Upon this Key, Time Will Slide

I don’t recall how it was I first got into Tangerine Dream in the early 1980s. With Neil and Paul I shared an interest of making music although I was always on the production side. I don’t recall whether we got into Tangerine Dream because Neil had a keyboard or whether Neil got a keyboard because we were into Tangerine Dream. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Genesis were hanging around, perhaps drifting from older brothers’ bedrooms and there were two drama teachers who were to be our gurus to alt.culture. Jean-Michelle Jarre had released three albums – Oxygene was too abstract for me, Magnetic Fields felt too commercial and Equinox was just about right.

We were considered to be old enough to be allowed to go into town with friends or even on our own without adult supervision, and not only were there two or even three HMVs, but Selectadisc had two branches, probably three shops, and WH Smiths still sold vinyl. Brothers in Arms was yet to convince us that plastic boxes were the way forward. There may have been an Our Price and an (ho hum) Andy’s Records, and a market stall and – a miraculous discovery – Good Vibrations, a secondhand music shop raising money for Greenham Common protestors with a psychic cat who sat on the precise stack of LPs you wanted to look through next.

Of course, we must have heard some – it was regularly used in documentaries and we watched Horizon most weeks – or got into it somehow because one day I went into town and went from shop to shop checking prices. The cheapest two available were Phaedra and Rubycon and I suspect that I just thought that the ghostly blues of the sleeve were more pleasing than the drop of water on Rubycon.

It would be ten years or more before I was to read Walter Benjamin but already I got aura. A gatefold is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. The twelve inch of cardboard already gives a fantastic canvas, but a gatefold gives you a landscape. In time it gives you Roger Dean (and you end up with Avatar) and a whole new world. (Triple albums on the other hand I was in two minds about. Maybe they were a little … decadent? Pretentious?) The album held a magic that CDs never did – they were regressive in design terms, mere functional – and I cannot embrace to download, as a child of objects rather than services. I scoured the sleep for information – dates, personnel, who played what and noted a child’s face (a boy? a girl?) hidden in plain sight in the artwork.

And having got the bus home and the not then so Aged Ps being out at work, I could listen to Phaedra on the stereo in the living room. There is that moment of anticipation when you buy a record you know nothing about – if I could remember church services I might compare to the vicar raising the host or something – the moment of not knowing what sound is going to emerge or whether the stylus will not just scrape across that disk.

I can’t write about music and I can’t dance about architecture, but then you knew that. A seventeen minute thirty nine seconds instrumental using moogs, mellotrons, organs and sequencers – the flob flob flob running water/fan of the VCS3 – and somewhere in the mix guitars and bass and flute. It felt – at an age too young for drugs – like I’d been taken on a trip. Certainly I was already hooked.

Meanwhile Neil had gone out and bought Rubycon. He played it to me and I liked it but obviously it wasn’t quite as good as Phaedra, although it had that secret head hidden on it. We had a kind of unspoken agreement – home taping was killing music and so we would each buy a Tangerine Dream album and allow the other to record it. We went into town and – trust a thirty year memory – we bought Stratosfear and Tangram. (Might it have been Exit with its sell-out five minute tracks or Ricochet?) I can’t remember if Neil’s version of Tangram had an inner sleeve design or an insert, but some versions had them. We researched tangrams. We looked up the strange words from the track titles in dictionaries and thesauri. We went out and bought Force Majeure and Hyperborea and I liked both them rather more than Neil did who wasn’t sure if that had been a fiver well spent.

At some point Paul joined in – I think we let him buy Cyclone (oh poor pretentious children) and I think he bought White Eagle and I had this sense that was risking the pact because we weren’t keeping up in buying them all together (really? What was I thinking?). Over the next two years we collected all the Virgin studio albums and two live albums. The local library had – why I have no idea but someone must have ordered it – the OST for Sorcerer and one of us must have bought Thief and Le Parc. The double live album Poland came out and was maybe a little meh. The Virgin years were behind us. TD wise.

And we saw them live at Nottingham Concert Hall, sat in the front row and then we had everything they’d released (or we assumed) and the new stuff was too electronica my tastes. I saw them live again and again too much BPM. By then we were at uni and I listened to taped copies and the albums gathered dust – I bought some of Paul’s cast offs and filled in my gaps. Vinyl was over though.

