JACOBS TANGERINE DREAM BLOG

JACOBS TANGERINE DREAM BLOG

Contemporary '81

interviewsOprettet af Jacob Pertou man, november 24, 2008 20:06

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TANGERINE DREAM
Germany's synthesizer stars talk about equipment and their artistic goals.
By Dominic Milano

TANGERINE DREAM'S music is music for your eyes as well as your ears. It evokes images and takes you places you may never have been before. The layers of synthesizer sound are an audio version of a surrealist painting. And more than one reviewer has remarked on this German trio's influence on other practitioners of live electronic music.

Tangerine Dream was formed in the late '60s by Edgar Froese, then a guitar player. The music the band created was traditional psychedelic rock with traditional instrumentation and traditional volume levels (it was loud). Working within this format, it was hard for the band to establish any kind of original sound, and as Froese puts it, "Playing that type of pop music became unsatisfying. We weren't saying anything new to our audiences or to ourselves."

So by 1969, the band had begun exploring the synthesizer, much to the dismay of its growing European audience. As former member Peter Baumann told Ernest Leogrande of the New York Daily News in 1977, "We began to extend the electronic parts more and more. Eventually we just dropped the guitar and drum playing. After we [had been] playing for about 15 minutes the audiences got – what's the word? – unsatisfied. This was quite the usual reaction. They got furious. That's the right word."

Baumann joined T. Dream in 1972, replacing Klaus Schulze, who went on to become famous in his own right as a synthesist. Baumann was first featured on their third synthesizer album, Zeit, which was released after two others, Electronic Meditations and Alpha Centauri. It was on the latter album that current member Christoph Franke, formerly a drummer, joined the ranks of T. Dream. Zeit was a double album which featured four 'cellists in addition to the standard T. Dream trio of synthesists. Interestingly, all of Tangerine

Dream's albums up to this point were improvised, as were their immediate successors, Atem, Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet, and Stratosfear.

The more recent albums have also been improvisational in nature. One of the most controversial was the album immediately following Stratosfear – the soundtrack to William Friedkin's movie The Sorcerer. The band was also fairly displeased with this LP. In an unpublished interview for Keyboard just before he left the band, Peter Baumann told writer Mike Falcon, "The soundtrack itself, we like, but we didn't like the way it was used. We think that if it had been used the way we thought it should be used, the way it was composed and felt, then it could have fit very well into the picture. But the way it was put in was very different from the way we saw it before. The film was disappointing." Edgar Froese added, "We really loved the script, which we were given before the film was shot. We were asked to compose the music without seeing the film. I think Friedkin is one of the greatest directors, but the final cutting of the film and the way the last five minutes had our music fade in and out seemed totally impractical to us."

Also released at about the same time as The Sorcerer was the live album titled Encore, the last album to feature Baumann. With the release of their next album, Cyclone, Tangerine Dream became a quartet. Peter Baumann left the band in pursuit of a solo career, and Froese and Chris Franke added a drummer, Klaus Krieger, and a reed player, Steve Jolliffe, who also played keyboards, flutes, and piccolo. Despite the inclusion of these acoustic instruments, the band still maintained their other-worldly machinelike drive, created by sequencer ostinato patterns, which had long since been established as their audio signature.

Force Majeure was-released in 1979 and included Krieger on drums, but Jolliffe's keyboards and winds had departed. Engineer Eduard Meyer also put down some 'cello Iines on this LP. Finally, we have 1980's offering from Tangerine Dream, Tangram. This album features the Dream at what may be the most interesting moment in the latest phase of their development. Edgar Froese still plays synthesizers and a little guitar, Chris Franke is still playing synthesizer and taking responsibility for the sequencer rhythms within the trio, but they've been joined by keyboardist Johannes Schmoelling. And one perceives some subtle alterations in the classic Tangerine Dream sound. There are more dynamics in the music, and coupled with their machinelike motor rhythms is a hint of emotion and some feeling that goes beyond mellowness.

Schmoelling joined the band after a chance meeting with Froese in a Berlin studio, where Schmoelling was completing some work with another band. His background, he explained to us, is in classical music and more traditional jazz and rock keyboard playing. He worked as an engineer in various recording studios and studied electronics as well. He saw joining Tangerine Dream as a chance to make use of his skills in both playing and electronics. Onstage, his instrumental duties involve playing some of the more traditional keyboard parts on such instruments as an Oberheim OB-X, a Prophet-5, a Yamaha electric grand, and a Minimoog.Blog Image

T. Dream is infamous for the vast amounts of synthesizer gear they cover a stage with. One glance at the photo above will prove that this reputation is deserved. Visible are Froese's and Franke's huge customized modular synthesizers and the many other keyboard instruments used by the members of the band. Many of these instruments aren't as stock as they appear from the outside, and the number of technological advances that this band has made is enough to make any equipment fanatic drool.

