Cosmic music and cosmic horror

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Track titles by Tangerine Dream (again) if they were stories or chapters in a book of weird fiction:

– Alpha Centauri
– Ultima Thule
– Origin Of Supernatural Probabilities
– Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares
– Sorcerer
– Abyss
– Stratosfear
– Choronzon
– Remote Viewing
– Hyperborea

Clark Ashton Smith’s tales of the northern continent of Hyperborea were Cthulhu Mythos fantasies with a sardonic CAS twist. The connection with Tangerine Dream is most likely coincidental, the name being one that Smith borrowed rather than invented, but I enjoy the intersection all the same. The title of TD’s first single, Ultima Thule, refers to another remote northern realm. If you’re reaching for associations, as I invariably am, then it’s also worth mentioning Haunted Island by an affiliated group, Agitation Free. The last track on their 2nd album features a partial recitation of Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe that includes the words “from some ultimate dim Thule”; the keyboard player in Agitation Free was Michael Hoenig who was briefly a member of Tangerine Dream in 1975. As for Choronzon, this was a demon that Aleister Crowley claimed to have tangled with in the Algerian desert in 1909. The malevolent and chaotic nature of the entity, together with its unavoidably Lovecraftian epithet of “the Dweller in the Abyss”, places it close to the Mythos god of “nuclear chaos”, Azathoth, although the music that bears the Dweller’s name doesn’t convey any of these qualities. Tangerine Dream’s Choronzon is an uptempo piece of electro-pop that Virgin optimistically released as a single in 1981. For a group with a long history of eccentric title choices this maybe isn’t so surprising.

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Tangerine Dream feature on another cosmic-horror music list that I suggested as soundtracks for The Haunter of the Dark in 1999. (The Lustmord somehow lost a couple of words from its title.) Most of these are drone works, and several were released after I’d drawn most of the pages, but I was listening to Zeit and Rubycon during many late-night work sessions, the latter especially while drawing The Call of Cthulhu. Discovering weird fiction and spacey electronica simultaneously caused the two things to become inextricably connected, and besides which there wasn’t much else to be found in the music world of the late 1970s that complemented such stories to the same degree. Rubycon offered satisfying associations, from the liquid green of the cover art (Cthulhu always suggests the colour green), to the predominantly sinister, minor-key music within. When the sequencers in Rubycon: Part 2 give way to the sounds of waves breaking on a shoreline this only reinforces the suitability of the album as a Cthulhoid soundtrack.

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The dedication from Alpha Centauri as printed in the Virgin double-disc reissue with the Atem album. It’s never been clear whether the “space” referred to is a noun or a verb.

If you’re looking for cosmic-horror soundtracks today then you’re spoiled for choice, there are numerous examples, from the general—the occulted universe of Dark Ambience—to the very specific. I enjoy the drones, obviously, but the Berlin School still has something to offer so long as the key remains a minor one and the titles avoid New Age vapidity. See this mix for further examples.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tangerine Dream in concert
Drone month
Pilots Of Purple Twilight
Synapse: The Electronic Music Magazine, 1976–1979
A mix for Halloween: Analogue Spectres
Edgar Froese, 1944–2015
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland
Hodgsonian vibrations
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode

Tangerine Dream in concert

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I was going to call this post “Remote Viewing”, after the last track on Tangerine Dream’s Exit album, but the reference is too obscure. Having spent the past week listening to the Pilots Of Purple Twilight box I thought I’d see what concert video might be available from the period covered by the recordings, 1980–83. Thank to some recent YouTube uploads there’s more than I expected. A couple of things are notable about these TV performances: the first is that two of them feature the same annoyingly mismatched audio and video that spoiled Tony Palmer’s record of the group playing in Coventry Cathedral in 1975; the second is that all the footage is from Continental Europe. Tangerine Dream were very popular in the UK throughout the 1970s and 80s—they were on a British record label, after all, and toured here extensively every couple of years—but Palmer’s film is the only record of a British TD concert. These videos aren’t always the highest quality but they make up for the negligence of the BBC and ITV.

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Palasport, Bologna, 20th October, 1980.

Mismatched audio and video in the opening scenes, followed by an interview with the group in Italian and German. The audio and video is in synch after this, and includes rare footage from this period of Edgar Froese playing guitar on Diamond Duster, an uptempo piece that evolved into Diamond Diary for the Thief soundtrack. I’m not always keen on Edgar’s meandering live solos but this is still good to see. Also of note for synth-heads is how much of the group’s equipment was still the analogue modular gear they were using in the 1970s.

