When Edgar Froese changed cosmic address in 2015, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Tangerine Dream would follow suit. But working from his extensive archive of recordings, a new school of composers is keeping his flame very much alive

Tucked away on the leafy south-east fringes of Berlin, where the towering concrete modernism of Gropiusstadt gives way to the semi-rustic village vibes of Alt-Rudow, sits an unassuming low-rise building the colour of cold custard. 

Nestled between estate agents, kebab kiosks and a grim-looking Communist-era hotel, Tangerine Dream’s current studio base has an alluringly lo-fi aura. It feels slightly off the map, which somehow seems fitting for the godfathers of interstellar kraut-psych, avant-prog, space rock gatefold symphtronica, who have spent more than half a century exploring entire galaxies of sound without ever settling too long on one planet.

Inside the studio is an analogue geek’s wet dream of modular Moogs, Solina string synthesisers, Jupiters and Rolands and ARPs and PPG wavetable machines, all wired to a huge NASA-sized control desk. The walls are lined with giant reproduction paintings, mostly Van Goghs, mounted on thick blankets. This is soundproofing Tangerine Dream-style, a charmingly eccentric lateral-thinking solution to a practical acoustic problem.

Founded by the late Edgar Froese in 1967, Tangerine Dream have been shapeshifting for more than 50 years, churning through numerous line-up changes and at least 25 members. Meeting me in Berlin are the current custodians of the band’s legacy – electronics wizard Thorsten Quaeschning (joined 2005), strings player Hoshiko Yamane (since 2011) and newcomer Paul Frick, formerly of Berlin orchestral techno trio Brandt Brauer Frick, who came aboard in 2020.

With more than 100 studio, live and soundtrack albums in their vast back catalogue, from 1970s progtronica classics like ‘Zeit’, ‘Atem’ and ‘Phaedra’ to more recent forays into operatic collaborations and computer game scores, Tangerine Dream have never stopped evolving and exploring. If Kraftwerk are The Beatles of electronica, TD are more like The Grateful Dead, sprawling maximalists on a never-ending, mind-expanding cosmic voyage.

Photo: Katja Ruge

The archly ambivalent title of the band’s latest album, ‘Raum’, invokes both outer space and a domestic room. The guiding spirit of these sumptuous instrumental pieces, though, is more microcosmic than cosmic, a socially distanced inner-space journey recorded during lockdown. These timeless audio landscape paintings are full of richly layered detail, warm synth undulations, luminous ripples, glitchy shudders, lush strings, chromatic splashes, jazzy chording, squelches, chimes and jittery post-jungle percussion. This is music that soothes and melts the senses, a sonic tonic in times of pandemic panic.

“You can’t ignore the Covid era,” says Quaeschning. “This was the first time, and hopefully the last time, we were not interrupted by concerts, so we were able to focus on studio work for one-and-a-half years. We played only two concerts in Poland last summer, so we were very detailed, diving into the studio work.”

Tangerine Dream’s ever-fluid line-up has changed again since their last album, 2017’s ‘Quantum Gate’, following the departure of multi-instrumentalist composer Ulrich Schnauss. Quaeschning explains this reshuffle in vague terms, as part of the planned drift back towards a “classic sound”. Schnauss has yet to comment publicly on the split, but he has since been replaced by Frick, who had a crash course in the band’s colossal back catalogue in preparation for the making of ‘Raum’.

“We regularly had a session where we would listen to one or two older Tangerine Dream albums,” recalls Frick. “Since I’m new in the band, I’m still learning a lot from these two and discovering albums I didn’t know. Then afterwards we would just make music ourselves. It wasn’t about imitating what we just heard, but maybe trying to catch that vibe and translate it into our own creativity.”

Featuring symphonic electroacoustic pieces alongside post-techno beats and textures, ‘Raum’ gives the group’s vintage analogue aesthetic a more contemporary aural patina. But some long-standing TD traditions remain. The entire opening side of the album’s double-vinyl format is taken up with ‘In 256 Zeichen’, a marathon 19-minute epic of wafting, twinkling, soaring, surging, kaleidoscopic ambitronica. Tangerine Dream insist their old-school fans are accustomed to treating albums as immersive, leisurely, full-length listening experiences. But surely most 21st century listeners are too distracted by the choice-saturated, channel-surfing digital mediascape for such grandiose gestures?

“Most people are… I also am,” grins Frick. “But there’s nothing like listening to a Gustav Mahler symphony, where just the time it takes makes you get further away from your life. And the tension that can be created in an hour where the album has a dramaturgy, which is what we wanted to do. The amount of emotional tension is just bigger, the release of that Mahler symphony leading somewhere cannot be matched by a two-minute song.”