We caught Tangerine Dream in Los Angeles just after they had finished up their latest American tour. There, we spoke first with Chris Franke. About halfway through the interview we were joined by Edgar Froese. We didn't have the chance to speak with Schmoelling until a month later, when the band had a day off from their European tour. Then we spoke to Johannes over the phone from Berlin. The entire band was eager to talk about their unique collection of instruments, their perceptions of the music industry, and future directions that they're going to explore.

HOW MUCH modular equipment is the band making, use of currently, and has it been modified to make live performance a little easier to cope with?

Franke: We have three modular systems, which have been modified rather heavily through the years to make live performance easier. I think we have 200 modules or so. Our service engineer in Berlin became more and more involved with our problems and he started to design his own modules, which are not for sale anywhere else. They are designed just for us. His company is called Projekt EIectronic. This company is very useful to us in the analog field. Digital, or course, is a different story altogether. Our modular systems are about 50% Moog and 50% Projekt Electronic.

What kind of problems have you had to overcome on the modular systems in live performance that have caused you to need to modify them?

That's very easy to explain. The natural problem with modular systems is that they don't have any programmable computer interface facilities. You have no preset programs. You have so little time between songs and within songs to change patches and to set up new registers. That is why we have our systems modified. We have added a lot of CV [control voltage] busses for the oscillators, a lot of signal busses, a lot of busses for controls like keyboards and sequencers. All of these things can now be routed very easily. We even have sequencers set up to control these routings.

How do you decide which sequencer is going to control which voltage?

The sequencer, which we use a lot, is an important controller for us. There are a couple of different sequencers programmed onstage, but we use another to control routing. This routing sequencer is in control of routing the other sequencers to the oscillators and saying how often sequence A is played and how often sequence B is played. This way you get some kind of structure already programmed. Another modification we've had to make is to have completely different power supplies. We have had to stabilize all the oscillators, and all the mechanics we've had to change drastically. Those were the main problems in preparing our system for use onstage. We hare just played 30 countries, and our systems are still holding up. Five or eight years ago, there were tremendous problems. Now we are prepared for them.

How did you deal with the problems back then?

We went to Australia and the modular gear was completely' smashed. We played the tour with a couple o{ Minimoogs. That was a particularly hard time. I still wonder how we were able to use the standard moog sequencers, since the steps are not quantized and the temperature changes affected them all the time. Now I have a very special quantizing arrangement. I can define the intervals of the quantizing. My oscillators also never run out of tune. I can't believe that I used to go through all the trouble that I used to go through. I guess the motivation for going through that much was supplied by the interest in doing something new. Every night we were afraid of having things not work, so we spent most of our income on improving the live situation. We always wanted instruments that were programmable and had polyphonic facilities. We even built our own programmer before their was any other programmer out. Then we started using the Sequential Circuits programmer on our modular units when it came out, and we started using synthesizers like the Prophet-5 and the OB-X when they came out. We also used the Oberheim Four-Voice because this was the first polyphonic synthesizer we knew of and Oberheim instruments have always been avant-garde in technology.Blog Image

What other types of keyboards does the band make use of?

We use ordinary keyboards like a Yamaha CP-70 electric grand, a Hohner Clavinet/Pianet Duo, a Wurlitzer electric piano, and string machines like the Solina, Elka, Crumar, and Korg units. Every instrument has a special position in our music. You have to clarify where to use each instrument through your own experience, because they all sound a little different. Sometimes an instrument only sounds its best in one octave, so we make use of combinations of all of them. We are also getting into purely digital machines.

ln what way?

I started out by using three Roland Microcomposers. That gave me quite an experience. lt also provided me with enough information to know what I wanted to see in a music editing system. We've been building this up, and it should be done bythe summer of 1981. Then there is also an instrument that will provide us with percussive sounds – a sort of digital Mellotron, with digital storage onto floppy disk.

You're having this built for you, or you're using something that's sold commercially?

We're having it built, because there is nothing quite like it on the market. I want to go into musique concrète. This instrument samples acoustic sounds and gives you the ability to alter their pitch and time constants. I started out with shorter percussive sounds, which could last up to two seconds. In this way, I could do a drum solo just by playing a keyboard. Later we will have more memory to do things that are more complex. Drum sounds are short enough to make the quantizing noise silent. Flute sounds are more difficult. The designers of the Fairlight are trying to do this same thing, but it's still very early in the game.

What other experiences have you had with digital instruments that are on the market now?

