Edgar Froese interview – Synapse magazine 1978

This interview was conceived by Frank Gavin and published in the Synapse Magazine issue 2-5, March/April 1978. Please note that all (c) are with Synapse Magazine and the author. Below the scanned pages you’ll find the transcript.

Tangerine Dream, the most visible synthesizer band to date, has attained mainstream exposure through concert tours, the soundtrack for the film “Sorcerer” and album sales. Indications are that T.D’s forthcoming album, as well as a possible soundtrack for an American Sci-Fi TV series. and a European tour that may come to the U.S .. will keep their image public. The image though. will not be the same. With Peter Baumann gone to pursue independence and two new members, one a drummer, things are going to look different if not sound different. But as for the latter, Froese says he is surprised by the results.

Synapse: What have you been doing of late?

Edgar Froese: What are we doing? Right now, preparing the next recording session for the new album. We begin working the 3rd of January. A European tour starts the 17th of February; it may go to the States as well, at least at this point it looks like it.

Synapse: On the liner notes of the “Sorcerer” soundtrack, William Friedkin was talking about how he sent you the script and you sent him your tapes; your impressions of his work. Were you pleased with, what came of your work?

Froese: To be honest with you. and I always try to be honest, even though it can be a bit dangerous, perhaps for the image of the band, but I don’t like the film. Maybe it’s the way the music fits into the picture. I saw the original version, Henri Georges Clouzot’s “The Wages of Fear” which was released in 1953, and it’s made just too much in the same way. I thought there would be something new. It’s terrible because we are living in a new age, a new time, and the story means nothing to me at all. Men travelling across untravellable roads with explosives. It’s so unrealistic. Nobody would do it today. The situation, for us, was quite amazing. What group has the chance to create music for a full length Hollywood feature? lt’s a great thing … but on the other hand, we are so close behind our music, with what we try to do, what we try to explain through our experience. So if it’s for a regular feature, or just a short, or a T.V. series, it has to be together. It has to be in sync. and we just weren’t that satisfied.

Synapse: I thought the album quite good, completely apart from the film.

Froese: We were a bit afraid of that situation, too. We did so much to explain the script-we were working quite hard on that music, and the way it fits into the picture, it’s just totally away from the explanation we attempted.

Synapse: He used some of Keith Jarret’s “Hymns and Spheres” too.

Froese: That’s the other point. I like Keith Jarrett’s music. I really love this crazy, genius keyboard player. But I think it would have been possible for him (Friedkin) to inform the band that he was using someone else’s music as well. Which he did not do.

Synapse: He didn’t let you know till later on?

Froese: Not until we saw the film for the first time in L.A. We were quite surprised. We thought “My God! Where have we played that? Recorded that?” We didn’t know-we just could not place that interlude or two that later turned out to be Jarrett.

Synapse: You’ve heard “Hymns and Spheres”?

Froese: I bought it afterwards and I really love it. It’s recorded in a church in Germany.

Synapse: Do you think you’ll ever do a soundtrack again?

Froese: There’s a plan to do the music for an American science-fiction T.V. series. Negotiations have recently started. I don’t know how far it’s progressed. It might be a good chance to get right into the mainstream exposure.

Synapse: On your “Macula Transfer” (3rd solo LP) the dedication reads to “David Bowie, lggy … and the ghost of Chopin”. What’s the significance behind the dedication?

Froese: I have a very strange story concerning that, I’ve never talked about it before. I’m not sure if it’s good to talk about it … anyway: I was together with David for maybe half a year. I would visit him in the Hansa by the Wall studio, where he recorded the Low” album, and when he recorded lggy Pop’s record after that-it was the first time I got to meet him for an extended period. We got into some strange discussions about music. And he came to Berlin, and stayed here for about a year now … we saw each other periodically. A kind of friendship developed between us, and there were possibilities that also developed of working on a project together. So far, because of the impossibilities of commitments there has been no chance.

Synapse: I noticed the direction he has been taking as of late, as not been one “I am more a musician than a technician.”

