"Dream Sequence" - Electronics & Music Maker, December 1984
Tangerine Dream, the band that took electronics from the inaccessible 'art music
' ghetto to the record collections of millions, talk about technology, their new
 album, and seventeen years of working together.
-Matthew Vosburgh
If they possess one quality that sets them apart from the majority of electronic
 music's greatest names, it is that their approach has been consistently fresh a
nd innovative throughout their long career. Above all, it's been their unfailing
 determination to innovate that has kept them one step ahead of their countless 
imitators and prevented their music from becoming stale or predictable for any l
ength of time.
For example, the Tangs' only recent extensive tour was one of Poland last year, 
a country in which it is almost impossible to make money (they pay you in Zlotys
), which has abysmal weather in winter (which is when the band decided to go) an
d which isn't exactly renowned as being a major market for electronic music (tho
ugh Klause Schulze, himself a former Dreamer, received a rapturous reception the
re when he played some concerts not long before).
The band's latest album, their first for the infant Jive Electro label, was reco
rded at one of TD's Warsaw concerts, and is entitled, simply, 'Poland'. It's far
 from being their first live effort, so why the fascination for dedicating conce
rt performances to vinyl?
"A  key reason for us to produce live albums is that we play new material live, 
material which we haven't released before. So with the exception of a couple of 
encores, 'Poland' is all new stuff, not just the same music with a different sou
nd and a couple of variations.
"We recorded it on eight-track: that's about the minimum we could have used and 
still kept reasonably good channel separation. We had thought in advance about p
utting the tape out as a record, but we weren't absolutely sure about it because
 of the weather conditions. You see, on two or three occasions the power broke d
own and we had to stop the concert right in the middle. Sometimes it was upsetti
'Poland' is a double album containing over eighty minutes of music. Surely some 
form of studio editing took place in order to shape it into its final recorded f
"Yes. We've made a few changes to the original recording. You see, when you do a
 bridge passage from one part to another, sometimes it works properly, but somet
imes you think it could have been done better. Not just a bit better, but much b
etter. If that happens, you sit down and add a little bridge or something, becau
se our attitude is that the people who listen to the record should be able to ge
t the feel of a piece and not be interrupted by a technical mistake or something
. We've also cut a couple of parts to make the album more compressed. Some trans
itions just seemed too long, so we've cut out a minute here and there. But basic
ally it's still the essence of the concert."
A band whose line-up has previously embraced the likes of Schulze, the now New Y
ork-based Peter Baumann and recent UK Electronica hero Steve Joliffe, Tangerine 
Dream have been a three-piece comprising founder Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and 
Johannes Scmoelling for a number of years, and it's the former two who contribut
ed most to our conversation. Constantly interrupting each other - their English 
is excellent - Froese and Franke were keen to talk hardware.
Well-known in the past for the vast modular synthesiser systems which dominated 
the stage at each performance the band gave, Tangerine Dream are now employing a
 wider range of hardware than ever before, even if it's somewhat less unwieldy.
"We're using all kinds of synths these days - a Roland Jupiter 8, an Oberheim, a
 PPG with a Waveterm, a Yamaha DX7, a Prophet 5 and a Prophet 600. That's pretty 
 much a bit of everybody.
"If we tour England again, you won't see the big modular system on stage anymore
, although there are a few modules that we still use, like ring modulators and s
pecial noise generators: the sort of thing you don't find on a modern programmab
le polysynth.
"In a way, of course, the modular concept is coming back with the new equipment 
that's coming out now. The difference is that this time, one module contains a w
hole range of synthesisers and is controlled from a master keyboard. That kind o
f system is polyphonic and programmable, but it has in the background the same s
ort of idea as the old modular equipment."
The Tangs' present sequencing and percussion is also about as well-stocked as th
ey come...
"Currently we're using digital sequencers that have been custom-built by a compa
ny called PVH. The sequencers are MIDI-equipped, so they can be used to control 
percussion as well as melodies.
"Our percussion machines include an Oberheim DMX, a LinnDrum, some Simmons drums
 and a couple of custom-built sampling units. We also use the PPG Waveterm and t
he Emulator for sampled percussion sounds. The Emulator is very good for percuss
ion because it can be controlled from MIDI or from control voltages, and it's po
ssible to change sounds just by swapping floppy disks; on a lot of machines you 
have to change ROM chips, which obviously takes much longer.
One thing we are very much into is the whole sampling philosophy, because it ena
bles you to record a sound you are fascinated with and then start working with i
t, changing it, making it into something completely different. There's no doubt 
that sampling will become more and more important in our music. Several years ag
o we had a digital sampling unit with a very short sampling time built for us, w
hich we used for percussion. That was the start of our digital sampling - at tha
t time memory was expensive and nobody knew how to put it onto Winchester disks 
and things like that."
