CD Comments – The Private Music of Tangerine Dream

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

Electronic, and synth, instruments are interesting in one aspect, in that they don’t have a really long history, as we see with pianos and flutes. In fact, synthesizers have only been around for one life-time, assuming you were born close to the same year as Gershon Kingsley (1922). (Ignoring electric pianos and single-frequency oscillators, which came at the end of the 1800’s; Leon Theremin created his device, which acts like a detuned radio, in 1920). We don’t really see something that resembles what we consider a “modern synthesizer”, having multiple oscillators and a filter circuit, until the 1930’s, with the introduction of the Warbo Formant Organ. Even then, electronic music didn’t enter the public consciousness until the 50’s, with the multi-track recordings of “the Chipmunks”, and the appearance in the 60’s of musicians demonstrating synth machines on variety and game shows on TV (Ray Kurzweil, at age 17, on “I’ve Got a Secret“, 1965, of Kurzweiler organ fame; and Perrey and Kingsley, also “I’ve Got a Secret”, in 1966).

What this all boils down to is that we can see the evolution of electronic music over just a few short decades. This takes the form of “what does this thing do?” and “how can we turn this into a song”, which shows up on The In Sound From Way Out (Vanguard, 1966). Then, “what songs can we make that use this sound”, which we can see extensively in Tangerine Dream’s very early works, including The Virgin Years. Finally, “let’s write music and use those sounds that contribute to the over all effect we’re after”.

We can see this final stage in Private Music (1992) a compilation CD published by Peter Baumann’s Private Music label (Baumann being a former member of Tangerine Dream). Many (if not all) of the tracks come off of albums released by Private Music from 1988 to 1990, including Optical Race (1988), Lily on the Beach (1989), Miracle Mile (1989) and Melrose (1990). The synthesizer elements don’t stand out anywhere near as much as in Rubicon and Ricochet. Tangerine Dream had moved past the New Age-y feel of the music into more of a 1980’s “Miami Vice”-like (I don’t know of any other way to describe it) cool jazz realm. It’s nearly impossible to separate out the fully electronic instruments from normal acoustic pianos, flutes and brass. Two voices that do still stand out as electronic are the rolling drums/electric bass that’s featured heavily on After the Call, and the “breathy chorus” in After the Call and Beaver Town. Over all, the album is very similar in feel to the stuff produced by Animusic (composed by Wayne Lytle).

From a learner’s view point, it’s becoming much more difficult to separate the individual voices from the song and say “this one was created on a synth with such-and-such an envelope”, or “there’s that frequency filter sweep again”. A lot of the rhythm tracks (drums and bass guitar) are too precise and mechanical sounding to have been made by a live musician, so it’s easy to point to those and say, “that’s a sequencer or rhythm machine”, but they could just as easily have been laid down by a really good drummer using electronic drums. The bottom line is that as a student of synth music, at some point you kind of got to say “it’s not about the patches, it’s about the song”. And that’s what you get in Private Music.

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  1. It has been a long time since I heard of Tangerine Dream. Other people might remember them best for the main score of Risky Business.

    I don’t know if this link will work, especially outside the USA, or even if I should put up a link.
    Risky Business music, Tangerine Dream only

    • TD also has a “Love on a Real Train” posted by my Nirvana with scenes from a Tokyo Waterfront train. It’s the same song that played when Tom Cruise and Rebecca deMornay were, *ahem* riding the train, but mixed as a freestanding song instead of incidental music for Cruise and deMornay.

  2. Hi, JusSayin! Thanks for the comments. And yes, the youtube link for the Risky Business soundtrack video does work. It’s a much more melodic song than the other works I’ve been listening to on these CDs. I kind of want to say it’s more “mainstream”.


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