Tangerine Dream – Zeit

“Zeit” is an album with the sort of legacy that genuinely interests me. Unlike most ‘classic’ albums where listeners are ultimately able to come to a loose consensus on whether it’s good or not, “Zeit” remains a hot topic, forty years after its release. Even Tangerine Dream’s core fanbase often finds itself divided on the issue, with some listeners deeming it among the greatest, most groundbreaking electronic albums ever made, and others marginalizing it as bong-addled nonsense. In a sense, Tangerine Dream’s third record is the “Tales from Topographic Oceans” of progressive electronic music; a quintessential ‘love it or hate it’ affair, with convincing arguments on both sides. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual listener to make up their own mind on the matter. It’s an album that could be incredible or trite, simply based on the time and place a listener is when they listen to it. For all of its surface listlessness however, “Zeit” is as rich an ambient experience as they come. It is as challenging today as it was forty years ago, and though it’s possible only Tangerine Dream’s more devoted fans will have the patience for its listlessness and quiet hum, there’s a massive atmosphere here that could never have happened any other way.

Taken at face value, it’s a sprawling, drawn out sound experiment, turning its nose on melody, harmony and rhythm in order to focus solely on the texture of sound. It’s as if the neoclassical composer Gyorgy Ligeti composed an electronic album. Although Tangerine Dream’s ‘golden’, pre-soundtrack era was defined by longwinded compositions and spacey atmosphere, “Zeit” seemingly takes the ‘composition’ out of the equation, leaving Froese and co. to focus solely on the way the music sounds. “Zeit” is the German word for ‘Time’, and it’s curious that Tangerine Dream would give that title to a piece that seems to eschew the concept entirely.

Like Yes’ “Tales from Topographic Oceans”, “Zeit” follows a four-track, double album format, with each movement eating up a side of the album. The album opens up with the haunting drone of a chamber string section, creating a sense of dread that could score a suspenseful film scene better than any of the band’s half-hearted soundtracks ever could. The cellos never betray a sense of melody, they play off each other in a brilliantly disjointed, chaotic manner. Because there is never a particular melodic or rhythmic idea that presents itself, the cello entrance never wears thin, only deepening the sense of emotional devastation and eerie dread as the minutes drag on. By the time eight minutes have passed, “Birth of Liquid Plejades” has transformed into a more electronic piece, maintaining the same doctrine of forlorn ambiance, except through the use of droning synthesizers. Even after many listens, it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular idea that stands out here, but the hollistic impression is akin to that of a funeral dirge. It’s absolutely incredible, and for the way its able to capture such powerful emotion so abstractly, I consider it one of the greatest pieces of music ever made.

“Nebulous Dawn” is similarly abstract, but changes the palette of sound considerably. Here, Tangerine Dream evoke a much spacier impression, with sounds ranging from a looming hum, to ominous bubbling and the sounds I can only imagine would be heard most comfortably in the anal probing room of a UFO. Unlike “Birth of Liquid Plejades” however, there is less sense of progression, save for the gradual increase of the background hum. Once again, there are no melodies or apparent rhythmic structures- only a thick slab of sonic experimentation. Throughout the track, there is the perpetual image of a nano age super highway in a far future metropolis. Think the crowded, dark realm of Blade Runner, and that may be a good indication where “Nebulous Dawn” leads the listener.

“Origin of Supernatural Probabilities” opens the second half of the double album, picking up where “Nebulous Dawn” left off. It makes use of the same brand of eerie, far-future sounds, although the daunting, crowded atmosphere is replaced instead by a greater sense of tense tranquility. Although it’s incredibly loose and seemingly listless, there are plenty of minor sonic details here, offered only to listeners with the patience and curiosity to peer their ears deeper into the mix. While Tangerine Dream have often made use of strange, indecipherable sounds, “Origin of Supernatural Probabilities” features them as the main course and appetizer, and the effect is chilling. By the time the fourth, final, and title track “Zeit” rolls around, the haunting sense of dread as abated a small bit, lending itself to a less eerie, and even somewhat calming fourth quarter. “Zeit” is also the most inactive and quiet of the four pieces, and while this works as a fitting denouement for a truly attentive listening experience, the eerie blur of sounds has generally grown familiar by this point, making the album’s final piece less sonically interesting than it would have been outside of context.

In short, it’s not an album for a sunny afternoon. In fact, even open-minded, experienced listeners may find themselves put off by “Zeit” if they don’t invest themselves in it. Considering the music removes itself from the rhythms and melodies that most Western music is so drawn to, this can be difficult at first. Ultimately however, “Zeit”s attention to sonic detail earns it a quiet glory as one of the greatest, if not the greatest ambient album ever made. It’s not perfect- as the somewhat waning second half will attest- but there is beauty hidden here beneath the waves of tortured synthesizer noise that will find itself rivaled by few other albums.


1. Birth Of Liquid Plejades (20:00)
2. Nebulous Dawn (18:00)
3. Origin Of Supernatural Probabilities (20:12)
4. Zeit (17:43)


* Edgar Froese – Gliss guitar, several noise generators
* Christoph Franke – VCS 3 synth, cymbals, keyboards
* Peter Baumann – VCS 3 synth, organ, vibraphon
* Steve Schroeder – organ
* Florian Fricke – Moog synth
* Christian Vallbracht, Jochen Von Grumbcow, Hans Joachim Brune & Johannes Lucke – cello

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