RIP EDGAR FROESE
Tribute, Part I
We were sad to hear that Tangerine Dream founder and mainstay Edgar Froese died on January 20th, age 70. Froese had started and maintained the quiet kosmische music jauggernaut active and always changing since its inception in 1967 though dozens of albums, members, tours and soundtracks. Froese was an electronic music pioneer who helped to create the vocabulary of the synthesizer. To honor his life and accomplishments, we have this tribute featuring his former TD band-mate who's also a legendary, accomplished artist in his own right, plus yet another kosmische legend/contemporary plus a trio of distinguished PSF writers who recount how Froese music affected them. In the next edition of PSF, we'll have even more tributes to Froese.
Thanks very much to Thomas Ziegler and Klaus Mueller for their help with this.
Even if we have seen us just rarely during the last 45 years - since the days of early Tangerine Dream we went separate ways musically - I still remember old pal Edgar with a friendly, yes: warm-hearted feeling. The last chance encounter was backstage at the Loreley festival during a warm summer night in 2008, where we both had performed, independently.
I also remember some amusing moments, somewhere, at some time in the eighties or nineties, when we smilingly "came to terms" that T.D. will get the America market, and I will get the European :-) Yes, Edgar had also (often a dry) humour. Or, take this, from an interview with Edgar in a German music magazine in 2007: Froese: "Mit Klaus hatte ich sicher seit über zehn Jahren keinen Kontakt mehr, aber vielleicht treffe ich ihn eines Tages im Hospiz, wo wir uns dann die Schnabeltasse an den Kopf werfen und mit unseren Pampers-Einlagen Schlitten fahren wollen." Means: "With Klaus I had no contact for more than ten years, but when we're old one day, maybe I'll meet him in a hospice, where we will throw feeding cups to our heads, and toboggan on our own diapers." Yes, Eddie could be very cheerful, sometimes. We laughed a lot.
Edgar Froese´s passing schocked me especially because in all these years we never met, until finally once in April 2014, when we both played at Tivoli in Copenhagen, Denmark, and did a public interview together there. Dieter Moebius was also on the bill that night and joined us for the talk. Edgar and I sat next to each other but exchanged only a few words. I felt sorry for him because he had problems articulating his words due to a recent accident in which he had broken his jaw. It was strange to never have met before but I guess this was due to the fact that we both were so busy with our individual projects and also because I only really cared about my immediate collaborateurs and wasn't that interested in what else was happening musically in Germany - or in the rest of the world. For the same reason, I never consciously came in touch with Tangerine Dream's music although it's safe to assume that I heard it in quite a few films. My condolences go to his family and friends. I hope it is some comfort to them to see so many fans now paying respect to Edgar and his musical legacy.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY DREAM
As Boomers reach stages of hoariness only read about in Lit classes during high school, never, shades of Saroyan!, thinking the day would come to claim us as well as dirtnapping forebears, we're reminded, as so many compeers now fall to the Reaper day after day, week after week, month after month, that none are spared, alas. On the other hand, were we to lack the curse-gift of death, the planet would long ago have turned to dust as billions of human beings, in their ceaseless preternatural reversions to dim biological impulses, would've reproduced without let and eaten everything in sight, themselves and their neighbors included, and our blue-green orb would have deliquesced into little more than a crumbling boneyard long before Alexander ever went psycho (was he ever not??). That isn't a toothsome canvas, but, one way or another, death comes to us all. Now it's claimed a magnificent figure in modern music: Edgar Froese.
How is such a guy eulogized? Do we wail religious devotionals upon altars of corporate monies? Do we recruit musicians ever hungry to sin-eat in exchange for photo-ops and paying gigs ? Do we issue sets of tribute CD's from moderns who aver huge indebtedness to such individuals but never really knew of the ilk and ouevre until the obituaries emerged? Or do we sit back, smile fondly at what a literal universe of aesthetic pleasure Edgar imbued our sad mudball with and, in doing so, thus count our contentments and fortunes in Art? I prefer the lattermost of course. Let me anecdotally recount a bit of why that's so, a life lesson for the occasion of death.