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Platz der Republik, West Berlin, 29th August, 1981.

A big concert in the group’s home city. The opening shows them playing Kiew Mission, the first time they did so in concert with a live singer providing the vocals. The audio for this piece, however, is an overdub from the Exit album.

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Lycabettus Theatre, Athens, 30th August, 1983.

A shame this isn’t better quality because it’s the best of the lot: 85 minutes of the group performing (with no overdubs) preceded by 10 minutes of an interview in English for Greek TV. The concert itself features a more elaborate light show than usual, while the first half of the show includes new compositions that later turned up on the live Poland album.

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Warsaw Ice Stadium, 10th December, 1983.

And speaking of which (and linked here before), half an hour of the two-hour Warsaw concert. The earlier YouTube copy featured additional footage of a dancer in a studio but this version is sans dancer.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Pilots Of Purple Twilight
Synapse: The Electronic Music Magazine, 1976–1979
German gear
Edgar Froese, 1944–2015
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland
Electronic Music Review
Tonto’s expanding frog men
A Clockwork Orange: The Complete Original Score
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode

Weekend links 542

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The Reverse of a Framed Painting (between 1668 and 1672) by Cornelis Norbertus Gysbrechts.

• New music with a cinematic flavour: Disciples Of The Scorpion (Main Theme) Heavy Mix by The Rowan Amber Mill is a taster for the group’s forthcoming imaginary soundtrack, Disciples Of The Scorpion (also a sequel of sorts to The Book Of The Lost); The Quietened Dream Palace is this year’s final themed compilation from A Year In The Country. The subject this time is abandoned cinemas, past and present.

San Francisco Moog: 1968–72 by Doug McKechnie, a collection of early synthesizer music using a modular instrument that was later bought by Tangerine Dream. “The quiescent, meditative pulse of the music has much more in common with what would come to be known as the Berlin school of German electronic music than anything coming out of the US at the time,” says Geeta Dayal.

• Sarah Davachi released a new album recently, Cantus, Descant, so The Quietus asked her to discuss her favourite albums. Related: XLR8R has a mix of the music that Davachi regards as influences. Kudos for the choice of Why Do I Still Sleep by Popol Vuh, an overlooked piece from the end of the group’s career.

When I use relevance as a filter for determining what books to read, I’m failing to make myself available for an authentic encounter with otherness, something genuine art always offers. I’m presuming that I can guess, from the barest plot summary, whether a book will be useful in my life. But how can I know what I will find relevant about a work before I have submitted myself to the experience? I don’t think we are likely to be transformed by art if we try to determine that encounter in advance. Part of the vulnerability necessary for transformation is the recognition that I am, to a great extent, a mystery to myself. How could I know what I need?

Garth Greenwell on the idea that a novel is only worthwhile if it is somehow “relevant”

• “For a long time I had been encouraged by the world of fine art to remove references to the spiritual from my work,” says Penny Slinger in a piece by Hettie Judah exploring the resurgence of interest in occult art. Good to see S. Elizabeth and her book on the subject receiving a mention.

• Arriving on Region B blu-ray later this month is Spring (2014) by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, which 101 Films describes as Richard Linklater channeling HP Lovecraft. I enjoyed Benson & Moorhead’s Resolution (2012) and The Endless (2017) so this one is on pre-order.

• Topical books dept: The Man in the High Chair and Other Tyrannies by Kurt Fawver, a benefit publication for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners.

• We never know exactly where we’re going in outer space: Caleb Scharf on the difficulties of aiming for distant objects in an ever-changing universe.

• Submissions open soon for the contemporary Dada journal Maintenant 15, with a theme of “Humanity: The Reboot”. Details here.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Harry Smith, Filmmaker Day.

Pandemonium – Spring (1985) by Peter Principle | Silent Spring (2006) by Massive Attack feat. Elizabeth Fraser | Spring Stars (2009) by Simon Scott

Pilots Of Purple Twilight

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1982 tour badge not included.

