Next time you're at a dance club getting down to some electronic sounds, take a moment to thank Tangerine Dream. For more than four decades, the German group has mined technology for cutting-edge sounds to be used in atmospheric and somewhat hypnotic musical compositions. Even if the name doesn't sound familiar, chances are you've heard Tangerine Dream's music in such films as "Risky Business" and "Thief." Their pioneering body of work also serves as an inspiration and foundation for electronic dance music, especially the genres of trance and ambient.
Musical technology has changed quite a bit over the years, from the monolithic looking synthesizers of the 1970s to the sleek laptops of today, as has Tangerine Dream's line-up. Edgar Froese still leads the group, which will make a rare northern California appearance on Friday night at downtown Napa's Uptown Theatre (click here for ticket information).
Here's what Froese had to say in a recent e-mail interview:
The Bee: Looking at concert photos of the band from the 1970s and 80s, I'm astounded with how much gear you had on stage. How long did it take to set up for a show back then, and has current technology made it easier to tour now?
Froese: Back in the mid 70's it was nearly impossible to perform day by day in a row because we needed always an off-day to reset and to construct the huge amount of equipment. Today we have stored our entire sound logistics in a couple of laptops - what can be played with 6 hands will be played live, therefore a tour like this is of course ten times easier than 40 years ago.
The Bee: What kind of show can people expect on the band's current tour? Does the set-list span Tangerine Dream's career, or focus on newer material?
Froese: As far as the music is concerned the audience will make an adventurous ride through the last 45 years of Tangerine Dream's audio journey. There will be of course some modern material which shows what modern computer technology can do today in comparison to the good old days.
The Bee: Many people were introduced to your music through film soundtracks. What is the process generally like when you're scoring a film? What kind of movies do you think pair especially well with Tangerine Dream's music?
Froese: Working in a studio is a composing process which reflects just your own thoughts and emotions. If you work on a picture you necessarily have to react to a lot of parameters which have been part of your creativity. You also have to listen carefully what ideas the director and probably the producer comes up with. So finally scoring movies means to be just one link of a chain. In order to increase the quality of the movie and deliver a professional work you have to accept being a servant rather than performing an ego trip.
The Bee: Often when I hear trance and other forms of electronic dance music, I think, "This sounds like what Tangerine Dream was doing 30 years ago." Do you ever think this as well?
Froese: In our days it is incredibly easy to produce some melody rhythms or harmonies on sound plug-ins installed in a computer. But music as we understand it is much more than that. We understand our work in the sense of the difference between a great poem and a silly article in the yellow press. We also trust our fans and audience to hear and experience the difference. Of course it doesn't mean that all synth electronic music stuff produced by the youngsters is worthless, it's just the story you have to tell which matters and makes finally the difference.
The Bee: Do you have a preference between analog and digital synthesizers? Those old Moog synthesizers sounded amazing, but were they hard to take on tour?
Froese: We did take the old moog modular system on tour for about 12 years and it did cost us a fortune. The big fat bass sound of the Moog never has been beaten by any other instrument, analogue or digital. We still have good and direct contact to the Moog people in Ashville and follow their new innovative ideas.
The Bee: What preconceptions do you find that some people still have with electronic music?
Froese: Just ask the same people who have prejudices about the electronic sounds how any audio signal will be transmitted within their neuronal brain system. Whether it is a sound of a symphonic orchestra or a sound created by an electronic instrument, the transmitting process within a human brain will be the same based on an electric interactive impulse. So all preconceptions are simply purely psychologically.
The Bee: Which new musical technologies are you currently excited about?
Froese: Technology could help to transport what necessarily has to be there from day one of your musical career. Of course we are currently working with the most advanced high tech equipment on the market. But one shouldn't forget that even the best equipment you can buy today are just crutches for your creativity and cannot replace what music should be all about: a new description of your subjective world.
The Bee: Here's a question from a local Tangerine Dream fan: What is your all-time favorite piece of music?
Froese: All the later toccatas and fugues by Johann Sebastian Bach because they are not just timeless, they are true master pieces of musical architecture. Bach has to be called the 'fifth evangelist'.
The Bee: Finally, what plans are in Tangerine Dream's future?
Froese: Tangerine Dream will be back on the big screen for some future sound track work, also there is the score for Franz Kafka's book "The Castle" in the making. A concert performance together with Brian May which took place recently on the Canary Islands will be released in autumn and finally a complete audio-visual release of the recent European and American tour will be out for Christmas 2012.