Froese: Yeah. He came up one day with my Epsilon in Malaysian Pale record and told me how much it had influenced him. It was quite strange, I didn’t expect it from a guy like David. But I think alter “Station to Station” he made quite strange jump into a new area.

Synapse: What do you think of the direction he is taking?

Froese: I think it’s quite hard for him to do it. He’s definitely lost a lot of his followers. One has to decide though, if one wants to go just for the kids, or as you get older, to do something else. I think it’s a very personal decision. It has nothing to do with the business.

Synapse: Outside how it affects his popularity. do you like tire the direction he is going?

Froese: I like it.

Synapse: I think “Heroes” is yet another step forwards from “Low”.

Froese: Yes. I think so too but one of the problems is, unless you know something about the process, how much the work of Fripp and Eno has affected his sound. it is difficult to take the transition.

Synapse: I have a feeling that what he’s doing, what you’re doing, what Eno’s doing is indicative generally, not saying how it will wind up, of the way mainstream music is going. It has the force of technology behind it …

Froese: Yes, I think that’s true. Oddly enough though, I remember around Christmas of last year, Eno stayed in Berlin for a couple of days, and came to visit during rehearsal in an old cinema we’d rented and it was such a strange exercise. We realized we could never work with him. and he could never work with us. Yet he could work with David. Strange isn’t it? Synapse: He just approaches the use of electronics from a different angle than you?

Froese: A totally different angle. I suppose it sounds pompous, but we’ve really studied it, for around five years. We’ve spent a lot of time and money on the study of the technology that make~ possible what we’re trying to do. We realized very early that to get behind all that stuff and make it work for you, it needs to be “trained” very hard. Otherwise it’s just a gimmick. Like writing a popsong and putting some electronic sounds on top of it.

Synapse: Like Summer and her producer?

Froese: Yes, yes. Everyone mentions that. They all ask “well, but what do you think of Donna Summer, using the sequencer on that one number?” It frustrates me, in a way. It tool.. us maybe five years to perfect the beginnings of possibilities of the use or sequencer in combination with other sounds and devices. Somebody comes along. giving it what is to me, at least. a very simplistic treatment of the device. and suddenly everyone takes notice, only because it happens to be the decoration around a pop melody.

Synapse: I imagine her producer had more than a little to do with that?

Froese: Yes. I know Giorgio Moroder. That’s the kind of thing he’s into, really. Pop production values.

Synapse: I can see what you mean. I had never looked at it that way before. I’d begun to think of it in terms of a step in evolution. That mainstream breakthrough with the use of electronics…one that undoubtly helped to create.

Froese: Yes. yes. I suppose. But how often will the sequencer be used below its potential now1 We certainly didn’t get any formal recognition for ii. And how many had used it before us7 It had only been used in a very academic setting for the most part. Walter Carlos and a few others … it’s just all very frustrating to me. So anyway, we went through the whole technical side for about five years. You have to learn so many thing,,. and ifs very hard. You have lo learn so many thing~ which in any other case, you would be totally uninterested in. Personally speaking, I feel I am more a musician than a technician. But you have to learn about all of these knobs and switches and technical functions. It’s terrible. I hate it.

Synapse: I imagine it would involve a lot of mathematics.

Froese: Yes that. I hate that too.

Synapse: I used to hate it too, until I started getting interested in it.

Froese: Exactly, exactly. And the first success you get in the field is just to realize whatever you put into these machines is what you get out. If it’s done in greai earnest, with some knowledge, it can be something very creative, and new; right at the moment. And it’s the first step of success. And after getting that, you then want to get even more out of these technical gorillas. So you keep working, you keep working aod in the process you forget how hard it is. You may reach a certain level of satisfaction. but you keep going on …

Synapse: You’ve increased the amount of equipment you use by quite a bit since ‘Phaedra’ haven’t you?