A key event in my history occurred while attending, for a single semester, a bullshit posh university, a baby-sitting haven for the scions of the rich: New College (Toynbee, among others, had been a prof there, and DownBeat's Ron Riddle was one of my tutors). My girlfriend, a helluva graphic artist, was a student and model at the nearby Ringling School of Art, and, after we'd finished playing the games so oft indulged in one's highly hedonistic mid-20's, she left to hit the sack in her bungalow down the Tamiami Trail, needing to attend class very early in the A.M., long before I'd arise and make my way to the crystalline beaches in Longboat Key. Floating in her departed afterglow, I decided it was time to once again try to get into Sun Ra... but first Crack the Sky, just to get the pulse racing, and then Tangerine Dream. Gradualism has its virtues.
Zeit, it turned out that night, forged the key I'd been looking for. I got realllllly deeply, more than ever before, into the two-fer on that balmy Florida ebontide, drenched in dense bizarre atmospherics (the signature Phaedra had turned me on to TD, and I'd worked backwards thencefrom). Something in its modus broke open the seals. My brain unfolded. My consciousness expanded. When I tossed on Ra's Magic City, it was like a sudden drug experience, an epiphany, a kensho. I saw and heard alien cultures, listened in on multi-infra-colloquies in exotic tongues, trod unusual climes, resonated with supra-terrene emotions, felt bliss and wonder, just as Froese & Co. had also rendered moments before. The one linked into the other, and, after five years of I can't even tell you how many attempts, I finally accessed Sun's magnificent mind... thanks to Edgar and compeers working through their own id / ego / amygdalic / whateverthehell depths. Nearly four decades later, that event still stands as a high point in my life. You can see why I became a friggin' critic. Blame Edgar and ilk for that too.
Naturally, I collected everything I could of both from that point on, including bootlegs (not easy to locate when it came to The Dream). Returning to SoCal by way of a staff stint in an alternative educational foundation for a couple years in Oregon, I caught the group on its own, no supporting act, at the Santa Monica Civic, replete with laser show. Maaaaaan!
Did I say I cadged everything of TD's? Well, that's not quite so, as their and Edgar's later Kitaro periods weren't all that palatable - not to me anyway, maybe you can ask John Diliberto about the era in lieu. But then came the momentous box set, Tangents 1973 - 1993, which, along with Fleetwood Mac's The Horizon Years and Jefferson Airplane's Loves You, is one of the coolest boxes ever issued, a smorgasbord of ingeniously augmented re-recordings dimensionalizing the original works out beyond the stars and galaxies they'd already painted years ago. To this day, I'm amazed that so many crits have completely missed what a landmark that set of discs was... but then, they also passed by Bang on a Can's mindblowing replication of Eno's Music for Airports and its infinite subtleties too, din't dey? Ah well.
There's oh-so-much-more I could relate, even just from a collector's/connoisseur's POV, but I'll rein in trademark prolixities and state the obvious: Edgar Froese and Tangerine Dream were titans in an age of giants (King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, etc.), taking the growing and diversifying neoclassicalisms of progrock onto a left turn mobius strip it thankfully never recovered from, incorporating Stockhausen, Cage, Subotnick, the Nonesuch electro-pioneers, and many others in the understructure of a fabulist cosmic quilt, adjuncts not just tipped to the elder literateurs Froese so much admired but to the fantasists as well: Hodgson, Lovecraft, Vance, Poe, Dunsany, that ilk, all of whom I was then devouring as though a starveling.
I can't imagine a progressive music world that didn't have Edgar in it, and, when it comes time for me to dance the dizzy foxtrot with Dan Scratch and people ask, as I fade into the bardo realms, what was the most important aspect of my life, I'll say "I got to live in the time that Noam Chomsky, Edgar Froese, Robert Fripp, Gore Vidal, Michio Kaku, Gene Wolfe, Salvador Dali, Brian Eno, and a galaxy of transcendent wunderkinds walked the Earth". My passing will not be a death rattle but a sigh, and mark my words: the most skillful surgeons on 7 continents will not be able to remove the beatific rapture frozen onto my rigor mortising puss by the memories of what occurred within that most affective era in post-Renaissance history, for a renaissance was what the '70's were, all too briefly, soon snuffed out by a CIA that had mistakenly created it in their LSD disbursements of the '60's.
On that, I'm sure Mr. Froese, should he be able to read this from the overarching Music Skycademy In The Magellanic Rift (I'm informed by reliable hallucinating sources that's where the afterlife is located), will be grinning like the cat who got the cream, nodding his head, eyes lighting up. Our era, friends, is almost over.
