Saturday, 28 October 2017

Tangerine Dream - The Sessions I.

It may seem like an overstatement after fifty years of existence and a vast discography, but Tangerine Dream's new release, The Sessions I., represents a truly key moment.

The electronic legends released their first live album, Ricochet, in 1975.

Around the time when other legendary pioneers were using sequencers for intentionally static patterns (Kraftwerk), for abstract fluid textures (Klaus Schulze) or pulsating melodic motifs to punctuate floating soundscapes (Jean-Michel Jarre), Tangerine Dream were creating something eminently different.

Ricochet and subsequent live albums by the band have shown a unique approach to electronic live music.

TD were producing high-octane sequencer-based improvised materials, with sequencers having been actually played on stage - such that the mind-bending multiple patterns were jamming hand in hand with electric guitar solos and keyboard improvisations.

The reason why The Sessions I. album is a notable moment is that the band, after a few decades of live renditions of studio album tracks, have returned to that dazzling art of extra-long improvised live compositions. After a session recorded and released on the album Particles, this is an hour-long journey.

The two, around half an hour long and largely improvised, tracks by Thorsten Quaeschning, Ulrich Schnauss and Hoshiko Yamane were recorded during the Edgar Froese memorial concert held in 2017 in Budapest and during a later live performance in Hong Kong.

If one makes here some references to albums of the past, it must be emphasized: this is not because the new album is a self-imitating nostalgia trip trying to just resurrect some old sounds for the long-standing fans... The references are being made merely because they may, to some extent, be suggestive of the tone and mood of the soundscapes on this album.

The opening track Blue Arctic Danube is something we have not heard for some decades, and again Ricochet or Encore spring to mind. This, in itself, is quite something, but even more remarkable is the fact that the material sounds fresh and brings a unique sound even in the electronic music scene of 2017.

Fans can immediately and instantly conclude, this is absolutely characteristic Tangerine Dream - from the first ambient textures to the trademark intertwined sequencer patterns to the arrival of achingly beautiful and softly played mellotron sounds (or of its digital resurrection rather, the Memotron).

The 30-minute musical journey is phenomenal, and without any previous knowledge of TD discography, one can be taken on a dazzling trip across many inner states - from mellow meditation to highly energetic pulsating sonic roller coaster rides to cinematic vistas constructed from sounds.

It is light-years above the way in which even now many use electronics and sequencers on stage - and with the live improvisation bringing in the various building blocks in a, one can safely say, typical Tangerine Dream manner, the listener cannot avoid being drawn into the musical dialogue that happens between the band's current three members.

Gladiatorial Dragon is of a different tonal register and it, too, is of a highly satisfying duration of just under 30 minutes - and fans of the Poland live album may perk up immediately, when they hear what is unleashed in this track.

While it starts with deceptively soft choir-like harmonies, a typical sneaky appearance of metallic sequencer patterns tells us something big is about to happen.

Well, indeed, TD never lets fans down when they decide to tease with such build-up. We know something is coming, and, by god of electronica, it does arrive.

The ultra-high-energy improvisation unleashed by the trio lifts the roof, this is electronic rock without electric guitars - but instead of guitar pedals being put through their paces, here we have nonstop changing filters driven into whistling self-oscillations, envelopes tightening and loosening the grip on the onslaught of sequencer notes, ring modulations and who knows what else unleashed by humans on their state-of-the-art electronic gear.

Yes, while it sounds highly technical, this is again a superlative lesson in how to make eminently electronic music in eminently human and passionate manner, without sliding into merely abstract sonic explorations or safely staying in the realm of some crowd-pleasing rhythmic content.

Nothing stands still in either of the two long tracks, one can hear the humans on stage improvising with vast powers at their fingertips and playing with and against each others' musical parts, as a jazz-rock band would.

If there was a live album in  the electronic music of the 21st century that can demonstrate to skeptics how the apparent contradiction between the nature of technology and the needs of highly organic live improvisations can be eliminated, then The Sessions I. is it.

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