We own two instruments, the Crumar CDS and the PPC Waveform Computer, which comes from Germany and isn't available in the States. We feel that the Crumar CDS is by far the most advanced and developed digital instrument in terms of software. It also has some of the best hardware in it. Some people feel that it's not good to use such dedicated hardware because you have no idea where digital sound synthesis will go in the future. Will it be additive? Will it be FM? Will it be something else entirely? Nobody knows for sure. And every system is still limited in certain ways. The Fairlight people say that a system that is totally software-oriented is the way to go, because it's easier to develop and change. I don't think that idea will go too far. Microcomputers and microprocessors are just far too limited in sampling speed.

Tell us something about the PPG system.

Edgar is using this system. There are small versions of the system available that cost about $5,000. These have 100 presets, 40 of which you can define yourself. Then there is the big machine, which lets you define all your own waveforms. There are eight voices which can be used as notes, sequences, or independent tone colors. In each voice set there are 64 waveforms, each of which can be defined by splitting it up at 256 break points. You define waveforms by defining the break points, and then you use the envelopes in the machine to sweep through all these different waveforms. That is what makes it sound natural. That is the key to making a synthesizer sound good. The manufacturer has to decide what circuitry to use to make sound change. Using a filter is nice, but it cuts off frequencies. That is why I like to use digital machines. They make the sound appear so clean and crystalline. Electronic music has always sounded too soft and not as brilliant as it should be. You must imagine what this Waveform Computer sounds like with these rich harmonics sweeping about. lt gives you the effect of having a filter, but without all the dullness that a filter imposes on a sound. Then you can also arrange the harmonics in strange orders to get a previously unheard effect.

Are you using digital systems in live performance yet?

We will be using the CDS on our next tour. I did some software changes on it, and we are just waiting to get it back to use it on tour. We might also purchase a Synclavier in the future. This instrument is perfect for live performance. My sound editing system is strictly a studio instrument. This is the mostwonder{ul time in electronic music for getting more control over parameters. One section of the machine I’m designing is strictly for composing. It doesn't matter if the machine is playing itself or if you are printing out something that will control another instrument. When I finish it, it will be able to interpret certain symbols which will give it the ability to play solos as if it were some given instrumentalist, like a violin player. You will be able to draw in pitch-bends and define accents and accelerandos, ritardandos, and dynamics. It is a simple system to use. On the Roland Microcomposer, you sometimes need as many as 12 key depressions for just one note. On this system, only three will ever be needed. This system is also very useful for composition. There are many facilities in it for copying and editing a piece. You can print out numbers in order to have information on a piece of paper, or you can print out in standard notation, which makes it easier for people who aren't familiar with your system to read.Blog Image

Have you made any provision to have the computer generate the structures of a piece?

This is a far-out possibility, and many universities are doing just that. It will come in time. There are a lot of different possibilities in doing something like that. Let's say you have five tones and you don't know what order to put them in. Well, you have the computer throw out some random possibilities. I have a library of harmonies which I can use to harmonize a bass line automatically. You can pre-define the rules for doing this. Sometimes an ordinary rule can be applied to a new music too. What you don't want to have happen is to have the computer actually doing part of the composition. As long as you have control over the entire piece, assuming you have enough taste and power to select the right things, then you're all right. To me, the computer is there to help with routine things, to make it easier for the composer to compose.

Getting back to other types of equipment that the band uses, what about effects devices and signal processors?

We use Moog parametric equalizers, and we use delay lines, of course. I have a very nice delay line made by Klark Technik called the DN-36 that I use for chorus and flanging effects in stereo. Then we have the 360 Systems programmable parametric, and some graphic equalizers too. Almost everything has at least three effects on it. We use flanging and chorusing effects quite a lot, because they make your brain think that the sounds are moving around more. In the future, it would be nice to see someone come out with flanging, chorusing, and echoes which are programmable and can be tied in with synthesizer voices directly. On side two of Tangram I put my OB-1 synthesrzer through a very old fuzzbox. That made it sound like a saxophone in the lower registers and a guitar in the upper registers. Many people mistake that sound for Edgar's guitar.

What type of fuzzbox did you use?

It is only the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff fuzz which is usable for this effect. I even play my Prophet through five Big Muffs.

Five!

Five of them, one for each voice. This is because if you play a chord on the Prophet and run it through a fuzzbox, you get white noise. So I run each voice out to its own fuzzbox. This gives me an almost digital sound quality. Sometimes we use MTI's Hot Tubes, which gives you a little more sharpness and a little dirt. Electronic instruments sound better sometimes if they're run through an old Marshall amp or through a Leslie. I like to try unconventional setups to see how the instruments will be affected.

What about the vocoder effecs on the Tangram album?

