Cosmic jokes and a cosmic conundrum

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Tangerine Dream in 1973.

Here’s an item of news that will be of little interest to many readers but I’ve not seen it reported widely so it’s worth noting. (This place is nothing if not a cornucopia of deeply excavated niches, so you can take this as further niche excavation.) The news concerns recordings that Tangerine Dream made with Timothy Leary in 1973…or Leary recordings which were added to Tangerine Dream music in the same year. One problem with writing about all of this is that documentation remains elusive. Bearing this in mind, the details are as follows:

• Tangerine Dream were signed to Ohr Records from 1970 to 1973, a label for whom they recorded their first four albums plus one seven-inch single. During this time they were also featured along with label-mates Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh and Klaus Schulze on an Ohr compilation, Kosmische Musik.

• “Kosmische” is the key word here. Ohr boss Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser liked the word enough to create an Ohr offshoot, Die Kosmischen Kuriere (The Cosmic Couriers), which later became the short-lived Kosmische Musik label.

• Also in the early 1970s, Timothy Leary, on the run from the US authorities, arrived in Switzerland where he and his allies (including Brian Barritt and Leary’s future wife, Joanna Harcourt-Smith) began hanging around with various members of the Swiss psychedelic avant-garde. Among the latter were writer Sergius Golowin, and a pair of artists, Walter Wegmüller and HR Giger.

• Ohr/Kosmische Kuriere/Kosmische Musik was based in Berlin, but at some point after Leary’s arrival in Switzerland R-U Kaiser and a handful of his recording artists met up with the Swiss psychonauts, an encounter that led to a series of musical collaborations: Seven Up, the third Ash Ra Tempel album which featured vocal intrusions from Leary and friends; Lord Krishna Von Goloka by Sergius Golowin, an album of Golowin readings with music by Klaus Schulze and others; and Tarot, an ambitious double-disc concept album narrated by (and credited to) Walter Wegmüller which included contributions from many of the major Ohr/Kosmische Kuriere artists. No Tangerine Dream, however.

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Spalax CD reissues from the mid-1990s. Cover designs by Peter Geitner.

• Here’s where things get complicated. At some point while the above were being recorded, R-U Kaiser decided to release a series of “kosmische” jams by Ash Ra Tempel, Klaus Schulze and others which were credited to an imaginary group, The Cosmic Jokers. There are various reports about these sessions, with claims and counter-claims about whether or not permission was granted by the musicians. I can’t comment on the legal history (which led eventually to the collapse of Kaiser’s company) but Kaiser and his wife, Gille Letteman, appear to have been gripped by a kind of cosmic megalomania in 1974. The Cosmic Jokers album was quickly followed by four more releases in the same year: Galactic Supermarket (yet more jams by the same musicians but credited to Galactic Supermarket); Gilles Zeitschiff by Sternenmädchen (in which Gille Letteman and friends recount Timothy Leary’s flight to Switzerland and the meetings with the Cosmic Couriers); Planeten Sit-In (a quadrophonic sampler album created as a promotion for the Kosmische Musik label in conjunction with Germany’s Hobby magazine); and Sci Fi Party, an uneven compilation album which blends various Kosmische Musik recordings into a cosmic slop presided over by the label bosses who dominate the front cover.

• So where are Tangerine Dream in all this? Edgar Froese seems to have kept himself and his group at a safe distance from the drug-addled Swiss shenanigans. Until very recently the only connections that Tangerine Dream had with the Cosmic Couriers/Cosmic Jokers were the TD tracks on the 1972 Ohr compilation, and Gille Letteman mentioning the group when she introduces the Sternenmädchen album. No TD music appears on Sternenmädchen, however…or it didn’t until now. Which leads us to the next development.

