Tangerine Dream interview – july/august 1977

This article, written by Doug Lynner, appeared in Synapse Magazine, July/August 1977. Please note that all (c) are with the magazine and the author. We have included the original printed pages of the article and scanned/OCR’d it for you (below the scans).

Tangerine Dream’s recent U.S. tour may in many ways be observed as a test. The question would be, can an electronic music group haul themselves, their equipment, a laser set-up, and a laserist around the country to halls seating 1500 to 5000 people and return home solvent? The answer is yes. In fact, most dates were sold out. Of course it helps to have many albums out and ads in the national music press announcing the tour schedule, but nevertheless, it’s never quite been done before. by Doug lynner

Doug Lynner: I understand that Tangerine Dream originally started from a much more traditional “rock band” format. Would you comment on your beginnings and how you became identified with synthesizers?

Edgar Froese: Well, the thing was that we felt we couldn’t do our music just playing dru.ms and guitars. We had something different in mind and with conventional instruments we felt we couldn’t do it because of the limited range of sounds. And so there was coming up the possibility to use synthesizers and instruments that allow you to collect sounds the way you want, not just given sounds from conventional instruments. We started in a very small way with just a little synthesizer first and through the years we were able to try bigger ones and more expensive ones and try different possibilities.

Doug: Were there any groups or people that influenced your move to synthesizers?

Edgar: No group.

Chris Franke: No, we actually got the first stuff in Germany because we were in the process of extending our instruments. Conventional instruments are just not enough. Actually, we started using synthesizers, not because they were around and something new, but we thought we had the knowledge and the theory to do much more than just make sound effects. We want to be an explorer in sound.

Peter Baumann: The electronics were just a result of other things we were doing to make sound. Electronics were a result of that because it was more easy to handle and more universal, even in Germany.

Doug: Is the introduction of keyboards part of your attempt to be accessible to a popular audience?

Peter: It doesn’t happen by the thought that we want to sell a million albums. Of course we want to sell it, but it comes after the musical development. First there was the musical development of going very far away from what was usual to us. We had to make a very, very big circle to be able to express ourselves in a language that is understandable. That’s why we had to make this change.

Doug: Language is something that I am interested to talk to you about. So far, you’ve not been doing vocals. Do you plan to use them in the future 7

Edgar: We may use them but definitely not in the normal way. One thing is that we are from Germany and what we could say in English is not that understandable so why should we sing in bad English 7

Peter: Another thing is that singing has a very direct association a.nd the music we are doing leaves very much space for interpretation. People have different access to the music. I think for instance, with Rod Stewart, there a.re not very many different. ways to access. There is only one. Using the voice with special fixed lyrics would limit that very much. We might do it one day for a special purpose. We would use the voice as another instrument or sound source.

Doug: What kind of response did you get from American audiences 011 your frip? Peter: Very good. Doug: Did they seem open to your music?

Peter: I think you can’t say it that easily. It’s very difficult to distinguish. Some people say our electronic music is chance. We realized, especially yesterday, (Santa Monica Gvic Concert) that once you have a good relationship to the audience you are able to go really very far out and play things that under normal circumstances they would never accept. But just because you have a good corresponence, they are listening to you. They accept you and they accept what you have to say. They have a feeling for whether you’ re standing to what you are saying or if you are not. And if you are, they like it.

Doug: From a live performance viewpoint, what directions do you thi11k that syntl,esizer designers should work in?

Edgar: A lot of instruments are very unuseable because the design and the way of handling the instrument is totally senseless. A lot of times we’ve bought an instrument with little knobs you can’t find or switches you can’t find.

Chris: There are three aspects which have to be dealt with very fast. Programming; changing programs in performance, which can be done-the aspect of new sound possibilities; much more control over things you’ve got with conventional sounds: much more happens in a conventional sound-and the third point is the actual physical control; there needs to be much more than just playing on a keyboard or knobs and switches.

