Tangerine Dream 1970-71/1973-74

Funny that Tangerine Dream had it’s dreamiest lineup with the debut album, “Electronic Meditation”, an LP completely alien to the future space operas of the band. Besides the immortal Edgar Froese, who was and still is the creator and soul of Tangerine Dream, we have Klaus Schulze on percussion, and Conrad Schnitzler playing strings. It’s a innocuously experimental album that sees all three musicians at the very beginning of their great career, two of the musicians of course will leave the band very soon, but will both have just as bright futures as legendary cult act Tangerine Dream.

If there are synthesizers used, they are barely hearable: this is a hallucinated, acid-like mixture of organ, flutes, strings, some percussion, and other strange effects. There’s basically nothing really Electronic about this LP, as it focuses more on real instruments and puts them in this extremely trippy context: pure and simple Experimental music, a perfect dose for the addicted listener of “weird” music.

The songs themselves are what an extremely superficial cynic would call very similar one another, but a more careful listen would reveal the opposite: “Genesis” is a perfect intro for this album, feeling like a sort of distorted vision of a sunrise, the sunrise that will afterwards give that psychedelic kind of illumination to the rest of the album. “Journey Through A Burning Brain” has a perfect title that gives a very strong idea of it’s music: toned down, somewhat repetitive, with plenty of strange effects, some strings in the background, flutes; the three musicians reach out to pretty much everything they have in their palette and just throw it into this slowly hypnotic piece, where it feels like everything is slowly melting. “Cold Smoke” is a little more dense in sound, however it doesn’t quite give as much enthusiasm as the previous track: a little less repetitive, but admittedly it does have an interesting atmosphere that this album never brings up again. “Ashes To Ashes” is where things start getting noticeably less interesting: it doesn’t bring up new, attractive sounds, and is merely repeating some ideas. “Resurrection” is similar to the first track “Genesis”, however it’s very anticlimactic, and doesn’t give a final climax “Electronic Meditation” should have deserved.

A debut album that is not just a bunch of experimentations put together: The thing about Edgar Froese is that everything sounds carefully planned, (which is obviously absurd), and he manages to give his music a very effective meaning, so nothing he puts his hands on ever sounds like mere experimentations/ improvisations.

After “Electronic Meditation”, Froese found himself with a completely new line-up, and with completely different ideas that will turn out to be quite innovating: “Alpha Centauri” was the resulting album, one of the very first LPs of Electronic music, parallel to the landmark Klaus Schulze album “Irrlicht”. AC is one of those albums where it’s historical importance proceeds the music itself; considering as a matter of fact only the music itself of the album, you’ll find that Tangerine Dream really are still in their immature phase, even though the atmosphere they created here is priceless and very unique.

“Alpha Centauri” was the first TD album featuring synthesizers and spacey sounds. This though was really Froese experimenting new things and playing with his toys, but among the innocuous sounds still lies an atmosphere that is impressively unique of only this album. It’s rough production and sound contribute also in building “Alpha Centauri”s originality, but the massive presence of flutes, organs, and even vocals, give fault to it’s appearance of being a little embryonic; overall, though, it’s still very peculiar music-wise, especially for that time. Tangerine Dream’s main objective, even with following albums, seems to be to make the listener close his eyes and make him feel either like he’s plunged into space or into some abstract field. Here we have the first attempt in recreating space, and even though not as effective and credible as later albums ( for instance because of the vocals at the end of the title track), it succeeds in some ways, and it is a good record for relaxing and zoning out completely.

“The three songs of the LP are structured climactically length- wise: “Sunrise On The Thrid System” is a brief, organ-based intro that sets the tone, while “Flying Collisions Of The Sola” starts with one of the coolest, spaciest synth effects you’ll hear in any Tangerine Dream album, one of those sounds that truly convinces you you’re in deep space. But after the first section, the organ comes back in, and the magical mood is partially lost because of that. This last addition seems to bring the atmosphere down to earth again, evoking still moments such as a sunrise (like the first track). “Alpha Centauri” though is another story, with it’s epic 22 minutes: it brings you in places you’d never even imagine, thanks to it’s very specific and detailed atmosphere; here, there is nothing else but space surrounding you, and it is really the first time of the album that you feel like that for a long period of time. Like it was mentioned, though, the vocals that come in at about the end of the song really seem like a superfluous and absolutely unnecessary addition to the music.

“Alpha Centauri” is overall an enjoyable, but immature LP still, that has some great experimentation which will be essential for the creating of following albums by the band, and also by other Progressive Electronic bands.

Tangerine Dream, for some fans, found their golden period only after “Phaedra”, the official turning point of the band’s career. But the so called pink years have a sort of seducing, arcane, and creepy magic to them that makes them sound like albums made by supernatural forces that happened to haunt the studio at those moments. “Atem” is one of the most strongly surreal, magic, and otherworldly albums Tangerine Dream has ever released, an extremely successful attempt in transporting the listener in places he would have never imagined existed, deep in the dark corners of space and of his mind.