• Three years ago, Dieter Dierks, the studio engineer for many of the Kosmische Musik albums, began to reissue the Cosmic Jokers albums through the Breeze Music label*. I’ve had all the albums since they were first released on CD by Spalax in the 1990s so it’s taken me a while to become aware of this. The thing that grabbed my attention was a review of one of the new reissues at Discogs that mentioned the album being a different mix from the original. This is indeed the case: Gilles Zeitschiff, Planeten Sit-In and Sci Fi Party are all different mixes to the originals (or at least the Spalax releases), with new sounds and instruments evident on some of the tracks, different emphasis to others and so on.

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Three of the latest reissues. I’ve read complaints about the packaging being flimsy but they used metallic silver for the printing which shows some care applied to the presentation.

More than this, however, the Sternenmädchen album, which is a kind of semi-compilation mixing old and new pieces, contains a short piece of new music mixed into Cosmic Courier Bon Chance which can only be the Tangerine Dream contribution that Gille announces in her introductory spiel and which has been missing from the album since 1974. The giveaway is the sudden emergence of notes played on a Mellotron, an instrument which is absent from all the Cosmic Couriers recordings but which Froese and co. had started using on Atem, their fourth and final album for Ohr, and which became a fixture of the group’s music for the next few years. That’s not all. There’s a further three-and-a-half minutes of new music (Der Herrsher, Part 2) added to Sci Fi Party which sounds like yet more Tangerine Dream, with a voice mixed into the music that sounds very much like Timothy Leary burbling lines from some kind of science-fiction scenario. To date I still don’t know for certain what these pieces are—there’s no information about them on the reissues, not even a mention of them being new additions to the albums—but speculation at Discogs and on a music forum mentions an aborted Tangerine Dream project, Alert!, which might have been the group’s fifth album for Ohr if Edgar Froese hadn’t decided to sign with Virgin Records. There’s more, apparently: a recent Tangerine Dream video documentary includes a scene where Dieter Dierks presents the current members of Tangerine Dream with tapes he discovered when remastering the Kosmische Musik recordings. I say “apparently” since I’ve yet to see this documentary but this raises tantalising questions. Does there now exist an unreleased album (or parts of one) from Tangerine Dream’s pre-Virgin period? It’s possible. (It’s also probable that the Edgar Froese memoir or one of the Tangerine Dream books has more to say about this episode but since I’ve not read them I wouldn’t know.) One of the revelations of the recent In Search Of Hades box was the two discs of out-takes from the recording of Phaedra which showed the group improvising at length until the pieces which became the album tracks emerged. The Hades box also contained an entire album, Oedipus Tyrannus, which had been recorded after Phaedra but which had remained (mostly) unreleased since the 1970s.

That’s a lot of words about five minutes of music but, as I said, I’ve not seen very much discussion about this discovery elsewhere so feel it my duty to mention it here. The music itself isn’t earth-shattering but the Leary vocalisations sound more interesting than the tone-deaf yammering that spoils the Seven Up album. There’s still the question of whether this was a bona fide collaboration between Leary and Tangerine Dream or another studio concoction dreamed up by an overbearing label boss. There’s also the question of whether we’ll get to hear what was on those tapes that Dieter Dierks gave to the Froese estate. You’d think this period would have been thoroughly exploited by now but overlooked oddities remain, like the 30 minutes of Vampira, a score that Tangerine Dream recorded in 1971 for a German TV production which has never been officially released.

I’ll end this with six more minutes of kosmische music from 1973: Tangerine Dream playing Atem live (with pre-recorded drums) on Spotlight, an Austrian TV show.


* A word of warning about the Breeze CD reissues. There are several complaints at Discogs about mastering faults on the first Cosmic Jokers album and Galactic Supermarket. I can’t confirm this but I can say that the reissues of the other albums mentioned in this post—Gilles Zeitschiff, Planeten Sit-In and Sci Fi Party—all sound fine.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Early Water
Cosmic music and cosmic horror
Tangerine Dream in concert
Pilots Of Purple Twilight
Synapse: The Electronic Music Magazine, 1976–1979
The kosmische design of Peter Geitner
Edgar Froese, 1944–2015
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland

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