Photo: Melanie Reinisch

When Tangerine Dream’s legendary founder, father figure and studio wizard Edgar Froese died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism in January 2015, the collective he had led for almost 50 years were left with the dilemma of whether to carry on without him. Froese had lately become interested in translating quantum physics into music, christening this era of the band the “quantum years”. He once claimed, “There is no death, there’s just a change of our cosmic address.”

Quaeschning smiles at Froese’s cryptic musing on his own mortality.

“I have a rough idea of what he meant,” he nods. “I probably don’t share that view 100 per cent. I’m not a very religious person, but Edgar was spiritual, absolutely. I think the idea is a little bit linked to the quantum idea. Everything is connected, energy can last, things like this.”

Froese’s energy has certainly outlasted his own change of cosmic address. Despite being inconveniently dead, he remains a fairly active member of Tangerine Dream, sharing several songwriting credits on ‘Raum’. As on the ‘Quantum Gate’ album, the surviving members have merged their own compositions with Froese’s vast stockpile of unreleased recordings and arrangements, composing new hybrid pieces infused with his spirit.

“We used some snippets and some Cubase arrangements, even some old tapes we recorded with Edgar,” explains Quaeschning. “So on three of seven tracks on this album, we have evolved some of his melodies. It was nearly the same on ‘Quantum Gate’. We have a lot of notes and arrangements, sometimes only MIDI arrangements so we can always change the sound and root key and tempo. So yes, lots of unused material, but also tracks he composed from that era he called ‘quantum years’.”

Quaeschning claims there is enough material in Froese’s archive to fuel another two decades of albums.

“If people want to hear it, sure,” he smiles. “Edgar really was the hardest working man I ever met. It was not unusual on Christmas Eve to get a WhatsApp or SMS, or whatever, telling me there was a new Dropbox file. Christmas Eve – 8.30pm!”

Continuing Tangerine Dream without their chief creative force might seem a contentious choice to some. Quaeschning insists Froese was comfortable with the idea of them carrying on without him, though, even discussing it openly with fellow early member Peter Baumann.

“He was also making plans for every possible scenario,” nods Quaeschning. “Nobody expected him to die that January, I thought another 15 or 20 years would be possible. But there were always plans for continuing the concept of Tangerine Dream. Because Edgar always said, and I think Baumann said this too, that the concept of Tangerine Dream is much stronger than the single members.”

Not everybody is quite so happy about the ship sailing on without its captain. Froese’s electronic musician son Jerome played with Tangerine Dream from 1990 to 2006, but eventually had a bitter falling-out with his father that ended in legal action. Even so, since Froese’s death, Jerome has been fiercely critical of the band continuing without him. In a 2018 interview, he claimed his father never gave his consent for anyone to keep TD going, nor to access his private archive of recordings, referring to “egotism and avarice from third parties”. 

Tangerine Dream are still managed by Froese’s widow Bianca Froese-Acquaye, so Quaeschning chooses his words carefully here, hinting that Jerome was caught in a kind of Freudian psychodrama with his famously overbearing dad.

“If the boss of the company you’re working in or the band you’re playing in is your father, it’s not always easy,” he shrugs. “So he left in 2006, and we played nine years without him, just with other members. It’s very good to have an opinion on things, but it’s strange. If you leave a company, then you have opinions about the future of something 10 years after you left, that’s OK, but it probably does not have the biggest impact.”

Tangerine Dream were forged in krautrock’s original late 1960s big bang of proto-punk mania, jazzy improvisation and avant-rock experimentation, with Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitlzer both involved in the band’s embryonic phase. Initially drawing inspiration from Stockhausen, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dalí, visual art and literature, Froese steered TD from a multimedia tape-collage outfit on Berlin’s underground arts-lab scene towards the wide-open seas of electronic chamber music, contemporary classical, new-age ambient, Hollywood film scores and much more. Even now, the band remain a curious prospect, indelibly connected to both their kosmische kraut-leaning roots and Berlin’s contemporary electro scene, but not fully defined by either.

For his part, Quaeschning balks at the krautrock label.

“I think there was never a connection to a thing called krautrock, ha!” he scoffs. “Kosmische and krautrock are separate things. Krautrock sounds a little strange. If you have bands like Kraftwerk, Neu!, Can and Tangerine Dream, they are only connected by the same years. Just using the same typewriter doesn’t mean that you all write the same kind of book. So I don’t feel a strong connection to those years.”