How did we know what the gaps were? I suspect we scoured microfiche in the library and maybe there was a reference book. I’d borrowed Atem, Alpha Centauri and Zeit (“Shite”) from the library, but a boxset scored me copies along with Electronic meditation. Klaus Schulze had gone solo and I think I was the only one to really like him – although the fake strings of X (“Heinrich von Kleist”?) nearly swayed Neil’s classical loving Dad. Peter Baumann released two albums – poppy technoish – and so did Steve Joliffe – one about extra bodily experiences the other butterflies. Edgar Froese released solo work – but that was pretty well Tangerine Dream anyway, although I was less of a fan. I tried atonal music and Bach and dipped into Eloi, but never quite went the krautrock route. I collected Bo Hansson’s four albums and some of Gong and… the pretentious progrock of Yes.

Vinyl was dead. My brother bought me CD compilations and when I saw the other CDs in Fopp for a fiver I picked them up. I put some on my hard drive. My brother burnt me later albums onto CDs, I found bits on Spotify and YouTube but it lost the aura.

And now Edgar Froese is dead. Chris Franke aside, he was for me Tangerine Dream.

I’d only just played one of their CDs but don’t blame me.

It’s a whole chunk of my teen years – my eighties as uncanny echo of the then hated (by others) seventies, the decade that taste forgot. Did I write about them in Solar Flares? (I dance on the inside.) It was technology and culture and internationalism; it was Saturday mornings; it was friendships and altruism and rivalries; it was teenage bedrooms and joss sticks and a row of trainers by the front door; it was playing with keyboards and home made multitrack; it was a pile of TDK D90s. It was a way into baroque and to minimalism, although for me it wasn’t the diddly diddly diddly music our parents scorned but the minimalism that would change, the abstract that shifted into tune – the unexpected melody of a piano, the screech of electric guitar disguised. It was analogue fucking with digital. It was the thrill of the hunt, it was that pile of record sleeves. It felt real and it would last forever.

It didn’t. It probably wasn’t.

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2 Comments

  1. I may be able to answer the question of who introduced us to TD, my recollection is that it was Neil’s mate Michael Leahy. As Andrew pointed out, the two of you were underway with the album buying before I got involved.

    I enjoyed your blog Andy. Of course it’s your personal recollections and views but I can add to a few of the things you said.

    >With Neil and Paul I shared an interest of making music although I was always on the production side. I don’t recall whether we got into Tangerine Dream because Neil had a keyboard or whether Neil got a keyboard because we were into Tangerine Dream.

    Definitely the latter. I think Carol and I already had one at home and I’d been listening to J-M Jarre since my Dad brought home Equinoxe in about 1979 (Oxygène was the first album I ever bought and is easily my favourite of his) so had already been hooked on electronic music and tinkling about for some years by this time. The three of us made a few recordings on those keyboards, plus sounds effects from Andy. The one that sticks in my mind the most was our take on Wahn, which we recorded live in the downstairs toilet at my house using a single microphone. It was barely big enough in there for one person, let alone the three of us. I recall me making despairing wailing sounds, one of you splashing about in the basin, Andy making ‘snup snup snuuup’ noises and Neil shouting / growling ‘Stom’ while someone bashed away at something in there. What a racket. Anyway I kept the tape for years, although (thankfully) I’ve no idea where it is now.

    Another time, we were at Neil’s. Michael Leahy was there too. My part was to repeat “Help me, I’m stuck” (sounding more like Sylvester the Loony Tunes cat with my dental brace in) over and over while you played goodness-knows-what in the background. This was probably more inspired (though not sure that’s the right word) by Art of Noise.

    Then there was the piece we did for your school drama production under the name Bo Tree. This was, I believe, in about five movements (again, I use the word loosely) and we were pretty pleased with it.

    I also recall one school summer holiday borrowing the Music dept’s Juno 6 synthesiser and tinkering with it on and off for six weeks in my bedroom. A proper, actual synthesiser (!) although I think this was after our recording ventures were at an end.

    >not only were there two or even three HMVs, but Selectadisc had two branches, probably three shops, and WH Smiths still sold vinyl… / … There may have been an Our Price and an (ho hum) Andy’s Records, and a market stall and – a miraculous discovery – Good Vibrations, a secondhand music shop raising money for Greenham Common protestors with a psychic cat who sat on the precise stack of LPs you wanted to look through next.