For those, I'm using a Moog vocoder in conjunction with a Gentle Electric pitch-to-voltage unit. I haven't used it onstage yet. I haven't found the right singer for it yet. Also on Tangram we used the vocoder with a rhythm machine. We have had our own studio for a year and a half now, and we have all the usual stuff in it, which was used for Tangram. We have tape recorders which are used for delays and an EMT plate reverb. lt is a breakthrough for us to have our own studio, because we can go ahead and breathe now. We can get used to having things in the same place and having the room always sound the same. You need to feel comfortable in an environment when you're doing improvised music, and you need to feel no pressures from time, which we always had when we were renting studios. It's also very important to us to have rehearsal space where you can record as well, and the studio could easily fit 250 people in it. Unfortunately, electronic music is expensive to make. It's something like making an animated film. You work with a whole lot of tracks in electronic music, and in that respect it resembles animated film. Maybe we're doing animation music.

How much of a part do visual images play in your music?

There have always been visuals in our music. In the beginning, things were pretty surreal. They were landscape kinds of things. A lot of our music removed you from time and gave you the feeling of flying in a dream. We always tried to express our visuals through our music. We experimented with using slides and video projections in our live shows, and we did a tour with Laserium. We will definitely do a video disk sometime in the future, but for now, people need to learn to accept lots of new information. Some people close their eyes when they’re presented with too much visual experience accompanied by music which they don't know too well yet. I wonder if there will ever be a film that we write music Io that no one would ever

see. They would just hear the music that we've composed for it. The film would structure the music, but no one would ever see what we used to create the structure. Since we don’t use vocals to determine timings, we've had to find other things that will define those parameters for us. We still feel that we don’t want to do vocal music, and we want to find new, sound colors that will create a new fantasy for the audience.

How do you actually go about organizing a piece? Does it generate itself in the studio?

There are a lot of different ways. Sometimes we're just fooling around improvising and we come up with a theme. Sometimes you're setting up a special color which is so extraordinary that you can only play certain tunes on it. Sometimes sound colors dictate the tune you play, and sometimes it's a certain structure in your mind. At the moment, our recorded and live approaches are mixtures of all those things. We always work around the structured parts and the improvised parts. The structured parts last from five to ten minutes and then you have the improvised parts, which are centered around certain rhythms or keys and that's about all. There are always places left for solos, and there are places where we do abstract kinds of sounds and abstract transitions from totally composed pieces to freeform ones. One nice feature about my editing system is that it can read out what has been played on a keyboard. That is nice, because we will be able to have a printout of what was played during an improvisation. It’s very difficult to try to remember what vou played, and it's nearly impossible to transcribe what three guys improvised when you’re dealing with echoes and three different synthesizer players. This editing system gives you the opportunity to go back and look at what was playe and to edit it together.

You could also go back and alter tone colors.

Of course, this can always be done. So we are not afraid of doing spontaneous music even in a live performance context, even if there is the danger of having something not work and not sound quite right. Our following knows that we are improvising, and that makes it more exciting for them because they know that they will always hear something different.

How well do you understand your audiences?

You never know how the audiences and the kids are. We've been playing for twelve and a half years now and 50% of the audience is completely new. Maybe our concert is the tenth they've ever been to in their life. So it's a completely different experience for them.

When we f irst started doing electronic music 25-year-old students were our audiences. That's all changed now. They've grown older and we've become more popular. The audiences aren't just a following anymore, I think they've grown into a movement. So I wonder how well the American audiences will accept us. Our big problem here is the system of airplay. lt's terrible. You have to have short pieces that fit into some format in order to get any airplay at all. I think jazz musicians have the same problem. You have to cut down your pieces and you have to make them commercially acceptable and even middle-of-the-road. You have to do that in order to get airplay where it counts in the States.

You do get a lot of airplay on the college stations in the States.

Oh yeah, we get some airplay that way, but I still wonder how we can sell out the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium without any major market airplay. Still, we've just completed the film score to a movie by United Artists called The Thief. It has some shorter pieces in it, and the record company likes that very much. There's over an hour of our music in the film and we did it all in two weeks' time. It all happened very quickly.

One of the most characteristic sounds of Tangerine Dream is the everpresent use of sequencers. . . .

It's one rhythmic structure which, when we use it, you can always hear it. The sequencer is a great instrument. The type of repetition it creates is used a lot in African music and minimal music. Bach also has some great sequences. The sequencer makes it great to go into modal music. It makes it much easier to get away from certain types of harmonies, and that's important to us in making music work for the mind. I was a drummer and always was wondering how I could make these bloody drums be in tune. It was just impossible. I wanted percussive sounds that were in tune and that bore some tonal relationship to what the rest of the band was playing. I used to use tape loops, and for years people thought that that's how we did it. They didn't know that we had switched over to sequencers.

What about digital sequencers?