Struggling to label Tangerine Dream’s current sound, Quaeschning eventually settles on “electronica with a hint of ambient, with many influences from classical”. Snappy. Yamane’s violin and cello certainly reinforce this electro-orchestral idea, which was key to Froese’s original concept.

“Edgar had a vision of creating orchestral-like music with electronic instruments,” says Frick. “Creating very dynamic space with a lot of details. That sits quite well with what we do now, this orchestra idea, where the very tiny details are important but the very big lines are important too.”

As Berlin’s original analogue synth pioneers, Tangerine Dream helped lay the foundations for the city’s current global reputation as a throbbing, glistening, hedonistic electropolis. Froese’s prolific career was arguably too international, too diffuse and too eclectic for him to claim credit as the unlikely godfather of Berlin techno. But Frick claims new generations are more aware, with TD’s legacy now indelibly woven into the German capital’s musical DNA.

“I think it’s more connected now, just in the general aesthetic development of electronic music in Berlin,” says Frick. “Berlin is too big to have one scene – there are many scenes. But I’m the one in the band who had a lot to do with techno 10 or 15 years ago, and a lot of these people who were doing club music only 10 years ago have been diving into ambient and electronica, using analogue instruments and modular synths and also acoustic instruments. 

“So, in a way, the general tendency of Berlin electronic music has steered itself more towards a classic Tangerine Dream sound. In my mind, it might be a good moment to reconnect with that more.”

Nowadays, Tangerine Dream are more used to playing to middle-aged crowds in sedate concert halls, seated arenas and even cathedrals. Can Frick imagine these rebooted elder statesmen of progtronica performing at Berlin’s fabled temple of late-night techno hedonism, Berghain?

“For sure,” he nods. “I have played there quite a lot of times, with other projects.”

Like most Berlin clubbers and countless international techno tourists, Frick has also been turned away from Berghain by their infamously brutal door staff.

“Also many times,” he laughs. “Unfortunately, this is the way all societies operate, they operate by exclusion. But it’s not really their fault. Obviously, if they always let 10 drunken guys into Berghain together, nobody who is really interested in that scene would want to go there. So they don’t have a choice. But for me personally, some of the best events I’ve ever played were open-air, for free and for everybody.”

Photo: Julian Moser

Finally liberated from enforced seclusion, Tangerine Dream return to Britain this month for the first time in three years, playing their most extensive UK tour in more than two decades. In preparation, they have rehearsed a massive 45 tracks spanning the group’s vast canon, allowing for a substantially different setlist every night. In long-standing TD tradition, every show will end with a lengthy “session” of semi-improvised, real-time composition. Underscoring the band’s prog-rock credentials, Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery will be joining them for several shows.

Which is all very classic, on-brand, late-period Tangerine Dream, playing to the analogue gatefold nostalgia of their older fans. But the band have noticed a surprise demographic shift in their audiences over the last decade. Since they composed the mammoth 35-hour score to the blockbuster computer game ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ in 2013, and their vintage tracks were featured in knowingly nostalgic hit TV shows like ‘Black Mirror’ and ‘Stranger Things’, a new generation is discovering TD.

“Especially after ‘GTA5’, very young people were listening  to our music,” agrees Quaeschning. “The audiences are getting younger, especially in Scandinavia and Southern Europe. Even in Amsterdam, we had black metal fans come because we did part of the soundtrack to the Mayhem movie, ‘Lords Of Chaos’. The guitar player of Mayhem loves Tangerine Dream. So we have had a big gain on the metal scene as well!”

In a recent Electronic Sound interview, Coldcut ‘s Matt Black memorably described noise music as “heavy metal ambient”. Can Tangerine Dream imagine playing a metal festival?

“Yes!” grins Quaeschning. “If you take the ambient or droney aspect, that’s how Sunn O))) works, or people like Ben Frost. I think Ben Frost is very metal, this very dark doomy ambient. He played with us at a festival in Gdańsk. It was us, Ben Frost and Pussy Riot – a strange line-up. But this is so close to doom metal. If you talk to Sigur Rós, they are calling their music metal. It’s just a kind of slow-motion metal.”

Tangerine Dream have already covered most of the avant-garde fringes of electroacoustic music, so a late detour into metal makes as much sense as anything. Hey Mister Tangerine man, play an ambitronic, prog-psych, avant-classical, krautrock, doom-metal song for me. 

With whole new galaxies of sound still left to boldly explore, this cosmic voyage is far from over.

‘Raum’ is out on Kscope/Eastgate Music

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