Has the band received any support from custom designers more recently?
"No. We haven't had any custom work done in that field, apart from having indust
ry machines like the Publison Harmoniser, Emulator and PPG Waveterm customised f
or us. We've just had extra interfaces built into the machines to make them comp
atible with our sequencers and other keyboards.
"We're waiting for machines with better sample quality to come out, because at t
he moment the quality's not much better than what you'd get using a cassette rec
order. We're also waiting for machines with longer sampling times, because time 
is sometimes more important than quality. Unlike many people, we've never really
 used a Fairlight, because the price-to-sound relationship really isn't very goo
d. Its sampling time is very short, and using a machine like that on stage isn't
 a lot of fun."
"You must remember that we've been using sampling systems since the early sevent
ies. At that time we had an analogue system with a different sample for each key
, and every sample had a length of eight seconds. We didn't have looping, but we
 did at least have a good sample length and some form of multi-sampling. Of cour
se, sound quality and pitch stability weren't very good...What was that instrume
nt called? The Mellotron!
"Today, to have a digital sampling system with 32 samples of eight seconds is ju
st a dream people would pay a lot of money to have. But these things should beco
me reality very soon."
Right from the start, Tangerine Dream placed improvisation high on their list of
 compositional techniques, though as technology has improved and the range of so
und sources available to the band has increased as a result, conventional writin
g principles have also begun to play their part.
"The technology we are using has obviously brought us to the point where we have
 to concentrate on structures and pre-programming. The improvisation is still th
ere, but it's on top of that structure. We think a word like 'development' descr
ibes the way we write better than 'composition'. You can't just write music down
 and expect it to be good: in our music there are other things that are just as 
important, such as sound colour. Our way of working is to go in steps, programmi
ng and improvising as we get closer and closer to the final product."
The Tangs'  comparative lack of recent touring activity has been the result of t
heir devoting their writing skills towards making music for films. Edgar Froese 
took me through the list of soundtracks and the reasons for doing them.
"We've done a lot of film music within the last year. I think we've learned a lo
t by doing it, simply because you have to use whatever you've learned through th
e years to create music quickly. You can't hang around and wait for inspiration 
when you've got to hand the music in on schedule, but you still have to produce 
music with the same expression, the same feeling. Also, you can earn quite a rea
sonable amount of money from doing it, which you can use to take things further,
 developing hardware and software.
"The most recent film that we did that you've seen in England is 'Firestarter', 
and there are two others coming out soon called 'Flashpoint' and 'Heartbreakers'
. Then of course there was 'Risky Business' a couple of months ago, and we've al
so just done an American TV series - 'Streethawk'. That's quite a lot for one ye
Like their 'conventional studio albums and live efforts, TD's film music is free
 from most of rock music's cliches and the constraints they impose. Their imitat
ors aside, nobody could be said to be producing music that is similar to the Tan
gs' in concept. So given that their music is quite unlike anybody else's, do the
 band ever listen to any other people's music?
"Yes. At the moment we like stuff produced by Eurythmics, Kate Bush and Laurie A
nderson. These people have managed to find the balance between technology and at
mosphere. Atmosphere isn't something you can put into musical motes - it's there
 in between the notes.
"At the moment, everybody wants the big fat synth sound - which you can create j
ust by connecting four keyboards in one - and they expect to get quality just th
rough that fatness of sound. There are other people who use only a few notes but
 can get a lot more across. The 'wall of sound' approach can be fascinating for 
a while, but after a while you feel as if you've eaten too much cake - it's just
 too dense. Other people produce better music."
The band are also keen to point out the drawbacks of modern technology.
"Well, we shouldn't glorify the new technology too much, because it's not always
 a gift: sometimes it's a battle and a fight. A lot of the problems are caused b
y software, because machines are often put onto the market before the software h
as been perfected. For instance, I had an early Prophet 600 that went wrong not 
suddenly but very slowly. After a week the programs started to change slightly, 
then they became completely different sounds, and finally after a couple of mont
hs they were just noise. It turned out that the program in the EPROM running the
 machine had a bug in it.
"We are in a position where we can buy expensive machinery, which is fine, we ar
e lucky. But if you want to create music and you've got the ideas, it's not nece
ssary to have a multi-million pound cheque - you can do everything with very lit
tle equipment. It's your creativity that's important, not having the latest piec
e of technology. The machinery is there as a help, nothing more."
I don't know about you, but I find that very encouraging.