Edgar Froese and his fellow partners already gave a wonderful example of Ambient with the previous LP “Zeit”, a droned out piece of art that remains, in it’s suspended stillness, a landmark achievement of Electronic music. With “Atem” they seem to go towards a direction they partially went on with “Alpha Centauri”, however, in that 1971 release, they stopped at halfway. This 1973 release goes all the way down, to the point of no return. Creepy, majestic, epic, “Atem” has a wonderful crystal clear production that makes you doubt this was released in 1973, and gives to the music yet another hint of primordial and futuristism at the same time. The synths sound much more modern, the atmospheres extremely haunting and effective, even when you do hear something like tom drums in the background, it still gives the impressive feeling that human beings had nothing to do with the process of creating this album.

Breathe, is what Atem means. Life is present in this album, and if it is human, it’s almost primitive and outnumbered by all the lifeless atmosphere: only on a track like “Wahn”, with all it’s scary vocal samples shouting and whining, the human form becomes one with the supernatural. But then there is a song such as the twenty minute title track, the bulk of the entire LP, where eerie, spacey soundscapes is all that is heard. What makes this track great is not only it’s epic, descending structure, but also it’s absolute effectiveness in bringing the listener into strange, dark realms. Then we have the ethereal, dark jungle of “Fauni Gena”, for it’s entire ten minutes having forest sounds in the background, in the foreground an eerie flute melody that echoes throughout the track. “Circulation Of Events” has a very suspenseful and extremely tense atmosphere, beautifully executed, it has a majestically unique sound that gives once again an impact to the listener, and makes him wonder why it’s only about six minutes long. The mentioned “Wahn” closes the album eerily, to leave the listener stunned just after it’s closing notes.

“Atem” is one of the most creative and underrated of Tangerine Dream albums, an experience that must be lived by anyone who loves Electronic music. The following album “Phaedra” will have even more advanced sounds, but it won’t capture an atmosphere like the one in “Atem”.

With the Pink years behind their backs, Tangerine Dream with “Phaedra” have started not only a whole new period of their career, but also showed the world how to make Electronic music. “Phaedra” still is an exemplar album in terms of Progressive Electronic and Ambient, if it’s not the band’s masterpiece (perhaps considering instead “Rubycon” or even a previous album), it is in any way an album that helped shape certain forms of music that today we find all over the place.

One of the main reasons why “Phaedra” is now a classic is because of Tangerine Dream’s bold and innovating insert of sequencers, thus, the album’s technical qualities, including the wonderful production, are pretty modern sounding for 1974. It’s still though your Tangerine Dream album that is heavily dependent from the Pink years, with abundant sonic abstractions and brave new experiments that can’t be found in no other band’s music.So it’s not only about the new equipment: Egar Froese loves to bring back, as if it were a toy just re discovered from the attic, more primitive instruments he used in his earlier works, like the mellotron, the organ, and even a guitar. Noticeable VCS3s also fluctuate around in many moments. Altogether, using the most popular and best new insruments for Electronic music, Tangerine Dream with “Phaedra” create a well organized pack of pulses and noises, generated by some of the visionary musicians of the seventies.

Thematically, there is a big difference compared to albums like “Alpha Centauri”, “Zeit” or “Atem”: while these mentioned albums liked to have space as a concept stimulator, “Phaedra” focuses more on abstractions, journey into minds and into psyches, instead of distant planets and stars. Structure-wise, though, “Phaedra” will be highly familiar, especially for whoever listened to “Atem”, prior to this 1974 release. Length-wise the LP is built anti- climactically, with the longest song being the first and the songs after that getting progressively shorter. It is a formula the band liked to use back in the day, no question.

The sixteen minute title track that starts the album manages somehow to not be the complete center of the whole LP: The synths are metallic bubbles that eventually evaporate into crisp, misty atmospheres, it’s a masterful, versatile track that can be creepy as well as touching. “Mysterious Semblances On the Strands Of Nightmares” goes towards a more juvenile direction, with a sample of kids screaming echoing throughout, and with a shy organ keeping the mood. The creepiest episode comes after that, “Movements Of A Visionary”, fluctuating echoes of sudden synth sounds that really gives a twist to this album, until it eventually cools down in the crispy atmospheres that surrounded “Phaedra”. “Sequence C” is a really short track that doesn’t get enough time to deliver the same things the other ones do, even though it has great promise.

“Phaedra” is Tangerine Dream’s zenit, even though only a small tad superior to albums like “Atem” and “Zeit”, both in my opinion great classics. With the use of some familiar formulas, the band brings to the table wonderfully modern sounding sounds. Essential listening for whoever is into Electronic music and Progressive as well, due to the influence this album had given to that genre later on.

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