english translation of Schmoelling interview 2001 with Ecki Steig during Braunschweig Film Festival. -------------------------------------------------------------------- Since their formation in 1967, Tangerine Dream went through many metamorphises: From the atonal experimental beginnings on early albums like 'Zeit' and 'Atem' until the current works celebrated today by Tangerine Dream head Edgar Froese and his son Jerome which merely seem like stale re-hashes of past times, the band underwent numerous stilistical and personal changes. The 'Froese Franke Bauman' line-up is still regarded as the classical one. Between 1974 and 1980, they recorded the partly improvised, sequencer-driven and even today regarded as typical albums like 'Stratosfear', 'Ricochet' or 'Encore'. But already at the end of the 70s Edgar Froese asked himself whether this style could be continued, or whether new, more structured ways should be looked after. This task was simplfied after the departure of Peter Baumann, and got more difficult with the 79 production 'Force Majeure': already on this album, he tried to make the band - meanwhile reduced to the Froese Franke duo - more 'earthy', rock-oriented and streamlined. But to take this to perfection, the third man was missing. This one Edgar Froese found 1980 with Johannes Schmoelling. Born 1950, Schmoelling did not correspond much to the picture of a genius dilettant the band so far personalised. He was a trained organist and sound engineer and worked as such at the 'Schaubuehne am Halleschen Ufer' [a theather - armin] in Berlin, when Froese, not without careful contemplation - took him into the band... Johannes Schmoelling: Actually I had almost no idea at that time who Tangerine Dream was. The contact did not come directly. I realised for myself that the job as a sound engineer did not satisfy me completely, and I was looking for other possibilities, to get musically active more directly. I didn't knew much about the electronic possibilities and the instruments. Sure, I had a Mini-Moog and it was clear to me what Tangerine Dream stood for, but that was all. However, when Edgar Froese invited me and we played for each other, we immediately reached a common level on which we understood each other. The first album in which JS participated was the 1980 album 'Tangram' It couldn't be missed that something had changed. To the big regret of many fans, the improvised, spherical and playful sequencer lines vanished and made room for far more structured, but not less colourful sound images... JS: I'm always happy when such things are retrospectively recognised. Many people are not able to hear that. It was also a completely different constellation. Christopher Franke was - as before - the rhythm man, who also masterd sequencing perfectly, Edgar Froese was the sound designer and catalyst, and I was the conventional musician. A craftsman the band - according to Froese - urgently needed. JS: Edgar always had a good sensation for who and what he could take into the band. And he had clear ideas about what didn't fit. Edgar and I did had some arguments - especially when he was of the opinion that I would go to far into popular, rock or jazz oriented spheres. In such cases I was always slowed down - and that was alright, because he kept the trademark up. Although TD was already in 1977 able to achieve credits as film music composers with the soundtrack to the William Friedkin movie 'Sorcerer', they established themselves there only with JS. More than that: the door to Hollywood opened wide with the soundtrack to Michael Mann's debuet 'Thief'. JS: Maybe it was simply the time to combine this sound style with movies. Especially the film directors in Hollywood realised this very early. It was clear that our music didn't fit to 'Dr. Zhiwago', but for action movies it fitted very well. But still it is not taken for granted that american directors and producers would pay attention to a german band who has in their own country still the unjustified reputation as botton-pushing dilletants... JS: I think that TD was very unique at that time in respect to their sound and instrumentation. But it was remarkable that they were far more popular abroad than in their home country. Except for two pieces for the 'Tatort' [german TV series] there was nobody here [germany] who thought that our music was suitable [for films]. The americans realised the impact and potential of film music much earlier - and experimented. Michael Mann for instance used our music with incredibly high volume in 'Thief', so that some critics called him crazy. But exactly this was his intention. Especially the monotonous sequencing, which I found so nerve-wrecking on our concerts, worked perfectly here. Could it be in the first place that the music of TD had film qualities anyway - even worked as soundtrack for the mind - without visual enhancements at all? JS: Absolutely! Our music always kept some space free for pictures and imagination. And the film directors realised this