    And the rest. There was Arcade Records and Revolver down by the Broad Marsh centre. Good Vibrations is still there – run by the self same lady who must have been sitting behind that counter for a good 35 years. I drive past it every day. Don’t remember an Our Price or Andy’s. I must have felt vaguely threatened by Selectadisc (well I was only 13) as I bought my first few albums in Revolver even though it was more expensive in there.

    >I scoured the sleeve for information – dates, personnel, who played what and noted a child’s face (a boy? a girl?) hidden in plain sight in the artwork.
    You probably know that child was Froese Jr.

    Back to TD. I’m struggling to recall which album I heard first, but I suspect it was Tangram on a tape borrowed from Neil. Which means Stratosfear, on the other side, would have been next. I do remember lying on my bed listening to it, and my ears pricking up at the percussive footsteps bit in the middle of side one. You’re right that my first purchase was Cyclone (lucky me) followed by White Eagle. Think it might have been Thief next. Eventually I had bought Poland (which was a new release, I bought the single Warsaw In The Sun from it too), Sorcerer (again, lucky me), Le Parc, Exit, Flashpoint OST, Underwater Sunlight all on vinyl in addition to copies of most of the ones you two had. Eventually things turned a little sour (aka the Plot) between us as I must have had more ready pocket money available and so was able to buy records more regularly – pissing you two off in the process. Eventually my interest in the new TD stuff dwindled, there was a run of poor albums and after Melrose (1990) I gave up.
    I realise now that I was slow to appreciate the earlier albums. Interesting though that by the time I was beginning to move on, Phaedra and Rubycon were favourites that they had never been at the outset. I must have been listening to them as a first year student too, because I one day left Rubycon on the turntable in front of a sunny window and returned to find it warped like a poppadum.

    These days, Rubycon is probably the one I listen to the most out of all of them. Hyperborea is up there with it. Zeit, which is probably the least accessible of all their albums, I didn’t connect with at all until my 30s. I had been listening to it the day I read that Froese had gone.

    >I can’t remember if Neil’s version of Tangram had an inner sleeve design or an insert, but some versions had them.
    Ridiculously, I can. And it did have a proper inner sleeve. And a tangram pattern on the label of the vinyl itself in red & white.

    >we saw them live at Nottingham Concert Hall
    We certainly did, on March 22nd 1986. My Dad rang up to get our tickets, and secured us the middle of the front row – possibly the first tickets to be sold! I remember they were £6. At the time it was undoubtedly the most-anticipated and exciting event I’d been to. The music itself I remember little about, which is perhaps telling, but they did do a reworking of Stratosfear. There was an upbeat bubbling sequencer bit as well with huge flames projected on the screens behind. Maybe I was too excited to retain more. At the end, being right at the edge of the stage we stood and I shook hands with Edgar Froese. As we left, I threw onto the stage a note asking for a signed photo of the band. A few days later, an envelope arrived with three signed photos. I’d even asked the venue if I could have one of the tour posters now that they didn’t need them. I still have it. Obsession indeed.

    If you were to ask my Mum and sister (who came too) for their overriding memory of that night, they would both say it was Neil rocking violently in his seat to the music, moving all the neighbouring row of seats with him!

    I too saw them again in the mid-90s but was very disappointed. Drum machine beats, a female vocalist, and rhythm above texture. Only Froese was left from the 70s (or even 80s) lineup by this time. Curiosity had got the better of me, and I felt the memory of the first time a decade earlier had been tainted somewhat.

    Where have those years of listening to TD led me? Well, to Brian Eno’s work for a start. Eno’s ambient work, for me, picks up where TD left off in terms of texture, atmosphere and, well, ambience. The technology was no longer pioneering, but his best albums still take me to a similar place that TD did when I was a teenager.

    So last week when I heard, it did hit me hard. How to react to the passing of someone whose current output I’d had no interest in for 25 years? Why would I care? The fact is, I did care. Tangerine Dream’s early music is a defining part of me and I felt a keen sense of loss. Perhaps writing this is my therapy.

    >It felt real and it would last forever.
    It didn’t. It probably wasn’t.

    I disagree. Reading your closing paragraph Andy, I’m transported back to those days when we explored this stuff together and the anticipation of the unknown in hearing our latest acquisition for the first time. We all move on and find new things (no more joss sticks), but for me the music never really went away. These days it’s known at home as “Daddy’s Scary Music”. That sounds good to me.

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