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TimeWarped in Space

by John Diliberto

I've been having flashbacks lately and they aren't the psychedelic kind. I've been feeling like it's 1977 all over again as the Shackletons of space music Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, have been popping up on my cerebral cortex, either re-issuing old albums or putting out new releases of live recordings.

And if the ghosts of space music's past weren't enough, the second, third and maybe even fourth generation continues to pound out celestial electronic opuses as if someone sent them back back 30 years and locked them there.

Arc, Waveworld, Radio Massacre International, Spyra, John Lakveet, Mark Jenkins and more have all put out albums that would not have sounded out of place 30 years ago.


Waveworld

For the first time in 18 years, there is no new Star Trek series on the air, but electronic artists continue to explore the final frontier. Pink Floyd launched the first space probe in 1967 with "Interstellar Overdrive," an acid-drenched freakout framed by power-chord booster rockets. They inspired a legion of musicians to go beyond rock's four on the floor, verse-chorus-verse-guitar-solo-verse-chorus-goodbye structure. Among the first, and arguably the best to bring that psychedelic ethos into the electronic age was Tangerine Dream. While their 1970 debut, Electronic Meditation, sounded like Karlheinz Stockhausen meeting the Grateful Dead, their later albums essayed the sound that would be the template of space music.

 

 

In a two year span beginning in 1974, a quartet of albums, Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet and Stratosfear, established the Dream's modus operandi with throbbing, cosmic rubber band rhythms thrumming like galactic space basses through floating mellotron pads, ghost flutes and electronic effects whirling by at hyperspeed. This was the soundtrack for countless planetarium shows, acid trips and even Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione's sexual trysts. It was the first electronic music to shed the synthesizers reputation as cold and unfeeling. I wouldn't call the music emotional. It went beyond emotion, into the sensual and the transcendent. It was as if the universe were wrapping you up in a warm velvet glove and showing you the wonders of existence.

 
The Dream's sound started getting a lot more rock 'n' roll in the 1980s, especially once the dreaded Private Music years set in. They'd record good music after that, but it never had the impact, cultural resonance or lasting import of their 1970s output. Which is why Tangerine Dream fans have been loving the Bootmoon Series of albums they've been putting out on their own TDI label. These are live recordings, many from the 1970s. Some are fan tapes recorded from microphones in the audience, some are board tapes.

In the Echoes On-Line stream, Space Probe #1, you can hear an excerpt from Montreal-April 9th, 1977. A vintage year for Tangerine Dream, this was the tour that resulted in the Encore live recording while they were touring behind their latest studio album, Stratosfear. These were the days before digital and pre-programmed synthesizers. Except for the repeating lines of sequencers, everything was played live and you can hear how much more vibrant their music was in concert then, rather than the programmed-to-the-nano-note-and-semi-quiver of their post 1980s performances.

Hot on the heels of the Dreams Bootmoon series, Klaus Schulze's early catalog is being re-issued. Schulze was a drummer on Tangerine Dream's Electronic Meditation as well as the first two Ash Ra Tempel albums. But a move to keyboards brought him into the same terrain as classic Dream. The electronic zeitgeist was definitely in Berlin when Schulze's third album, Blackdance was released. It paralleled Tangerine Dream's Phaedra, released the same year, 1974. Schulze employed the same pallette as Tangerine Dream, but as a solo artist rather than a trio, his compositions were even more modal, with long, slowly evolving pulse rhythms grooves over which Schulze played wild Mini-Moog solos while holding down chords on an organ with fishing weights. His albums are currently being re-issued in attractive digi-paks that retain the original artwork. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to their order, with early works coming out next to later recordings.

Among the first releases are two Schulze classics, Mirage and X. Released in 1977 and 78, they represent the breadth of Schulze's music. Mirage was two side-long pieces, one exploring crystalline minimalist sound cycles while the other was a textural excursion into deep space. X was Schulze's magnum opus, a double disc recording that included the haunting strings and synth anthem, "Ludwig II von Bayern" and the driving "Frank Herbert," named for the "Dune" sci-fi author. While Schulze pieces from the era typically built from slow gentle sounds and ambiences and picked up steam over the course of 30 minutes or so, "Frank Herbert" started at the peak of the roller-coaster and powered into space on sequencer rhythms and the live drums of Harold Grosskopf.

What's striking for both Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze is how timeless these works sound. The vocabulary they were using is unmistakably of a time, but like a piano or flute, beyond it. Recordings by Synergy or Emerson, Lake and Palmer sound stilted and dated by comparison. That's why Tangerine Dream founder Edgar Froese's latest album, Dalinetopia, is so disappointing, though not surprisingly so. What is surprising is that a musician who actually hung out with Salvador Dali and played music at his exhibits in the 1960s could be so concrete and non-surreal in his music. Froese's second solo album, Epsilon in Malaysian Pale was surreal. Dalinetopia is simply faux electronic rock orchestra with a timbral palette that is clinically correct, antiseptic, and digital to a fault. I keep waiting for Froese to find the original spirit of Tangerine Dream and take it in a new direction. But 20 years is a long time to wait.

