There’s a certain nostalgia about Tangerine Dream’s music, taking me back to my 80s childhood. Synthesizer music dominated that decade, and hearing the warm, analog passages of Tangerine Dream is like an aural time machine. I’m reminded of all the wonderful technological advances like Apple computer, Atari video games, and the glorious Space Shuttle launches, pre-Challenger. I’m also reminded of Omni Magazine, of the beginnings of the sci-fi subgenre known as cyberpunk, and of the euphoric feeling that in the 21st century, technology would solve many of our problems.
This is all a construct of my mind, associating events, places, and things with Tangerine Dream’s compositions. It fills my mind with tangentially related memories of the sound of sequenced beats, sine pads, and synth bass. It is the creation of memory, real or imagined, and I realize this even while the music evokes these sensations and images. That is part of Tangerine Dream’s brilliance. Their music really is like a waking dream.
But all that aside, there’s something else that their music conjures in my mind: alien worlds, starships on interstellar journeys, and technology so advanced it is beyond human ken. It makes me think about, and want to write, science fiction stories. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the merger of artificial sounds with live instrumentation, or the contrasting arrangements that play out in synchronized lockstep only to collapse into bursts of chaos. Perhaps it’s the band’s introspective, yet hopeful, vibe. I only know that it moves me.
There are two things in particular that come to mind whenever I begin a Tangerine Dream playlist: alien skies, and Michael Whelan paintings. The music suggests vistas on another world, where the sky is wide open, and I can fly through it until I finally cross over into vacuum. I can even look skyward on my own world, at the blue sky and clouds, and their music flows into my thoughts.
Whelan is among my favorite fantasy artists, and there is a sophistication and humanity about his work that I hear in Tangerine Dream. One piece of his perfectly illustrates this: Robots of Dawn, from the Isaac Asimov book of the same name. The otherworldly hue of the sky in the background, the tragedy of the robot’s beleaguered pose in the foreground, and the contemplative visage on the stone at the robot’s feet, epitomize what I’m talking about. Look at that image while listening to tracks like ‘Zulu’, or ‘Hunter Shot By A Yellow Rabbit’ and tell me you don’t feel something.
From ‘Rubycon’, “Roaring of the Bliss’, and ‘Phaedra”, their compositions possess an energy, a relentless drive to move forward, as if progress itself is nudging us on. This isn’t because Tangerine Dream uses loops and sequencers. This same drive exists in their live performances. It’s the same drive I feel when I read science fiction. It pushes me into the next stage of thought, of being.
When Edgar Froese, the founder of Tangerine Dream and its only original member, died in January 2015, I was quite saddened. He was still working on new music up until his passing. I think that reflects the energy, hope, and forward-driving intuition that permeates the band’s music: that’s who he was, and you can hear it in the arrangements.
So as I gear up to write the next science fiction novel, I already hear the opening strains of ‘One Night In Space’, taking me on another voyage of the imagination. Whatever Edgar Froese intended with his work, I’m sure such a comment would make him proud.