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A <<Kosmische Musik>> Classic
on 13 August 2002
"Alpha Centauri" was John Peel's recommended Import of the Year in 1971: an accolade that was partly responsible for Tangerine Dream's subsequent signing with Richard Branson's Virgin Records. The TD line-up at this time was Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke (his first appearance) and Steve Schroyder (his last), with guest performers Udo Dennebourg (flute and voice) and Roland Paulyck (synthesiser). This remastered release on CD provides a whole new perspective on music that is as refreshing today as the day it was released, with nuances of the original now rescued from the obscurity of the muddy old black vinyl pressing.
If you're unfamiliar with Tangerine Dream's early "Kosmische Musik" period, then this disc may come as something as a shock. It is, however, a good place to start an exploration of their early music. Apart from being their first real release ("Electronic Meditation" was only ever intended to be a demo tape!), it also contains an excellent cross-section of the styles of playing which characterised TD's early years, having meditative pieces with long drawn out organ chords over gurgling VCS3 oscillators, flighty flute lines woven through Christoph Franke's jazzy, often improvised drumming and, of course, a general other- or out-of-this-worldliness pervading everything.
'Sunrise in the Third System' is a short (4 mins) opener, which sets the scene for the music to follow. Gradually swelling organ chords build beneath a simple guitar line while rising synthesiser wails and a dancing flute part before coming to a gentle climax and descending rapidly again into silence. 'Fly and Collision of Comas Sola' is a longer (13 mins) epic, with more soaring, cosmic synthesiser sounds and organ chords over Froese's guitar strummings eventually being drowned out by a veritable battle between guest flautist, Udo Dennebourg, and Franke's increasingly frantic drumming--a true masterpiece!
The main work on the disc is the 22 minute title-track, which is a long meditative piece, featuring some fascinating dialogue between flute, electric guitar, organ, various warbling electronic devices (mostly spacey-type VCS3 settings but also including such non-musical sources as coffee machine) and finally human voice, in the form of wordless chant and (heavily processed) spoken words--the only time, as far as I'm aware, that German 'lyrics' have appeared in a Tangerine Dream work! (No translation is given, I'm afraid!) This is a beautiful track, an exquisite precursor to the follow-up album, "Zeit".
As I mentioned earlier, this release has been remastered, allegedly from the original master tapes in TD's own Eastgate Studios. Be warned, however, that these tapes sound to be in a pretty dire state and one of the problems inherent in such remasterings is that as well as some details of the music being clearer, many of the defects become more exposed too! The opening moments of the disc, for example, have some appalling amplifier hum laid bare for all to hear and there are other moments throughout the disc when the original tapes sound to have saturated quite badly. That said, the sheer brilliance of this music soon drives such technical shortcomings from mind. (It helps to play the disc at a quieter level than normal too.) The only really annoying feature of the remastering is the mess that has been made of the very end of the 'Fly and Collision of Comas Sola', where some 45 seconds of material missing from the old vinyl pressings has been reinstated--including, unfortunately, the final abrupt stopping of the tape while the musicians were still playing! Instead of the gradual fade-out to silence of the original release, we now have a horribly ragged hiatus for which, I think, the engineer should be sacked. How it got past Froese I will never understand.
Personally, I would have liked some longer silences between the tracks, too: all we get are a couple of seconds--just not enough between tracks of this intensity! I was disappointed too that half of the original record sleeve art-work as well as the original sleeve-notes, such as they were, have not made it into this production, either. All in all, then, I feel that there are sufficient niggles for me to dock an entire star from my rating of this disc. Bear in mind, too, that in common with most records of this vintage, this disc contains rather less than 40 minutes of music. I personally don't think that should put you off, of course, so go on, treat yourself!