Froese fails to understand what almost all of his disciples recognize. There is timeless magic in the sounds they created back in the 1970s. That's why groups and artists like Arc, AES Dana, Ministry of Inside Things and Radio Massacre International can get away with sounding like they snuck into the Tangerine Dream museum at night. Whether using virtual analog soft-synths on their computers or, like Mark Shreeve of Arc and Redshift, using a vintage, analog Moog Modular Series III synthesizer, they are treating these classic sounds the same way a contemporary classical composer might treat an orchestra.

Ian Boddy and Mark Shreeve are Arc. They had ventured into more contemporary electronica terrain on their previous albums, but they go back to the basics on Arcturus, a live album with just three long, electro-space sequencer excursions. But because they are both players as much as programmers, Arc creates a spontaneous free-flowing soundscape. You can hear one of them, "Helicon" on Space Probe #1.
    
Arc is in league with fellow Brits, Radio Massacre International. The name is kind of punky, but they're a retro-space band with a more improvisational edge. Their new CD, Emissaries takes tentative steps in new directions while still evoking the sound of Tangerine Dream. With two keyboardists, including a mellotron player and a guitarist, RMI tend to flow from overly meandering lost-in-space jams, to driving sequencer excursions. Highly prolific, RMI is a band that could benefit from a little editing and composition. But like the Grateful Dead, occasionally in all the meandering they land on something compelling. They do that on their new double CD, with a track called "Priest Crossing Frozen Water."



Echoes host John Diliberto (L) with Chuck Van Zyl (C) and Art Cohen of the Ministry of Inside Things
Arc and RMI explore the improvisational side that used to be the core of Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze's approach. A band called Ministry of Inside Things splits the difference. Chuck Van Zyl, who also hosts the space music show Star's End on Echoes affiliate WXPN in Philadelphia, is also a gifted sequencer programmer. He generates the kinetic rhythms and ambient washes at the core of MOIT's style, but he's joined by guitarist Art Cohen, whose ubiquitous tie-dyed t-shirts mark him as a Deadhead. His Garcia-like leads set MOIT apart on "Love Attack", although the harmonica also gives them a bit of welcome sonic distance.

[Ministry of Inside Things will perform live in an Echoes concert in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania]

While Arc, MOIT and RMI effect a retro-space style, other's are taking that as a starting point and incorporating more contemporary sounds and techniques. Artists from Moby to Ulrich Schnauss owe a debt to space music, but repay it with a sound that still points to tomorrow. AES Dana aka Vincent Villius is one of the artists clearly charting a new path for space music jockeys. He employs the vernacular of space music suffused with much more contemporary electronica grooves and structures. Working in shorter form, he travels to more moods and landscapes in 7 minutes than most space musicians hike in 30. His latest album, Memory Shell, is by turns serene and driving, with tracks like "Iris Rotation" circumscribing a slit-scan of the mind while "Dust" drives through a post-Blade Runner cityscape. AES Dana also runs the excellent French Ultimae label, which has several other artists and a great series of ambient anthologies called Fahrenheit Project. You can hear AES Dana's "Purple" from Fahrenheit Project Part Five on the Space Probe #1 stream.

Space music promised a sound of the future, but more and more, that sound is turning into fetishistic nostalgia. I remember interviewing Klaus Schulze in 1982 and he was getting ready to stop using sequencers. "I just can't hear them anymore," he proclaimed. I don't know if he found a better solution, but a few artists are trying new directions.

(Give us your feedback!)

A Classic Space Music Countdown to Liftoff:
10 Essential classic space music albums, counting down from 10 to 1
10: Jean-Michel Jarre: Oxygene
9: Vangelis: Albedo 0.39
8: Redshift: Ether
7: Jonn Serrie:
    Planetary Chronicles Vol. 1
6: Tonto's Expanding Head Band:     Zero Time 5: Steve Roach: Structures from Silence
4: Ash Ra Tempel:
    New Age of Earth
3: Michael Stearns:
    Planetary Unfolding
2: Klaus Schulze: X 1: Tangerine Dream: Phaedra


Contemporary Space:
There's a fine line between electronica, ambient and space music. Here are some recent artists that still travel the spaceways, but incorporate more contemporary electronica designs.

John Lakveet
Building Sequential
Stones Vol 1

Ian Boddy
Aurora

Mark Dwane
Paradigm Shift

Waveworld
Structures

Dom F. Scab
Analogical Confessions

Ulrich Snauss
A Strangely Isolated Place

AES Dana
Memory Shell

Saul Stokes
Fields

Zero One
Prototype Two

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