Pioneer of Electronic Music: Edgar Froese (1944-2015)

Founder of Tangerine Dream died last Tuesday, aged 70 

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“Working with synthesisers is a completely different approach to electrified music. We’re open to all kinds of modern music developments…” – Edgar Froese. 

The news hit quite unexpectedly this morning. Edgar Froese, who died this week in Vienna, was one of the most prominent electronic music pioneers and the only consistent member of influential electronic group: Tangerine Dream. 

Rather than be lost amongst the sound of their Krautrock contemporaries such as Neu!, Faust and Can, Tangerine Dream spent the 70s in ambitious electronic experimentation. The first albums: Electronic Meditation (1970) and Alpha Centauri (1971) were interesting experiments; but, in 1972, their third album: Zeit, a double album with one track per side, became their first masterpiece with: “just lots of strange pulsating synths and a few creepy cellos” as the 40th Anniversary CD sleeve insists.

Signing to Virgin Records gave them the chance to experiment more and resulted in the seminal classic: Phaedra (1974). It’s ambitious use of sequencers helped create a trancey, atmospheric soundscape, from which one can detect the tentative beginnings of the modern techno and ambient genres. Rubycon and Ricochet both arrived in 1975, proving that those spacey sounds could be consistently creative. 

With the release of studio albums: Tangram (1980) and Exit (1981), experimenting with the latest electronic equipment, a distinctively 80s sound emerged, and inspired the next stage of their musical direction; directors were inspired to ask them to provide soundtracks for their movies. Here they would pick up a totally new fanbase.

For the exact moment when Tangerine Dream first caught my attention, here it is…

“Together, [Tangerine Dream and The Keep] formed one of the great audio/visual events of the Eighties, and the Franke/Froese/Schmoelling soundtrack gained almost legendary status mainly because of the conspicuous absence of an official soundtrack release” – synthmusicdirect.com

Tangerine Dream were prolific composers of film music, with The Sorceror (1977), Thief (1981), Risky Business (1983), Legend (1985) and Near Dark (1987) among some of their considerable back catalogue; but it is their extraordinary soundtrack for Michael Mann’s cult second movie: The Keep (1983) which introduced me to the unique and groundbreaking music of Edgar Froese. 

At first listening, the amazing electronic music in this much-maligned cult horror movie set in Romania during the Second World War seems bizarre and incongruous, but makes for an oddly-compelling viewing experience. This may be one of the reasons why this intriguing but badly-edited film has divided opinions so dramatically. The above scene – strange and then quite horrific – naturally calls for some unnerving audio accompaniment.

Not like Tangerine Dream to oblige so obviously. On the contrary, they provide a sublime, quite uplifting track; some would say it just doesn’t work, but personally, it made for an exceptional moment. Thirty years after first viewing, the rest of the movie may have been a blur, but that scene will live with me forever…

tangerinedreamTangerine Dream

“So sad to hear of the sudden death of my friend Edgar Froese, founder of Tangerine Dream. Great memories” – Brian May. 

In 1967, as an art student in West Berlin, a meeting with surreal artist: Salvador Dali encouraged Froese to depart from the conventions of guitar rock and explore the universe on sonic waves. It’s quite obvious: Edgar Froese and sci-fi melded seamlessly. Of course, Tangerine Dream have – in numerous reviews – been labelled as space-rock. With some of the most pulsating or drifting cosmic sounds ever recorded, Froese and his ever-changing band of co-synthnauts (including most notably Chris Franke and Peter Baumann) achieved some phenomenal celestial explorations and musical concoctions. A glance at such titles as Alpha Centauri (1971), Birth of Liquid Pleiades (1972), Phaedra (1974), Patrolling Space Borders (1977) would easily confirm this.

A practitioner of Zen Meditation, Froese believed that time itself was an illusion, formed by the senses. There have been numerous nights when the meditative – as well as inspirational – qualities of Phaedra, Rubycon, The Keep and Zeit have all helped immensely in the compilation of a few of my Posts; so it seems uncanny that their composer is suddenly no longer with us…

“There is no death,” he once said, “there is just a change of our cosmic address.”  

The proof of any great composer must surely lie in the sheer difficulty of selecting just one track which best epitomises the power and influence that his music can evoke. Out of Edgar Froese’s varied and extraordinary body of work, it is this track in particular which has made me look out several times from my balcony, scan the stars in the night sky and contemplate life, the universe and everything. 

Thank you Edgar. 

Edgar-Froese

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5 thoughts on “Pioneer of Electronic Music: Edgar Froese (1944-2015)

  1. Thank you for your comment, J.
    Listening to Tangerine Dream right now as a matter of fact.
    Edgar gave us some tremendous music so just had to write this tribute
    Cheers!

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