Peter: I think the attitude of the musicians towards the music and the use of electronic instruments is a very important part for designing future instruments. There is a difference between some African tribe hitting a drum and the people of the civilized world playing synthesizer. There is definitely a difference. I think we’re just very much at the beginning of realizing what electronic music is all about and what it can be about. It’s still a very unknown land. I’m not sure presently about the future but I think one has to distinguish very much between playing these things very emotionally or very much by thought about it. And this is a reflection of how things have to be designed. If they should be emotionally played they have to be regarded to be played physically and on the other hand if you want to do the music by thought then they have to be very accurate. Every musician for himself has to decide what he wants to use the electronics for. I think it is yet a very neutral instrument.

Doug: The subject of controllers is very interesting. So far the tradition has been keyboard control but now there are starting to be many possibilities.

Chris: There are things already like a flute controller, guitar controller …

Peter: But still this is all coming from the roots of musicians playing instruments but if you really extend the thought about electronic music and the possibilities to play it, then even an architect could do electronic music. It’s just a matter of definition. It’s not anymore playing drums. It’s something else. You have to define very much what a musician is and what creativity is when you get into electronic music.

Edgar: The instruments could be much more in the future but it’s up to the musicians. It seems that if they are successful or really in the top 30, they are not interested anymore in developing things. They’re interested in collecting money more than things they really can do.

Peter: You have to take the border very slowly. If you go fast, then nobody can follow you and you will get into borders where you think about things that nobody else but yourself, and hardly yourself, will understand. I have done this and there is no reason to do this. It will happen very slowly and very progressively but very fundamentally and that’s why I’m so sure that electronics will be part of future society.

Edgar: But if we go too far, we will have only one chance to commun.icate. The.re are not too many people with the knowledge so we have to go slow.

Doug: On your tour, laser was featured. Was the laser integrally related to the music?

Peter: It was in parts. Maybe it was less successful than it could have been but it can’t be completely successful because we have worked together for six years and still there are minor parts of concerts that ai-e not together. Laserium and Richard Vanceunebrouck-Werth (laserist) we knew for hours or for weeks, and since we are improvising and he is improvising there is only a vague chance that it works 100%. We are happy it worked out as well as it did and we are looking for other things for future tours.

Chris: It’s a matter of availability. Laser is the last development. It’s the best that could be done for us.

Edgar: It was an experience for them (Laserium) as well. What they’re doing around America is a fixed program and they’ve mixed the music beforehand so everything is set up. They have never just sat behind their equipment and combined the light with anyone’s music. So nobody knows exactly what will happen in the next second. I think they’ve done a quite good job of it.

Chris: There are better things out like computer graphics and holographs but those are studio productions. It’s not a live situation.

Peter: And that’s a basic idea of our group. There are two opposite worlds. You can put on a record and for every second you know that this tone will happen and this tone will happen and you can control it completely. The opposite is that you bring three people from different ends of the world, put them together and say, “do what ever you want to do.” Tangerine Dream is exactly in the middle. We know each other and we know what we are doing; we are doing music but we have not written scores. By this way of improvisation we have the chance, of course, that it can breakdown but it can’t breakdown completely because we know each other, we know the instruments and we know what we are doing. But still we have the kind of improvisation that brings us to possibilities of music. For instance, in the concerts we didn’t know what to expect but we knew it couldn’t breakdown. That’s why we like improvisation very much-because it extends the boundries.

Doug: At what point do you think it all stops being improvisation?  You’ve played with each other for six years now so I’m sure you have some idea what others will play.

Peter: This could never stop even if you play with yourself. Because you’re never stuck in yourself. Everyday you’re getting new impressions and you’re never ever able to express yourself in one unique setting because you are not God. You are not a complete extraction of all the life. You are in a special situation and you have a special feeling to what you are doing at that moment. An interview is the same thing. You can ask the same question but I will have a different feeling everyday for this question. And that’s what music is all about. Even if you are alone, improvisation will be different everyday. The thing is you don’t want to have improvisation everyday. It’s very good to have a group because you are getting very new stimulation from the people you are working with which causes your own improvisation to go ahead. We are very happy that we know what these advantages are.