quickly. This music was very broad and served at the same time to amplify the pictures instead of just supporting them. Not only because of that TD was treated very respectfully by film directors. They gave the band freedoms other soundtrack composers can only dream about today. Sometimes ten minute long tracks were used which on top of that not even payed attention to the film scenario, so that as a consequence TD soundtracks differ only marginally from official albums. JS: That is completely correct. This is exactly the freedom I miss so very much today as a soundtrack composer. Today you're forced to stick exactly to the pictures and to react plakatively. The work methods were completely different in those days. First, we had a lot of time. And the directors took more risks and were much more involved. Although we took a lot of freedoms, the work and confrontation with the film material was extremely intensive, and we would never have allowed ourselves to use pre-fabricated or even old material. Asking directly and naive: How did Schmoelling and the band work on soundtracks? JS: I always tried - and still do so today, by the way - to play, compose or improvise directly to the images. With the pictures came the ideas. We never forced ourselves to support or decorate the mood of the image. Nobody expected this anyway. Michael Mann, for instance, wanted that we transfer his visual techniques and astethics on an acustic level. He did not intended at all to emphasize a certain situation actustically, like it is done today. In 'Thief' he simply wanted that the music sounds cold, desolate and machine-like and thus corresponds with the nature of the protagonist. Does - or better: should a soundtrack work also without pictures? JS: Absolutely. I don't know how Edgar would answer this question, and I cannot speak for the band, but I simply feel responsible as a musician. I cannot expect that somebody who buys the CD has seen the movie. If I take something out of the context and the sound won't work without the picture, then I have to complete this lost visual component acustically. I set myself a high standard there, and I was always driving myself to work on these soundtracks so that they always make sense for the listener also without the pictures. TD's work for american movies did make some impression in America, and found a few imitators... just compare Jan Hammer's music for Michael Mann's 'Miami Vice' series with the 81 'Exit' album. The parallels are clear... JS: The fact that Jan Hammer got the job for Miami Vice made Edgar Froese really upset, because he tried to get this one as well. But you're right, there are these parallels. Despite the fact that 'Exit' sounds very conventional, it was from a recording point of view one of the most experimental and most difficult albums at all. But the sound of our soundtracks and studio albums did doubtlessly inspire many soundtrack composers. As much as working with electronic equipment was even in the 80s an unusual method, almost every soundtrack composer works with digital computers today. The composer and musician can react much more directly and on the point to the images... JS: The advantage is simply the fact that you can work much faster, more precisely and virtual. For me personally, however, it is more important that I can print out my spontaneous improvisations, and that I can develop real compositions from the sheet music. The big disadvantage, however, is the loss of uniqueness. This moment is not there anymore - cannot be there anymore - because everything we do you can store! With analog techniques that wasn't possible. We often sat for hours at our apparatus and tried to create a sound. At some point then it made 'click' and you knew you had got this sound! But then you had to record it quickly, because it was not storable - not reproducable. This was always scary with live concerts. I still remember very precisely our concerts in Poland, where we had several power failures. Hours of intensive work were destroyed instantly. But this accidents were also very helpful. Often those analoge machines were simply going nuts - and uttered sounds which nobody wanted. But often, it was exactly this sound you were looking for subconsciously. And also these accidents were unfortunately not reproducable. You had to record them at once, otherwise this sound was lost forever. I am very happy that I experienced both worlds. The analog world, which was captivating for its uniqueness, and the digital, with which you could work more effectively and in a planful manner. Just like most of his colleagues, JS works almost only with digital equipment today - on his solo albums as well as composer for soundtracks, most of all for the ZDF [big german TV channel]. JS: Unfortunately it won't work otherwise. I cannot tell the ZDF that I wait now for two weeks until my analog synths spit out the fitting sound. Emotionally I would love to work like in the old times again, but probably most of my colleagues