A while back, I found myself faced with a space crisis (again): when compact discs are taking up too much room, you know you’ve got a problem. My solution, since there was no way I was going to give up any of my music, was to convert all my CDs and load them into my computer. It was a little daunting, but I had a lot of fun rediscovering things I hadn’t listened to in a while (including a few that I’d forgotten I owned, and one or two that had me scratching my head wondering where they came from.) Some of them are worth commenting on, starting with today’s offering, Tangerine Dream’s Exit.
I went through a highly exploratory phase in my music listening and happened on a lot of what’s called “New Age.” Yes, 90% of it is crap (Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap), but there are some composers and artists who are worth the time. One such is Tangerine Dream. It’s interesting to observe an artist’s development over time, although as with so many things, I came to Tangerine Dream at the beginning of the second act. Exit dates from 1981, when the group was composed of Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, and Johannes Schmoelling. It offers a departure — or maybe I mean “progression” — from their music of the 1970s (which a friend of mine categorized as “drug music”, although I prefer to think of it as “trance”), although still heavily — make that “entirely” — electronic. The notes accompanying this one, as is so often the case, are marvelously uninformative, offering only the bare bones of personnel, titles, and production data. So we’ll sort of wend our way through with no map.
The opening track, “Kiew Mission” (which I’m taking as a German rendering of “Kiev”) is very atmospheric, fairly cryptic, beginning with a very dramatic series of clashing cymbals, which moves immediately into an almost indecipherable recitation of what I later learned are the names of the continents in Russian, and finally settles on a fairly languid melodic line over an almost sotto voce, rhythm pattern on what sounds like a guitar with damped strings. It’s the longest track, at over 9 minutes, but seems to move very quickly.
“Pilots of Purple Twilight” presents the same busy rhythm under a spare but richly textured melodic line, unabashedly synthesized. It’s a rather poetic piece that for some reason calls to mind aerial views of a fantastic city. But maybe it’s supposed to.
“Choronzon” offers a sharp break. Again, pure electronics, but it’s a lively piece that borrows its rhythm from good ol’ rock’n’roll and takes it to some interesting places. At times there’s almost a big band feel to this one, but never for very long at once. Maybe we’ve landed on the busy streets of that fantastic city.
The title track offers another contrast — a heavy, almost tribal rhythm (it really does remind me of the rhythms of some American Indian music I’ve heard) starts the piece off, with another spare melodic line on top that begins to develop all sorts of ornaments and variations, becoming rich, highly textured, and multi-layered, then fading in and out to share the spotlight with that relentless rhythm. There’s something almost majestic about it.
“Network 23” takes us back to rock’n’roll with another lively, almost bouncy piece over a distinctly rock rhythm. This one’s a lot of fun, with different “instruments” jumping in to counterpoint each other, and/or adding a layer or two to the rhythm section. This could almost be circuit party music — it has that kind of dance ’til you drop thing going for it.
The final track, “Remote Viewing” (no, I have no idea where they got these titles), is,, quite intentionally, I’m sure, rather spooky. Again, a quietly frenetic rhythm under a melodic line (and you do understand I’ve been using the term in its broadest sense?) that calls to mind nothing so much as The Twilight Zone, or perhaps a dystopian science-fiction novel of the Electronic Age run amok. (For some reason, I’m reminded of Philip K. Dick.) It keeps adding layers, though, and we suddenly realize we have another one of those very rich compositions TD seems to come up with regularly.
Tangerine Dream wound up being one of those groups that I collected fairly extensively, based on the quality of their music. (At least, I like to think so.) They’re one of the few groups I’ve run across in any area that has managed to combine a rich, sensuous soundscape with a solidly intellectual approach. Exit is more or less typical of their output in that regard — the music-making is pretty sophisticated and the collection as a whole is certainly engaging. (I’ve always been enthusiastic about electronic music anyway.) Even though the album was released decades ago, you’ll be delighted to know it’s still available in all formats — CD, cassette, MP3, and vinyl.
(Virgin Records, 1981)