I don't like that type of sequencer. I like sequencers that you can use like an instrument, where you have access to certain parameters and you can cause it to change over time, so you have an ongoing structure happening. If you are good and you have the right instrument, you can have astonishing patterns happening. We have a new sequencer which looks analog from the outside, but is really digital, but not the kind of digital that people sell on the market. You don't control pitch with them, you use them as a clock, because we had trouble creating polyrhythmical things. We had to find a way to sync two different sequencers running two different rhythms. Our engineer came up with a wonderful phase-lock-loop system that synchronizes them. We can sync up to five or six sequencers at once.

How do you control the pitches?

I have switches for quantizing the pitches to whatever I would like. I only have two stepless pots, to control the outputs to the VCAs and the filters. I use these for accents. But l can adjust any semitone that the switches on my sequencers put out' so I’m not locked into playing within a tempered scale. On my new Prophet I can also play in these tunings and I can do the same on a Korg polyphonic synthesizer, which Iets you tune each oscillator individually.

What do you do when you change key on those two instruments, you can set up a new scale, but it's limited to one key, unless on the Prophet you use a different program position with the same sound but a different scale tuned lo the new key.

I use a bass pedal to tell the computer when to change keys. I press a note and the computer knows what to detune and what to readjust to make the scale work in the new key.

You've built an interface to your Prophet and the Korg, to do that?

I’ve done that on the Korg and the sequencers, but not the Prophet yet. I have another instrument which I should tell you about, which I haven't used live or on record yet, but I plan to by the next album. It is a Pianocoder. I bought the standard Pianocoder and we put our own interface in it, so now I can play sequences on almost any keyboard instrument. I plan to have sequences on pianos, harpsichords, pipe organs, Rhodes pianos, Clavinets, and anything else that can't be directly interfaced with an electronic sequencer.

Is the Pianocoder a mechanical system that rolls up to the front of an instrument's keyboard?

Yes. Exactly. Technical people who look at the Pianocoder go nuts, because the technology is back to the stone age, but it works. It's a great interface that's perfect for computer music. It will interface with any instrument that has a keyboard on it.

You're not worried about being accused of using robots to play your music?

No. There is a person in Berlin who has built a robot which plays the flute. There is a little motor that blows wind into the flute and relays that play the keys, so it is a perfect flute sound, but every time a flute player listens to it he will get a little sick, because he doesn't hear the sound of the flutist breathing in [laughs]. I don't mind having robots around in the studio which can play, but actually more important to me are devices like Master's Touch, the EVl, Lyricons, Humanizers, and so on, because they start making electronic music sound more alive. It’s so dead when you hear a static tone from a synthesizer. You need something to make the sounds move more. You need to make them sound alive. Pitch-to-voltage converters are going to be better and better for guitars, vocals, and wind instruments. This is always very important. You can't be an artist by just playing notes. You have to be versed in all the different left-hand controllers. Jan Hammer was just the start of pitch-bending on synthesizers. Now with the touch-sensitive keyboards that companies like Yamaha are designing people will have even more to think about. The keyboard alone is really boring.

What types of controllers do you prefer now?

My favorite controller isn't available right now. It is the Trautonium. There is a guy who lives a few minutes from my house that I go to hear, and he plays the Trautonium. Every time I hear it, I say that this is the greatest controller in the world. He can control three parameters with it, and he plays it like a keyboard.

He presses down on a string and the sound gets louder. You have XY pedals for making tone color changes, and of course you have control over the pitch. lt's the ultimate control. Naturaly the drawback is that it is monophonic. There is no way of getting that much control in a polyphonic instrument, because a trumpet is a trumpet and a brass orchestra is a brass orchestra. The keyboard is a progression to polyphony with a loss of control over the subtlety and articulation. If you want to have a nice solo voice, you have to go monophonic, so I don't mind. I’ve tried all kinds of ribbon controllers, but they are not playable. They're all effects machines. Brain wave control is also very interesting. There is a guy in Santa Cruz,California, who has a special pitch-to-voltage converter by Hentle Electric that allows you to use alpha waves from your brain to control a synthesizer. This controller allows you to play melodies with your brain waves. It seems interesting, but you really have to get involved in a large university in order to get hold of the equipment necessary to make music in this way.

What about university music in this country? Are you interested in what is being done?

Yes. It's unbelievable how much hardware students in the United States have access to, but there is a barrier. They are made to learn so many different computer programming languages just to take a music class. This doesn't help at all. l'm hungry to hear more from universities, but they don't seem to have the right philosophy behind their music.

Froese: There shouldn't be the necessity of having to be very very popular in order to get away with doing something different. It’s amazing to me to come over to the United States and hear what is being played on your radio stations. It’s all rock music, ads, rock music, ads, soft music, ads, pop music, ads. After a short while, I just feel like turning it off. It's so funny, because all the hardware one could ever want is available in the States and yet no one seems to be making use of it to do anything different.

Why do you think that's the case?