Chris: There are many electronic musicians just sitting around alone in the studio with a lot of tapes who get quite nice results and sound products but we are a group. We all have our own program and it changes everyday, every hour.

Doug: Did you react to the laser performance?

Peter: No, we didn’t react to what he was doing because we couldn’t see it.

Edgar: We don’t want to say that the laserist was part of the group or that it was planned as a unit.

Doug: Recently there have been articles in the major U.S. newspapers about yourselves, Kraftwerk, Philip Glass, Klaus Schultz and others and they’re lumping all those people together . …

Edgar: I hate it. We all hate it.

Peter: Of course.

Edgar: There are people like Philip Glass, who is a guy that really knows what he’s doing. Those people we like. People who know what they’re doing, who want to explain to other people. People like Riley or Reich or Glass, or other European composers. But we are definitely not anywhere near copies of their thin.king. What they’re producing in music is in fact what they’re thinking about.

Peter: Two things to that. l don’t see that as a very big problem because this has been ours alone. It will be our rock. I think the first musicians who made the rock music were competing with each other in some sense because, I don’t know, they wanted to sell more albums or something. Now, with punkrock groups they are really fighting. One punkrock says, “the others are just doing it because it is in fashion but we are the really punk rock group. Look, I am cutting off my ear. I’m the really punk group.” I think in a time, the things that are really best will establish themselves. And I don’t care about someone else making some copies of an album because I want to be sure what I am doing. And I think in the end everything is going through which has a very fundamental thought about it and not that much which is superficial. You forget it in a time. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. It’s very dangerous if it hits your legs and stops you from going on. You have to be careful and you have to kick a little to have your free way but in the end you become sure about what you’re doing.

Doug: Do you feel it’s harmful in any way that you’re being labeled as “Space Rock” or “technorock”. These terms have rather specific connotations.

Edgar: I tell you what. If you walk into a store to get some cream for your shoes and you find the packages are not marked, you won’t know which box it’s in. So they have to label you in some way.

Peter: It depends very much on the level. Maybe some years from today they get more distinctive but even today, everybody is calling … it’s silly but everyone is calling Pink Floyd the “electronic group.” But if you go into detail on the subject and talk to the people, then you know what it is and you don’t need to label it. It’s just for appearance in the papers and they just have to have it. It is our society and they will not change in that way.

Doug: What projects are you individually working on? Peter: To go on. I don’t think you have to specify it at all. You11 see what will happen.

Edgar: What we don’t want to do is spend three straight months on the road. More than that cou.ld kill. Honestly. We are not a strip tease group that is putting on their music show every night. We want to do what we want to do. We don’t want anyone to talre care of us.

Peter: That’s one reason why artificial groups don’t work. There are very many intelligent and very keen managers around and they say, “Here I’ve got lots of money and here I’ve got some people. I’m going to make this work together.” But it doesn’t work because it’s not original.

Edgar: Let’s say Roxy Music in England or Kiss in America. It works and everybody gets out a lot of money but all these individuals are killed by an “idea” manager. I don’t know the names of the guys in Kiss, and maybe it’s not necessary but if one of these guys would be kicked out, what should he do 7 Paint his face another way or start another group. Very often the whole music scene is just controlled by the ideas of some really silly hands. What I’ve said doesn’t sound too bad but it would kill everybody who tries to be a musician.

Peter: It’s a constant fight between the musicians and the business. You have to give up something because you need the business, otherwise, you can stay at home, which maybe is the best way. I don’t know yet. Somehow you want to get to the people and you just can’t do this without the business.

Edgar: I’ve seen English superstars of five or six years ago, who are selling now, hotdogs on the West End of London and believe me it’s no joke. If you think about it, you have to be careful. On the money side, I’m not interested in getting a million dollars now. I want to get ten thousand dollars each month for the next twenty years. That’s what I’m interested in if you put it that way.

Doug: What concept or approach unites you as people and as a musical entity?

Edgar: In the end, the best idea is the best. It doesn’t matter who finds the best idea. If you’re spending hours and hours fighting about a silly point it’s not worth it.