experience that and it is not realistic, unfortunately. I tried to assimilate with this new rythm of fast, effective and cheap - or better say 'cost effective' - productions. The alternative would be to do my old job as a sound engineer [actually 'sound master' - sound engineer in a theater], but I don't want to do that. So, I cannot complain. Still, I do long a bit from my experience during the 80s, and I am very grateful that I could be part of the musical development in which I could realise myself as a musician - and still got payed very well! The studio work was much more to the likings of the perfectionist and composer Schmoelling than the in these times also very numerous improvised live albums like 'Quichotte', 'Logos', or 'Poland'. JS: What we did there was not always hitting the point - and it is no secret that I had my difficulties with our live performances. But I had to learn to deal with that very early. When we got that offer - after two months work into 'Tangram' - to play in the former GDR in Berlin in the 'Palace of the Republic', Edgar immediately aggreed. I declared him crazy and asked him what we should play there. He just said: 'Who gives a shit, we just go there. You sit at the piano, improvise, and finish on E-major. Then we come and go on." And that was how it worked. What else could we have done, we didn't had any new material! That went on in masses: From 1980 to 1985, so during the time Schmoelling was a member of the band, TD produced a for their terms small number of 5 studio albums, but one dozen of soundtracks of which 9 were published. This disciplinating work for the movies affected the style of the band: the compositions became more compressed and shorter, but the band also started to produce faster and faster and more and more... On the 85 album 'Le Parc' they refrained for the first time from producing the usual 20 minute long broad epics. Instead 9 thematically interlinked sound images were produced. For Johannes Schmoelling this was not a whole-hearted new beginning since the three musicians were already very alienated from each other... JS: In the 70s - plainly spoken - the sequencer was started, and then they looked for what came out of it. Only with me did the band try to create structures, which were admittedly more of conventional nature, although the instrumentation and the sound were still very unconventional. For the first time we planned melodies and harmonic structures, so: composed! The pieces were still supported by the sequencers, but not dominated! Although we still did not create songs, there were more breaks. The band discovered that you can still say something very beautifully in only three minutes. But it had to be like that. The electonic music of the 80s could not go on with the compositional means of the 70s. Klaus Schulze is one of the very few who still tries to do this today. For me, however, it is impossible to record a piece without a structure, without a theme, melody, middle part and its variations etc.. This precisely was and is my strength. When we finally reached that aim with 'Le Parc', the band had - from an art point of view - drifted apart so much that we did not form a team work anymore. Similar as with the Beatles on the 'White Album', Froese and Franke and I had recorded the pieces completely independent from each other. Therefore, for me 'Le Parc' was the end of the band. Why did this development diverge so much? JS: Hard to tell. I actually think that Chris, Edgar and myself would still today fit well together and manage to do something very nice. But I felt at that time that we didn't proceed in that constellation, if we continued to work the way we did. We more and more fulfilled expectations and just operated out of drawers, and we made just too many soundtracks. Curiously I had to point out that the original goal of the band was another one, and that the name Tangerine Dream was still a trade mark label, and that it could not be our job to provide yet another soundtrack for the most stupid movie. Both our studio and live albums suffered from this, and we worked faster and faster, and more and more uninspiredly. At some stage we reached the point at which I did not wanted to support this. A radical cut and a longer creative time-out to find ourselves again would urgently have been necessary, in particular since there were a lot of other excellent electronic bands in the mid 80s who made very explicit competition. And in order to distinguish from them, we should have made a step forward. But I could not come in front with my ideas any more. So the only way was to quit. How does Schmoelling judge the further development of TD after he left? JS: I have to say that I did not follow the way of the band after I quit. I don't want to judge what Edgar does today. I don't know it well enough, and I am also not supposed to do that. When Chris Franke left a few years after I did, I knew that I did the right thing and that an episode of TD has ultimatively come to an end.