Froese: Musicians can't afford all of the things you find in a studio, and the record companies are looking for things that will have a sort of Star Wars success. So everything that they look for is overproduced. People switch on the radio and all they hear is overproduced music. They hear super-high-pitched vocals. They hear Fender guitars. And the record company executives – not all of them, but most of them – are sitting around at their bloody big desks trying to figure out how to make money out of vocalists or out of a beat band. That's all fine, but music should be a progpression. So many people are asking themselves what the next step is. The record companies are asking themselves how they can turn this recession around. What they don't realize is that only about 5% of the possible music has been covered. Even with electronics, things have only just begun! It’s the child of a new age. And people don't realize that.

Franke: That's one big reason. Another is that you need to have experience and you need to be able to pay for having it. But of course, none of us was born rich.

Froese: That's true, but I know a lot of musicians who have reached a certain level of income who have lost interest in developing new things. The first thing they want is a car, and the next thing they want is a house in the country. And that's fine, but they need to keep other things in mind as well.

They tend to lose track of what it is that got them into that position of wealth.

Froese: Yes. They lose energy. Those people aren't getting any younger. They're usually in their mid-30s. And they have families and kids, and they develop interests in other things besides creating interesting music. And that's the pity, because they can afford good equipment and the young and struggling musicians who are full of new ideas can't afford the gear. We believe in the teenagers of today, because they are our audience. Our audience is not the 25-to-30 crowd of college students that it used to be. They're all too old to change now. But the younger people between 13 and 16 are really open-minded. They seem to know what's needed.

Who plavs what role in the band? Is there some way that you define each other's parts or who's going to play what when?

Franke: lt all depends on the piece, because we all play similar instruments and we switch roles all the time. In general, Edgar is playing the lead stuff and the guitar-like parts. Johannes is playing chords. He's very much into chords because he used to be an organist, I am doing much of the rhythmical stuff because I used to be a drummer. The rules are very elementary, but they get changed around all the time. We all compose and we play off of what we composed for the other members. And then there are times when we're all doing the same things, playing unison lines or the same polyrhythms. It’s difficult, because the audience likes to know who is playing what, but that's something which we cannot deliver very easily. Once we had a video projection system onstage where the audience got to look at a large screen overhead and see closeups of us as we were playing. For a very young audience it's hard for them to tell visually what actions result in what sounds. In one or two years we hope to have projections on the stage all the time.

Do you foresee the video disk playing any part in changing people's approach to listening to your music?

Froese: It depends on which way the quality is standardized. I hope they don't go the route of filming silly acts to show hat the video disk can do right off the bat, because that will turn a lot of people off to it. There are so many things to visualize.

Franke: One of the drawbacks of the video disk is that you can listen to music for hours. It can exist in the background of whatever you are doing. But watching the screen of a TV sometimes makes my body and my mind shut off. It is just roo passive. With music you can have your own fantasies, so watching along with music can be a very concentrated experience that not too many people will put up with for that long.

How much rerecording of parts do you do in the studio?

Franke: We have to go back and do things many times over before we get a take that we like.

Does the whole band go back and do a section over again, or do you punch in and just redo a single part?

Franke: We try to play together as much as possible. So a good part of the music is recorded live in the studio. Then we start adding things to improve it. One can say that about 50% of what you hear on a record is real plav. We don't start with one track and end up with 50. That's very difficult.

Froese: That makes it very hard for us to use session musicians, because we try to play everything. We've thought about using session players often, because there are better guitarists around and better keyboardists around, but in an improvised situation, we know each other better than if any session player were to just walk in cold, so for our own music, we stand up to session players very well.

Franke: lt's also much more fun to play our own music ourselves. We are in this for the fun as well as the ideals. Of course, everybody works at home figuring out our new repertoire, but when it comes to recording, there must be a live group there from the start. Otherwise, there's no real reason to have a group.

What's your recording studio like, other than the fact that it is big?

Franke: Our studio is a step up to making electronic music easier to perform in the studio. The biggest thing to worry about in an electronic music studio is the control room. Most typical studios don't have a big enough control room for putting all of our synthesizers around the mixing console. So our studio does that. That makes communication much easier. We also have duplicates of all the standard keyboards so that we can have them at our homes as well as in the studio. The three modular systems stay in the studio most of the time. For the nice small programmable synthesizers, we don't have any transport problems. We also have a couple of B-track recorders which we use to put down rough ideas and to make demos at home. These are then transferred onto the bigger machines in the studio. So the nice thins is that we can all work up ideas at home and then get together and expand on them as a group.

Froese: We feel that it is very important that each of us has something to tell. If we stayed together every day and saw each other all the time, we would get very bored. No one would have any new stories to tell that way.

Franke: Sometimes we work in parallel.