We'll catch you on the next level, Edgar, and don't be late, don't be late.
A PIONEER IN SPACE
The legacy of Edgar Froese is all around us. It can be heard to a very large extent in the music labeled as Electronica, New Age, and even Trance music. Froese was certainly not the first person to use the technology that enabled him to create the sound sculptures that characterized Tangerine Dream--the use of electronic musical instruments dated back to 1805, starting with the Orchestrion and Helmoltz' Sound Synthesizer, the Cahill's Teilharmonium, the Hammond organ, the Motorola Scalatron, the Ondes Martenot, the Ondioline (a relative was used in "Good Vibrations") and others. Mellotrons and synthesizers had been around for a few years as well. Synth's use in popular music date at least back to the Doors' "Strange Days" and Space and Trance music also has antecedents in Varese, Xenakis, Stockhausen, Sun Ra, Mantovani, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and the synthesizer had been used by Don Preston (Mothers of Invention), the United States of America, Lothar and the Hand People, Keith Emerson, Pink Floyd, Yes and Pete Townshend prior to the advent of Tangerine Dream. But Tangerine Dream (whose first album was a synth-free zone) had an uncanny knack for producing and realizing elaborate improvisations using an entirely electronic, synthesizer-driven environment.
Although Froese dealt largely with synthesizer produced environments, he also took the electric guitar out occasionally, and added guitar work that sounded like part of the mix. The only groups I can think of that were at all comparable to Tangerine Dream as all electronic ensembles, aside from TD's early companion musicians like Klaus Schulze and Chris Franke, were Mother Mallard's Potable Masterpiece Company--they were more avowedly minimalist--and some of Throbbing Gristle's work. Sonically, the advent of Tangerine Dream and Edgar Froese, was in space music jams like Pink Floyd, Stockhausen and perhaps Daevyd Allen or Soft Machine, but there is no reference to the latter in reference materials. It was as if the Grateful Dead had switched entirely to synthesizers for TD's early work. But due to Froese's interest in surrealism, however, themes were developed and structured, so pieces of music, although some could be soothing (as in Phaedra) could also be jarring and exciting (the soundtrack to Sorcerer). I can recall seeing Sorcerer in part because I wanted to hear the soundtrack! It was suspenseful, dramatic, and pulsed with energy--in some minor ways, a precursor to John Carpenter's soundtrack for Halloween. One could listen to Phaedra for comparison and hear a distinctive signature for each Tangerine Dream piece, and realize that Froese had determined a way to make electronic ensemble playing sound and composition sound distinctive and exciting.
One element that distinguished Froese's work from other contemporaries and predecessors was the density of the textures he employed. Many early synthesizers sounded thin (with the notable exception of folks like Emerson) and a little undernourished. This may have had its roots in early synthesizer designs (like the VCS3 and Arp's, and even some early Moog's) that were intended as sound sources for academics like Ussachevsky, Babbit, Stockhausen and others, who worked in rarefied mathematical places. Electronic music seemed to undergo some sort of perverse reverse evolution in complexity from extraordinarily detailed, complicated or conceptual to being used to interpret standard classical music, then to commercials and newscasts, then to rock music. Part of this had to do with cost. Early synthesizers, even the simple ones, were very expensive and huge, so it is little wonder they were rare at first in rock (and in jazz, excepting Paul Bley, Sun Ra, Jon Appleton, and Dr. Patrick Glesson, even more so). Every technological leap (into polyphony, sequencers, etc.) carried additional costs, and early synthesizers being dependent on line voltages, had unstable pitch (like mellotrons, which TG also used); this could create a level of unexpected variation in performances. Also, very few rock musicians knew how to use them creatively. T.S. McPhee, Townshend, Poli Palmer, and in some cases, Eno and Emerson, Dick Hyland and a few others understood how to use them creatively, before Tangerine Dream came along.
Edgar Froese was a pioneer because he could figure out, with his partners, how to make a synthesizer-centered group into a rock group, including using synthesizers (with Chris Franke's help) as rhythm keepers. This latter innovation has become a part of mainstream music now--when TD did it, it was nearly unheard of. Froese may have created relaxing soundscapes, but he did it at volume levels close to that of the Who. Roger Waters had stated that certain overtones are only heard at very high volume levels, and that is true. Even with the overdrive simulators in low power level amplifiers being marketed now, I think this is true.
