there any real difference between Edgar Froese the solo artist and Tangerine Dream the band?
In reality there is not that much difference. I mean I don't wish to overstate my role in the band, but when it comes down to it, it's really me. I am Mr 51 percent of everything (laughs), and ultimately Tangerine Dream will be what I suppose it to be.
And what of the forthcoming show at The Astoria in London, what can we expect for the 40th anniversary?
I will say the show will certainly be very different from the past. It will be an absolute down to earth show but spectacular in another way. The stage show will be fantastic but overall it will be a much more rock oriented
And finally given your pursuit of your artistic muse, how do you ultimately connect with your audience?
Again it goes back to what I mentioned earlier about understanding your role as a servant to the music. You serve the music and ultimately the people. You create music and logically speaking you need an audience of people who share your feelings and recognise what it is you are doing. So I suppose with this new album we have come full circle. I brought my music over here years ago and I consider 'Madcap's Flaming Duty' to be a very British album, and we will be over here to launch it, so I guess the whole project is very British.
Interview © February 2007 Pete Feenstra
|Print this page in printer-friendly format
|Tell a friend about this page