Froese: There is a lot of room to do that. One person works on the promotional side running around and seeing all the radio stations; another is looking at new equipment; and the third is writing new material. That is the way it has to be. lf you start fighting - why do that? | don't want to do that. As long as you stay as a unit, you have to go for what's necessary, even though you don't necessarily like it. That's part of the pity, though. We can't delegate our teamwork. You have to do everything by your own effort. No one else can do it for us.

Franke: One of the reasons that we can't delegate our jobs outside o{ playing is that we aren't like other groups who use standard equipment a lot. We are always looking for something above average. We are always looking for better promotion, better pressings, and better equipment. People that you hire don't have the motivation. They don't have the fantasy to try to fulfill. We say it can be done and they say it's impossible.

Froese: The thing is, you know exactly how things should be and how things should look. lf you just sit around and wait for the high income, the car, the big house, the family, and the chicks waiting around in your dressing room, then it will never come. And wanting just those things is okay as long as that's all you want. You can have those things for as long as you are popular. People will like to work for you, but as soon as you aren't in fashion anymore, forget it.

Why did you get into using electronics?

Franke: I’ve already mentioned that I was looking for a way to get tuned drums, but we were looking for a way to make a new impression. We wanted to stretch the imagination. We wanted to create sounds that your mind didn't help to fill in. We wanted to make the brain work by giving it some new input. There are a lot of groups that use electronics that got into it because of the fascination with technical equipment. We got into it the other way around. We were looking for specific experiences and electronic instruments were the only things around that could do the things that we wanted to do. It took a lot of sweat, because to start very early with this stuff wasn't easy. We started when the first synthesizers from England and the States came into Germany. There was no one who could show us how they worked and no one who could repair them for us if they broke down. We didn't even have schematics for them. Also, the audiences weren't ready to take hearing this kind of music. It was too strange for them. It took us three years to really get through to them. We started when there was a big change happening in the music of the late '60s. People were starting to get away from standard forms and they were starting to improvise more and more within the rock format.

Froese: lt was quite a struggle, but it was fun as well. You see, in England and America, music is a part of everybody's lifestyle. In Germany it is not. In Germany, you might get one rock show on a given radio station during a week. It’s changed a bit since then, but not that much. The media help to spread information, but the media in Germany were not doing very much when it came to rock music.

Franke: We got into using electronics because we wanted to explore spontaneous music. We started with tapes because we really wanted to use an orchestra, but that is just too big a thing to manage in a spontaneous situation.

Froese: I remember when Hendrix first played in Germany after putting out "Hey Joe." We were the supporting act, and it's funny but we had been searching for something and suddenly there it was. There it was and it was better than anything that we ever imagined it could be. After we heard that, we knew that we could never produce it, because we didn't have the feeling it takes to get it.

Has Hendrix had an influence on the band, then?

Franke: As a feeling, yes. But there have been many influences on us that one could never hear in our music. We listened to a lot of music, but we've never stuck with reproducing any certain type. What we like to pick up on is the emotion within a given form of expression.

Froese: One form of music that has been a great influence on me is the blues, but I’ve never tried to copy it, because it's not in me. Whatever I did in that vein would be a bad copy.

Franke: There are certain types of music which we feel make the performer into more of a circus act than a musician. These forms of music involve extremes, which can be a thrill to watch, but we were never into that. We were more into the emotional expression.

Froese: There are some classical pieces that are written just to show off how fast a performer is. That's ridiculous. Musicians are used like race horses in that type of music. They have to perform. They think, "Okay. I'm very famous because I can do that, that, and that." lt's silly.

Franke: I think a lot of people won't accept music for its emotional content alone. They have to be shown that it's somehow difficult to do. They want to see the thrill, and not the real expression.

Johannes, who have you been influenced by as a keyboard player?

Schmoelling: All the people you might expect – Emerson, Wakeman, George Duke, Corea, Jarrett. But I've never tried to copy any of them. I've always gone for sounding like an individual. I’ve always hunted for some means of sounding like myself.

In much of the band’s newer material, you can hear more dynamics than used to be the case. Is that a conscious thing?

Schmoelling: Yes. it is a goal that we all have as a band. It is something which we are striving for.

Franke: The onlv guy who has done it well in electronic music so far is Tomita. Sometimes he is so very strange, though. His tone colors are so very Japanese. Still, one has to give him credit for his dynamics. It is one parameter that gets overlooked too often. Dynamics are very hard to control. One can always use a computer mixing console to adjust them, but you have to keep in mind that they are a big thing. The electronic keyboard instruments haven't had that much control over dynamics, at least not when compared to the piano, but they're coming along now. lt's the new age of electronics. You have more control, so the expression will be much greater in the future.

You had a live drummer in the band as well as a flute plaver once.

