CD Comments – Tangerine Dream, the Virgin Years

(Image from Amazon, used for review purposes only.)

Next up on the music radar, Tangerine Dream. I admit that I hadn’t been familiar with Tangerine until just recently. I grew up more on Kraftwerk, which was played more often on the radio in the 70’s. I had seen the name Conrad Schnitzler mentioned fairly often in Matt Howarth’s Those Annoying Post Bros, but, in the years prior to the growth of the internet, it was really hard to get my hands on anything by him. Now of course, it’s just a question of having a net connection and a credit card. How times change.

Anyway, one of the CDs I received as a present is Virgin Years: 1974-1978. This is a collection of 5 CDs the band recorded for Virgin Records during their 4 years with the label: Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, Stratosfear and Cyclone. The primary group members during this period were founder Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and Peter Baumann. If you’re interested in synth and electronic music, you probably already know more about TD than I do. If you’re just getting started, then this collection is one you should be buying.

According to the wiki entry, Froese had attempted to form a band under the name Tangerine Dream starting in 1967, with various line-up changes through the early 70’s. Things settled down with the addition of Franke in 1970. Froese started as a psychedelic rock musician, but after meeting Salvador Dali, decided to go off in a more experimental direction. Having been born and raised in Germany, Froese contributed to what was later labeled Krautrock, “a tendency towards improvisation around minimalistic arrangements”. With Phaedra, you get big, sweeping orchestral notes that glide much like lazy ocean waves, occasional gongs, and then reverby voices of children playing in a park outside at the end of the track. Virgin had brought in a big Moog synth, used for the bass notes, the fun part being that because it was an early analog box, with no way of saving patches, it had to be retuned every day, and that took several hours. Additionally, the oscillators were temperature sensitive and they would detune as the equipment warmed up.

A key element of Froese’s recording approach was recalled when he later talked about making Phaedra:

“‘Mysterious Semblance’ was recorded on Dec 4th. Pete and Chris were asleep after a long day’s recording session so I invited my wife, Monique, into the studio. I called in the studio engineer and recorded it in one take on a double-keyboarded Mellotron while Monique turned the knobs on a phasing device. This piece is on the record exactly as it was recorded that day. And this practice was to continue for the rest of the session.”

All five albums have a dreamy, “new age” feel to them, with keyboard glides, frequency filter shifting, popping little notes and changes to the amplitude envelopes. If you like Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” album, then you’re going to love TD’s Virgin Years.  As I mentioned in the first CD blog post, I’m looking at these songs to deconstruct them as a learning experiment. And from this viewpoint, Virgin Years is a wealth of information.

There is a bit of repetition on the CDs, in that there are multiple versions of Rubycon, Ricochet and Stratosfear. Unless you play them back to back, you’ll probably not be able to tell any major differences between them. On the other hand, if you get the CDs (mine was a 3-CD set) used, it’s not like it’s overpriced and padded out.

Lastly, if you do like Tangerine Dream, now’s the time to show it, as the band is starting to die off. Schnitzler passed away in 2011 from stomach cancer, and Froese just last January.

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