Froese: We started in 1971 with just one small synthesizer which was built by the EMS company in London. A VCS3 Voltage, Controlled Synthesizer. Now we use about twenty-six different types on stage. The one big problem that came up since that time has been the impossibility of walking into a shop and being able to buy just what we needed because we’d bought everything that was on the market and the bigger companies said they couldn’t do modifications just for us because it’s very expensive. So we founded a little “Chris and I asked him what he wanted to do.” factory here in Berlin, with three or four people behind it, called “Projekt Electronic Berlin” and they fill any of the custom requirements we may have. They have made the synthesizers that fill most of the essential needs. The way we did it was to draw up some diagrams of how the functions should be, what sort of filters we need, how many oscillator banks, which way the envelope should work; things like that. They worked out where to get the single materials. Some we’ve got from America, others from England, others from France; so we’ve collected everything we need from all around the world. Now we have some very sophisticated equipment. On the other hand don’t forget one thing. They are never creating anything by themselves. A lot of people may think, if they see a big synthesizer like the “Projekt Electronic”, all they have to do is look at it and a beautiful sound comes out. Nothing comes out that at the very least hasn’t been programmed into the machine. And if you want to run the same program or programs through a whole tour, okay. you can do that. But it’s not very creative and not very satisfying so you don’t do that. So you set up a new program for each concert and that takes maybe two or three hours every day. And it can’t be done by a road crew. They’d have to have as much background as you and even then how are they to know what direction you want to go in the next time7 We do have some pre-programmed arrangements but it gets very boring using those things, One of the ideals Tangerine Dream has had through the years has been to improvise, never ever play one concert twice.

Synapse: Like Keith Jarrett, in a sense.

Froese: Yes exactly. It’s better that way more human, more creative.

Synapse: You told someone in another interview, who had compared you to Pink Floyd that you disagreed on the point that they were too structured.

Froese: We started nearly on the same platform as they did, relating drug experiences and all the so-called psychedelic stuff. But then we moved away from the area that begins when you compose set-pieces and play them every night. It makes you ill, kills your creativity. So the way they’ve moved into the commercial areas. I can agree: I know some of the reasoning, I’ve met these guys. I can understand why they have done it. But as far as it being part of the music-music is like a process. It and you should go on to create something new.

Synapse: I suppose it’s understandable, even though I think they stagnated a few years back. They probably got tired of being in the red. of owing everybody money all tire time.

Froese: Yeah. And they can’t even see each other anymore.

Synapse: Really?

Froese: Yeah-I mean they’re so far apart in their personal attitudes now, even right down to their tastes and convictions in music. Dave Gilmour has become increasingly interested in folk-music and just regular guitar-stuff. And Nick Mason is a drummer, if you know what I mean; and most of the material, I think, is done by the bass player. It’s quite a strange relationship they’ve got. From a personal stance, outside the busir1ess, it can be very easy to criticize someone, to ·say, “Oh god, what good music they did a couple of years ago, and now they do that commercial shit”; I’ve heard it..( know why it’s done. But if you know why it has been done; what sort of problems a band could get into after being together about ten years, it’s very normal to-

Synapse: To want to eat?

Froese: Sure. Even if you become successful, money can do a l.ot of strange things to people. Synapse: And it cannot buy creativity. I tlri11ka group of people, no matter /1ow creative they might be, can only work together so long before tire friction wears down.

Froese: True. And that’s one thing that might be quite new for you-because we’ve had the same problems with our band. We reformed the group four weeks ago. There was a very hard discussion inside the band about getting more commercial as opposed to staying uncommercial. Peter Baumann had built another studio, wants to get more into the production side. Chris and I asked him what he wanted to do – did he want to progress in music or did he want to get into his studio and produce some hit singles? So we left it for maybe three months and then it was apparent that he could not make a clear decision. So we told him, “Look, we want to go on, we need to progress, so perhaps it’s better that you leave”. So that’s it. We’ve added two other members, and are a fourpiece group now. One is an Englishman, who played in the very early days of Steamhammer, Steve Jollife. He will be playing electronic sax, a lot of synthesizers and keyboards. A very accomplished, allround musician, and has been working for about ten years, writing and playing. Also, we have added a drummer. That’s quite strange, isn’t it?