Franke: Yes, we did an experiment about three years ago that didn't work out. These guys were too specialized on their instruments. There were inhibitions that kept them from going for new sounds. We had some personal problems with them and we had some tour problems with them. In their souls they wanted to be doing something else. So we went back to our original format of three keyboardists. Having a drummer in the band is sometimes nice if he can do other things too. It is nice to have multi-instrumentalists in the band. With drums we only want to do certain things. We never want to use conventional rhythms and have conventional solos. We found out that it was much simpler to create the nice sort of driving rhythms that we would use a drummer for electronically, because you don't need very complicated stuff happening with the drums. For that, you have the other instruments.

Froese: lt's so hard to understand people sometimes. We've lost the possibility of communicating with someone who has totally different ways of thinking about sounds. All these conventional musicians are still thinking about how to perform or how to show off. They won't put a sound in the dark and Ieave it like it sounds. lt's so hard for them to understand that one could sit there in the twilight or in the dark and just hear what has been created. You don't have to be entertaining all the time.

Franke: We just didn't meet the right people. That was the case, and the idea still exists. There is still a dimension of electronic music which needs to be explored more, and that is the joining of electronic and acoustic instruments. If it is done right, one couldn't tell if things were done electronically or acoustically. And it wouldn't matter that you couldn't tell. You have just created a new sound character.

You've abandoned the use of Mellotrons.

Froese: I was one of the biggest Mellotron fans around about ten years ago. Unfortunately, after you listen to polyphonic synthesizers, you quickly give upon the Mellotron. I still have two Mark Vs laying around. And I have one of the little ones too. l've also got about 50 or 60 sets of tapes. lt's a pity, because I think that the instrument wasn't developed to its full potential. It was only about 50% of where it should have been. It could have been done much better. It could have had better electronics in it to stabilize it, and it could have had better tapes and electronic envelopes. And then there's that thing that Wakeman came up with, the Birotron. It used 8-track tapes. I bought one of the first of these and brought it over to Paris to tour with it. I thought it would be fabulous. The first thing was that the B-track cassettes didn't make it.

Franke: lt used the same kind of concept as the Orchestron in that it had tape loops. If you don't have the attack characteristics of a sound, then you've lost the most interesting part of the sound. Things start to all sound alike. lt just starts sounding like an organ again. That's why we started working on our electronic Mellotron, just to capture the attacks. We wanted to store these in digital memory, which lets you play with them a bit. You can then start imposing these attacks on other types of sounds, and you can also alter the attacks however you like. Many people are convinced that you can build up any sound with additive synthesis, which is so wrong. They forget the most important thing about acoustic sounds, which is the envelope. Now to have the envelope from acoustic instruments coupled with the control of a synthesizer would be very powerful.

Froese: The idea is not to use this machine to duplicate a f lute or a violin – you could go out and buy the real thing for much less. What you do is use those characteristics and play in other registers which will give you a violin or a flute that hasn't been heard before.

Franke: The perfect trombone and the perfect trumpet blended together to create something new. The outcome would be very strange, like tasting an apple that has been combined with an orange.

But you have to be careful not to start doing things like that just for the sake of the effect.

Franke: Yes. You have to have a reason for using something like that. An Indian musician plays a fast solo not for the sake of playing a fast solo, but because it has a function.

Froese: The effect of using an effect like that just for the heck of it would be just like Ravi Shankar using a mouth organ [harmonica] player just for the heck of it. It wouldn't make sense.

Do you make any compromises in your music?

Froese: We do things from purely a textural standpoint, and if we were to just deal in sound colors, people would have a hard time understanding what it is that we are doing, so our way of compromising in our music is to use melodies and harmonies with a few conventional structures. And underneath or on top of it we're still dealing mainly with colors. People may only get that with their subconscious. People won't notice a particular color and say that was a good sound. People are always reluctant to notice things that they aren't used to hearing, so we try to transport or carry our interest in colors along by blending them in with something that is conventional, which people can relate to immediately. Does your music serve any purpose for you other than exploring tone colors?

Froese: Many different hardwares can be addressed by software, and both together can be used to change consciousness, and that's what we want to go for. By using new sounds and new technology, we are changing a program that exists outside of our human process. Hopefully, that will lead to a change, in a positive sense, of our internal programming, the subconscious matrix. That's a very high aim, and I don't know how far we can progress in trying to reach it, but this is what we would like our music to do. We don't want to try to occupy everyone's life or try to tell them what to do. We just want to help people start thinking for themselves again. We want to make them more independent in deciding what they're going to do next. It should make people ready for some new way of thinking.

Franke: A lot of music is used as therapy for people when they are frustrated and troubled. They go home and switch it on and then they feel good. It is therapy. It's something that helps them to forget. But we still think that ideally, music should awaken people. It should make them think, not make them passive.

Froese: Activating people is what is important. We don't want to put them to sleep.

From Contemporary Keyboard, April 1981. Pages 34-42.


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