This arrived at last, after the usual shenanigans with Parcelforce and their blink-and-you-miss-em deliveries: 10 compact discs plus a large book that documents the final third of Tangerine Dream’s years on the Virgin label, when Johannes Schmoelling had joined to fill the gap left by Steve Jolliffe. These were all albums I bought as they were released, and I also saw the group for the first time on their 1982/83 tour, a performance from which is documented on the Logos live album. Consequently, I’ve always liked this period, and don’t regard it as lesser than the Peter Baumann years. The two phases of the group’s evolution are very different, in part because the technology they were using by 1980 was very different from the more cumbersome electronics of the 1970s: synthesizers were now polyphonic, sequencers were much more programmable, and digital synthesis had arrived. Tangerine Dream were early users of the PPG Wave, a digital synthesizer that allowed the recording and playback of sound samples. The Wave sound is prominent on all the albums from the Schmoelling period, giving the music a very different character to the earlier Moog-and-Mellotron recordings.

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Pilots Of Purple Twilight doesn’t contain as many revelations as the previous In Search Of Hades box but there are some rarities here which are either making their first appearance on CD or their first official release in any form. The Logos album was 50 minutes of a much longer set from the Dominion Theatre, London, which is now available in full on two discs. (The original Logos album appeared in the shops only five or six weeks after it was recorded, something that amazed and delighted me at the time.) The full concert had been available in the past as part of the fan-produced Tangerine Leaves bootleg series but the recording was typical of the low quality that distinguishes the Leaves discs from the superior Tangerine Tree series. By 1982 the improvisation quotient in Tangerine Dream’s live performances had diminished, so the Dominion concert provides a representative snapshot of the tour as a whole. Some of the new music—the so-called Logos suite—appeared later in the soundtrack of Michael Mann’s cult horror film, The Keep (1983), and another of the rarities here is a variant of one of several discs that have been released as The Keep soundtrack. Unfortunately for Keep enthusiasts, the disc in the Pilots box is the least interesting of the two main Keep releases, comprising a small amount of music which did appear in the film together with a much larger percentage that didn’t. Voices In The Net refers to the 1997 limited-edition release of this music as having been “tangentized” which is their term for old recordings that Edgar Froese later reworked. This pushes the music even further away from the original soundtrack recordings of 1982/82; one of the tracks, Arx Allemand, is a terrible faux-Baroque confection that even Rick Wakeman would reject as sub-standard. The new disc also omits 3 tracks from the 1997 release: Sign In The Dark, Weird Village, and Love And Destiny. There is a Keep soundtrack that features more of the actual music from the film but for that you’ll have to search torrent or bootleg sites for Tangerine Tree Volume 54.

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Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and Johannes Schmoelling performing in Perth, Australia, in February 1982. Edgar is playing a PPG Wave 2 while Johannes has a Roland keyboard, probably a Jupiter 8.

Continue reading “Pilots Of Purple Twilight”

Drone month

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October is drone month. July is often drone month as well, if the heat rises to a degree that I can’t bear to listen to anything more taxing than Main, On Land, or the Paul Schütze recordings that feature thunderstorms. But October owns the drone because it also owns Halloween, as I noted in this Halloween playlist. The first entry there, Zeit by Tangerine Dream, is such a perennial favourite that it’s one of the few albums I can imagine writing about for the 33 1/3 books. But this year Zeit has been competing for haunted airtime with the Cthulhu album from Cryo Chamber, a label devoted to the darker end of the ambient spectrum, where choral throngs in colossal chambers are scoured by the katabatic winds that howl through vast subterranean chasms while Thrones of Darkness brood with Amorphous Abominations in the Illimitable Void etc etc. The Cthulhu album is the first in a series of Lovecraft-themed collaborations by Cryo Chamber artists, with each release taking a Cthulhu Mythos god as its subject. I still find this one to be the best of the series so far, not least because the character of Lovecraft’s tentacled monstrosity is more clearly defined than the other gods which lends more definition to the musical illustration. There are no separate tracks on these albums, all the pieces are mixes that cover the sides of one or more compact discs, blending the contributions of the different artists into a single work. The Cthulhu drones are suitably sub-oceanic, like Eric Holm’s Barotrauma with added cosmic horror, a suite of restless stirrings from the Thing that lies dreaming at Point Nemo. Towards the end the Thing awakens to wreak havoc upon the upstart human world, but not before we’ve heard a mutant voice daring to speak aloud the invocation from The Call of Cthulhu.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hodgsonian vibrations