(mp3s below the fold)
One of the great things about WFMU is that despite its inherent hipsterism, the majority of the staff have an ear for quality that supersedes notions of what's "cool" or "underground"—good music is good music, and most of us know it when we hear it (though subtleties of opinion will naturally vary from person to person.) This is not to say that Tangerine Dream gets played on the air very often; not at least since Richard Ginsburg's Synthetic Pleasure program had its last broadcast.
The passage of time is a great quantifier in the arts, and music that may have seemed to be the exclusive province of geeky stoners in its original historical context (Jethro Tull, let's say), now rings true and timeless, and may be imbued with an unexpected vitality that makes it sound even better, or more relevant, than when first heard (or ignored.)
I find this to be especially true in the case of Tangerine Dream, whose work, at least from the time of their formation in 1967 through the latter 70s, may have a lot to offer the jaded, post-modern music fan, especially those who feel (as I do) that electronic music is currently in a terrible rut, chasing its tail through PowerBook blip city. When in doubt, return to the roots.
To consider Tangerine Dream, one must first view their early albums, those preceding 1974's Phaedra. That album was a turning point in the band's sound, whereupon analog sequencers became the dominant compositional hardware in the band, and ultimately this was the sound that would define Tangerine Dream, through their globally successful albums, tours and film soundtracks. An enthusiastic, fans-ear-view account of the first 4 albums (Electronic Meditation, Alpha Centauri, Zeit and Atem) can be found in Julian Cope's Krautrocksampler, which I'm also indebted to for sparking my rediscovery of TD upon its publication in 1995, when I was already more than 10 years into my fascination with so-called Krautrock.
The first 4 Tangerine Dream albums (especially the latter 3) are masterpieces of amorphous rock improvisation, with only occasional jolts of hypnotic rhythm, dominated by mellotron, simple electric guitar and analog synths. Yes, many rock bands were improvising in the post-psychedelic era, but not like this. The music on these albums fills the room like no other, the power of these pieces being their elusive, vaporous quality—there's next to nothing to grab onto, the "patterns" slip away as quickly as they emerge—nonetheless you're engulfed. You may also find, as I have, that different aspects of the music will emerge with each subsequent listen.
The more I listened to these albums, the more interested I became in Tangerine Dream's later work, where the pulsating sequencers that made the band famous still float on a sea of ambient gloom from their first era. No doubt a lot of pot was cleaned in the gatefold sleeves of Phaedra, Rubycon and Stratosfear, enough to fill an auditorium, but you needn't be stoned to appreciate the journey these albums take you on. (Sadly, too few full-length records nowadays actually take you on a journey anywhere, being merely collections of songs.) A personal favorite from this period is the live album Ricochet (1975), basically one long piece comprised of several movements, and guaranteed to be the surprise hit of your next jam-band raver party.
The Cyclone album, from 1978, is in my opinion the last great TD album, though Force Majeure (1979), the Thief soundtrack (1981) and Green Desert (1986, rec. 1973) all have some wonderful segments. Edgar Froese's first 3 solo LPs, Aqua (1974), Epsilon in Malaysian Pale (1975) and Macula Transfer (1976) are all monumental works, as enveloping as anything mentioned above. Peter Baumann's solo work is also worth a listen, especially the Baumann/Koek album from 1978 and Trans Harmonic Nights (1979).
Tangerine Dream has been extensively bootlegged; it's maddening, as there are literally hundreds of live gig recordings, as well as a few collections of unreleased studio material. As with the proper albums, I've focused my collecting on the prime years, roughly 1968-1978. I've assembled a few of my favorites below for your enjoyment (as downloadable mp3s.)
Ultima Thule - This was TD's first single, released by Ohr in 1972, and never officially reissued, though a nicely done "grey area" edition appeared in the late 90s. [Ultima Thule Teil I mp3] [Ultima Thule Teil II mp3]
Grugahalle, Essen - Song-Tage Festival 1968 - This very experimental set likely includes some early recruits whose names have been lost. Edgar Froese and Conrad Schnitzler (whose cello can be heard) are definitely present; Klaus Schulze may also have been there, though his presence (as the band's drummer) is not evident. The trio of Froese, Schnitzler and Schulze would go on to record the Electronic Meditation LP, then promptly disband. [Song-Tage I mp3] [Song-Tage II mp3]
Frankfurt Universitat 6.19.1971 - Features the lineup of Froese, Chris Franke and Steve Shroyder, also responsible for the Alpha Centauri album. Shroyder would not stay long, and ultimately Peter Baumann would round out the trio. [Frankfurt II mp3] [Frankfurt III mp3]
Cologne 11.25.1972 - WDR-FM recording. [Cologne Part 1 mp3]
Reims Cathedral, France 12.13.1974 - The first of their cathedral concerts; playing in churches and cathedrals (with their enhanced acoustics and gothic ambience) would become a regular practice for the band. [Reims Cathedral II mp3]
Festival Hall, Adelaide, Australia 3.25.1975 - Perhaps my favorite TD live recording, as sections of it wonderfully bridge the styles of the early and later periods. [Adelaide Part 1 mp3]