There was a time in the 1980s – well, it was actually all of the 1980s – when you couldn’t watch a movie that didn’t boast a sleek instrumental soundtrack created by Tangerine Dream.
Any director who wanted to inject a dose of modernism, car-chase tension buildup or just an eerie ambiance had to look no further than the German psychedelic- turned-electronic band founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese.
It turns out that in most of those movies – like Flashpoint, Vision Quest or Firestarter – the evocative Tangerine Dream music was the best thing about them. For every Risky Business with Tom Cruise, there were three Red Heats with Linda Blair.
But for the 70-year-old Froese – who played a major role in introducing electro- dance music to the mainstream (Israeli audiences might be familiar with his 1979 composition “Stuntman,” which has been used as the theme music for Channel 1’s Mabat Sheni for three decades), film scores were just another vehicle to enable to him to let his imagination run wild.
“Composing scores for movies hasn’t changed my musical style, but had a dramatic influence on my work flow, because working on a picture always means working on a given schedule,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a recent email interview. “So here you have to learn to work under pressure all the time in order to finish your compositions within some contractual obligations.”
Ironically he is bringing the latest incarnation of Tangerine Dream for its debut show in Israel on what is being billed as a farewell tour.
The only constant in a revolving door of musicians, Froese has maneuvered the seven- time Grammy-nominated band through an astounding 150 albums, soundtracks and compilations, while rarely repeating himself. He has had a lasting impact on musical genres ranging from Floydian space, new age, and the 1970s krautrock of Kraftwerk and Can, to modern-day DJ mixes and electronica.
“If you are in that business for over about 45 years, you have heard and played nearly everything. In order to keep yourself hungry, you have to look for a musical challenge, something new you want to explore, a musical idea which no one has discovered so far,” he said, explaining why he has changed collaborators so often over the years.
“By doing this, some of your fellow band members don’t want to follow you on such an adventurous path, and often you have to change the line-up in order to find new and younger people who are also looking beyond the horizon of pure commercialism.”
Back in the late 1960s, Tangerine Dream could hold its own with any of the psychedelia coming out of England via the likes of Pink Floyd or the seminal San Francisco acid rock bands. Froese said it was a grand time to be starting off on the path of music-making, precisely because most of the rules were being broken.
“The musical landscape in the late ’60s was much more influential than today,” he said. “So keeping that in mind, new ideas and styles were swapping all over the globe.
It is true that our musical background at that time can be found within the tradition of British bands, as well as bands from the American West Coast.”
Froese, who was born and raised in East Prussia, began playing piano and guitar as a child, but relocated to West Berlin in the mid-1960s to study art. He soon became immersed in the growing avant garde music scene in the city, joining a psychedelic band called The Ones.
“I started as a classical-oriented musician with the training of playing the piano as well as the guitar,” he said. “Very early in my career, my focus changed to the more experimental music of American minimal artists like Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Philip Glass and La Monte Young.”
The Ones were asked to perform for artist Salvador Dali at his villa in Spain, an event that Froese said had a big influence on pushing him to more experimentation.
When he returned to Berlin, he left The Ones to pursue his wider vision with Tangerine Dream.
“Phaedra,” Tangerine Dream’s show on May 18 at the Tel Aviv Opera House, is based on the band’s landmark 1974 album of the same name. The gold album put the band on the map internationally, and The All Music Guide to Electronica called it “one of the most important, artistic, and exciting works in the history of electronic music.”
With the band’s current line-up consisting of Thorsten Quaeschning (keyboards), Linda Spa (flute, sax, keyboards), Iris Camaa (percussion), Bernhard Beibl (guitar) and Hoshiko Yamane (violin), Froese is eager to finally be performing in Israel for the first time in his career.
“I always wanted to experience Israel and the people over there, but never had a chance. I learned a lot about your country, your people and your traditions; now it will be the first time to get in contact face-toface,” he said, adding that he had always felt a special sensitivity toward the Jewish state after learning about the German atrocities in the Holocaust, which also affected him personally.
“Half of the older members of my family got killed by the Nazis during World War II or were under pressure, because as intellectuals they refused to cooperate with the political ideas at that time,” he said. “So you can imagine that I learned very early in my life about the system I was born into.
Later I realized that hate and grief isn’t the way to keep life going. So even having a German passport, I always felt like a cosmopolitan citizen of planet earth. As an artist, I belong to the worldwide community of sophisticated, creative people who want to see human beings from a different perspective and look at life with tolerance and respect.”
It’s a shame that with such a perspective, it’s taken Froese and Tangerine Dream so long to make it to Israel. But a farewell debut is better than no debut at all.