Finally, Froese created an opportunity for a new medium to thrive. Froese appeared at a time when rock music was starting to undergo a wide schism between experimentation and a return to fundamentals. Luckily for him, Radio Caroline and later Virgin records, gave him inroads into the mass marketplace. But, whether borne out of necessity or luck, Froese left an indelible impression on the music world. He made synthesizer ensembles that were accessible and popular, and which also produced extremely interesting and valid music for about 100 albums, including a great many popular soundtracks, and helped popularize or inspire many later developments--elements of disco, techno, ambient, electronic and new age all owe something to Froese and the ensemble he started so many years ago. Many people, especially movie goers, have heard Froese without realizing it. His scores showed electronic music could be sumptuous, ecstatic, fantastic and even romantic.
When one hears about the contributions made to music over the past forty years, Edgar Froese is rarely mentioned--but he should be counted as one of the most influential and important musicians of the past 100 years. It could be argued that, because of the way technology in music changed, some of the changes he ushered in would have happened anyway. But we all know that is not how the world works.
HOW EDGAR FROESE RAISED MY ROOF
If Tangerine Dream took listeners on an epic cosmic journey, Edgar Froese was unquestionably the captain of the ship, a Teutonic James T. Kirk leading the way into unknown territory. But when we lost the man who helmed T. Dream through countless lineups from 1967 until his sudden, untimely passing on Jan 20, 2015, the trip did not end. That's because multiple generations of electronic musicians, from '70's synth wizards to first-gen techno producers and beyond, have been profoundly inspired by Tangerine Dream's innovations and carried the flame forward.
My own world was irrevocably altered by early exposure to Froese and friends too. As a socially inept but musically precocious kid in the pre-Internet era, I scrounged through whatever info was available for clues about intriguing, off-the-beaten-path sounds. If those sounds were made by relatively obscure artists, that only enhanced their appeal, adding a cabal-like atmosphere to the whole endeavor; and if they emerged in an earlier era (i.e. any time before the '80's), so much the better.
With this mission in mind, I would pour over my older sister's worn copies of Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia, published in 1969, and the Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, published just before punk, which featured scads of artists whose public profiles were soon to be reduced to cinders by punk's scorched earth policy. By the time I read about the likes of Gong, Hawkwind, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra in my early adolescence, they seemed like endlessly fascinating artifacts of another time, even though they had their heyday less than a decade earlier.
One of the artists whose entry commanded my attention was a band of hippie-era Germans (the term "krautrock" was still unknown to me), all of whom played synthesizers. I was already intrigued by the synths sported by some of the prog bands I'd heard, and my immersion in the synth-pop revolution was just a whisper away, but at the time the idea of an all-synth outfit making music with no vocals seemed as radical and revolutionary as anything punk had to offer.
So one fateful day in the early '80's, when my sister kindly brought me downtown on a seminal shopping trip to her favorite vinyl vendor, a shop on E. 23rd St. called The Record Factory (I don't think it lasted out the '80's), one of the names in the front of my brain (and possibly even on an actual list, I can't recall for sure) was Tangerine Dream. In the stack of LP's I hungrily herded together from the albums on offer -- along with a bit of Gong and Hawkwind, if memory serves -- were the records Phaedra, Ricochet, and Rubycon, otherwise known as the core of the T. Dream canon.
Cloistered in my little Bronx bedroom that night, hunkered down close to my stereo, I received the electronic messages that Froese, Chris Franke, and Peter Baumann had encoded in the mid '70's. The trio's shimmering synth lines and serpentine sequencer patterns danced in the air while I stared enraptured at the subtly trippy album art, including Froese's own engagingly amorphous painting on Phaedra and his wife Monique's otherworldly photos on Ricochet and Rubycon. As cliché as it may sound now, it felt entirely appropriate to lie there imagining myself ensconced in a spaceship drifting into unexplored galaxies. The universe quickly became a lot bigger, and my own little world grew immeasurably wider.
Decades later, those emotions still emerge anew whenever the opportunity to engage with Tangerine Dream's prime period presents itself. And Froese's physical form notwithstanding, he's still leading the expedition into its next interstellar adventure.
Also see Part II of our Edgar Froese tribute
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