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Tangerine Dream in early experimental mode
on 30 June 2008
Perhaps conscious that fans were wondering what could follow "Zeit", which hadn't exactly got rave reviews, the band opened with something quite dazzling and stupendous. "Atem" means `breath', that's how it opens, with wind rushing through some vast cavern, like the breath of a wakening giant. Any thought of Space music is left at the post, for this is far more vigorous, exciting, and downright exotic than anything on the previous album. Chris Franke has a fair old thrash on tom toms, pounding away frenetically above Froese's blaze of mellotron, punctuated by the odd electronic explosion. It's like some huge panoramic Egyptian scene; "music to build the pyramids by" said Julian Cope, and for once he's not exaggerating. One of Tangerine Dream's best openings, it's fast and frantic. The climax is one large electronic explosion, but this occurs long before the piece is over. The middle section is more meditative, all softly rising and falling organ and mellotron, backed by occasional soft and rhythmic percussion. The piece comes to life once more, like a waking giant, and weird electronic helicopter sounds whip from speaker to speaker, as the music disappears back up the wind tunnel from whence it came.
The other tracks on this CD are shorter - it was a single album - and next comes "Fauni-gena", which starts with unnerving jungle sounds backed by a mellotron flute. More melodic than usual, but it sounds like it was recorded in an exotic alien aviary, eerie electronic chamber music from a distant planet. The mellotron slowly grows more dominant and turns from flute into strings.
"Circulation of Events" is almost a Tangerine Dream pivotal track. In some ways it's a return to the emptiness of "Zeit"; in others it indicates the direction the band were to take later in the decade. This is because where on "Zeit" the sounds exist and can be appreciated just for themselves, here there's a feeling of something missing. That something is visuals. The whole thing is like a soundtrack to a horror movie; jumpy, quirky, unsettling noises creep up on you, as if, as the sleeve notes put it "something is about to leap out of a dark corner and wreak havoc with an axe." This must have been scary stuff to hear near midnight on headphones when John Peel played it back in the 70s! The group went on to record dozens of soundtracks, but their origin is perhaps here.
"Wahn", the last track, has another surprise in store: vocals! Not actual singing, of course, but weird, primitive grunts, whoops and cries, sometimes sounding like a twisted Syd Barrett on that first Pink Floyd album. A twisted Syd? Now that has to be strange! Sudden crashes leap out of the speaker, sudden cries that make you think the band have gone round the bend. It's a short track, and one that ends with the usual Dream soundscape of ever lusher mellotron, but one that's quite startling nonetheless.
So is it worth getting? Well, if all you know of T. Dream is "Phaedra" and you like what you hear there, then yes, grab this and "Zeit" for a taste of what experimental electronic music was really like in the early 70s. It was `music to dissolve the mind' as the ads in N.M.E. read. If, however, you're a long standing fan and already have these classics on album, and they're in good nick, then I'd say don't let your vinyl go too quickly. I did think there was rather a lot of background hiss, something that with music as subtle and quiet as this can be quite intrusive. It's possible, in some instances, to hear it as part of their spacy music, and I suppose it's possible that it may be! Still, they'd be a good addition to most CD collections.