Synapse: Yeah. I remember you saying around the time of “Phaedra” that you were through will all the silly things,” meaning drummer and bass-players.

Froese: But it’s not a normal drummer situation. It’s going to utilize a lot of electronic percussion and conventional percussion, particularly a device known as a trigger-tom. The trigger-signal runs straight into the synthesizer and can reshape the drum sound into something else. It can be rigged to switch a little computer so that the signal runs into another instrument and can influence it after the wave-form has been altered. We did it because we want to get back the emotional part of playing an instrument. One of our trademarks has been the sequencer, and that has been what has been creating the bass-lines, what in effect has been our rhythm section. But it does run very automatically, in regular beats, and if you want irregular beats you can have them, but it’s still not very emotional, it’s just pressing buttons. Ifs better now if we do it by a drummer, if it’s a human hand, with sticks, controlling each impulse.

Synapse: A bit more fluidity?

Froese: The sound hasn’t changed that much, you must realize, but there’s a pivot of emotion, of feeling through spontaneity that the sole use of automation does not provide. I was myself, very surprised at the results. We’ve been rehearsing together for about four weeks. Then the studio dates come up in the first week of January for a new record. But it’s made us very happy that we can still progress, and don’t fall straight into a repetitive, Commercial market thing. We’ve been together about six and a half years. And we’ve earned quite a lot of money. It just didn’t affect Chris and I that much. Peter was a bit different. He liked having a lot of money and travelling around the world. There wasn’t enough time to train the fingers and the brain. We weren’t together enough to practice as a unit, but we’ve got everything back now.

Synapse: So Peter is going to work more with production, then?

Froese: I think so. That’s what he wants to do. He has stopped working. as far as I know, on anything of his own. And he has produced some material for someone else. He has, as I said, built a bigger studio in Berlin, and I think he just wants to work with it. I think it’s better than boring each other.

Synapse: You worked with Klaus Schulze at one time?

Froese: Yeah! The first album we ever recorded, “Electronic Meditation” -very strange- released in ’70. He played just drums at that time. After that he wanted to get off the drum kit, and more into the keyboards.

Synapse: I really like the .. Mirage .. Lp he released last year on Island.

Froese: So do I. I think it’s probably the best thing he has ever done, clearer and more precise.

Synapse: What music has influenced you tire most profoundly?

Froese: Classical. Again, we are not into making a big thing out of it, but we’re all classically trained from a very early age. Since childhood, I like Bach, Johann Sebastian to be specific. Has to be the greatest bass-player of all time. Haydn, Schubert. A lot of the Romantics. Chopin, Liszt, Mendelsohn, the Impressionists. Debussy, Ravel and so on. Modems, Bartok, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Xenakis and Boulez. whom I am really fond of. Medieval chorale fascinates me; plainsong and polyphony like …

Synapse: Gregorian chants?

Froese: I love Gregorian chants.

Synapse: It’s shown t Ii rough a great deal in your use of voice tapes. I think.

Froese: They’re so pure. I get up in the morning very early, usually just as the sun comes up-a good time for them. Gregorian chants.

Synapse: Do you think you’ll get more into the use of live voice more perhaps wit/, this new ensemble?

Froese: I would like very much to, yes. We’ve been thinking about it. I just wouldn’t like to see its use, if we were to take it up, or the use of anything we do, to become so standardized that it takes on that “hit” quality. It might well become a trap, if that is what our livelihood depended upon. If you do what you want, and it’s really done strongly. with conviction, maybe the audience feels it too, and knows whether or not you just want to fool around. U it’s really serious, then people may agree to it on your terms, and with the years, some success. Maybe not enough to earn millions but to get enough to live from. That’s all you can ask for. That’s all I want. Maybe someday posterity will look back upon you and see your work as something very important, something historical, maybe even something timeless. But you don’t even think about that, because it makes you self-conscious. You don’t worry about the fame now, or posthumously, or the money as long as there is enough for your art. You simply do it, and do it honestly.