Tangerine Dream Interview
KM: You've recently returned from an American tour. Satisfied with the success?
TD: America was long, America was good. Long, because we had a month of preparations, then the actual tour took place, and immediately thereafter, we had film music in Los Angeles to do. We were there for about three month and that was also very good because despite commitments, one could check out the tech department on the side. We met many people who are beyond high-tech and who tinker with future concepts.
KM: What's the concert schedule look like for this area (Germany)?
TD: Tja, we wanted to do a tour here in June, actually in April. Unfortunately, there was a substantial delay with the new record release in Germany - the LP came out in the middle of January instead of October as planned - and therefore the prerun time that an album needs to have sales figures, was quite short. The success or failure of a tour has a great deal to do with the actual sales quotas of a given release. If it doesn't work out in June, it won't happen this year because we are booked out in Asia and America.
KM: Does playing live still mean as much to you as it used to?
TD: Absolutely. It is not as simple, or more concretely, some things are simpler because people understand that you don't play 32 position sequences with the small finger while you play the melody with your thumb. Rather, you operate technologies which are pre-determined and purposeful. Everything we can play with two hands, we play. And, we get enough response, we still have contact with the audience. The audience gives you something everyday: something new, sometimes something old, sometimes a bit dull, sometimes euphoric. That is good, one needs that. That's the way it is. When you go on tour, you don't have a "Let's wait till we're in a better mood," rather, you simply have to. And this confrontation with real life - the studio atmosphere always has something illusionary - this is, I believe, very useful to a musician for purely existential, human reasons because you always return again to your roots. There are people sitting there, looking at you, who expect something. And you can't say: "I'll be back another time..." It's a bit of "the-way-of-no-return." You're booked, you have to go on, regardless if you're feeling lousy or not. And when you're up there and the first note you play is wrong, you fall prey to the ridicule. That's the thing that actually makes everything equal. That equates the club musician with the superstar. A wrong note, a bad interpretation, a bad sound is what it is: the end. No matter if it's Springsteen or just some amateur group out of Timbuktu, it makes no difference, bad sound is bad sound.
KM: How do you see your audience? I mean, at a TD performance, one doesn't expect screaming teenagers; how do the people react?
TD: There some things have changed. In earlier times, we put value on leaving peanuts in the pockets (no crackles,no disturbances), complete quiet, much concentration. That was also right for the times and the development we had to go through. We didn't want to have the audience near us, not because we thought we were so precious, but rather for the simple experience of seeing six of seven thousand humans, quiet as mice, sitting there with perhaps a bit of the feeling: man, if you just snap your finger, they are quiet. It wasn't authority, rather the feeling that people really heard what you did. Today it's different. We've opened ourselves more, also musically, and even in rhythmic directions. Some say we have more entertainment value while others find us too commercial. But, I think one has to give musicians the possibility to cross different rivers. Things are changing, like recently in Miami where, due to a hurricane, we had to transfer from the large stadium to a 3,000 seat hall which normally was used for punk concerts. A really shabby place, small, no dressing room, no air-conditioning, steaming hot - undescribable. It was so intense. I haven't experienced a concert like that in sixteen years. They weren't in ditches, so to speak. The people sat left and right on scaffolding and platforms, it was bursting full, and they hung partly over our keyboards. That was something new to me. You sweat like an idiot, thoroughly soaked, it was at least 40 degrees Centigrade in the joint. A great experience for us, one we never sought, one that was supposed to take place in a giant stadium at the water's edge. I realized that playing live, that direct communication with the audience, is something that had gotten lost again, through big halls, space barriers, security etc. Here was just music. The listeners and the musicians were totally close together, they interacted with each other.
KM: Does the more or less intense contact with the audience affect what is played and how it is played?
TD: Absolutely. When there is a great distance, one often plays differently. You challenge yourself with what you plan to do and say later, "okay, that was a good concert." afterall, you can't jump around the two meter platform everytime. But, on that evening, we had to do something. You couldn't lean back for a second and say, "Let my pal over there do something, he'soloing better today." That wasn't possible. It is certainly also the case, that the performance forms for music today are well tried. The people are tired, you see that on the many tours that are cancelled. Both sides, the musicians and the audience, find themselves on a reconnaissance mission at the moment, to try out new forms where the inexperience we spoke of becomes a point of departure. Everyone knows the situation: you go into a club, coincidently there's a good band, the club is electrified and, you know: that's it! And to find such a thing in this technological upheaval, to bring such a thing onto the stage, there we're in a very good position because we don't have the program of Prince or Michael Jackson, where everyone has an expectation of what he's to do and he's only to do it better than the time before. For us, on the other hand, it's relatively open. The people don't expect a performance act. We have more freedom. That which is musically beautiful and that we can do what we want, is also the case with the performance.
KM: You say, musically you can do what you want. Does the technology which TD uses today offer the musician the possibility to interfere intuitively in the musical, in the tonal activity? I mean, I can turn a knob on an analog synthesizer, and the sound changes; with a sampler, it's a bit more complicated to manipulate the sound, at least from the music station during the performance. And even the most modern digital synthesizers and sequencers aren't equipped with operating keyboards which elicit spontaneaous intervention.
R.W.: That balances out in that, although you no longer have the possibility, for example, to simply change the filter frequency, you can, through the MIDI-Realtime- Controller, efficiently intervene in the sound. Of course what would be nice sometimes, and what some companies in the meantime offer, is to have controls which affect certain parameters and where you can select certain parameters.
E.F.: One has to work more conscientously with intervention possibilities these days. In former times, we went on stage with the analog stuff and with the change of a high-low pass filter in the bass alone, we had a modulation in resonance which sounded just incredible. It went straight to the core. This isn't possible any more, but not only as a result of technological advances. Approximately ten years of listening to artificial, synthetic, worked-up acoustics, or whatever you like to call it, certainly has left its mark. Something "audiotraining" has taken place. It's like this: at the beginning of the Seventies, you had a fat, wide Moog-bass with the typical filter characteristics -which are yet unmatched- and that had an effect. One simply had not ever heard that. Today, you have to offer an assortment of originality in sound, tone structure and frequency so that the people will say, "that sounds great, I've never heard anything like it." They are overflooded and overstimulated with unfortunately not only good music because the new possibilities and the technology are available to everyone. This used to be different. You had a pair of fundamental concepts, modular synthesizers, hardly everyone knew of the philosophy of voltage control. No one could quite handle it and you could bewilder them with few means. And nowadays, musicians must not at all master these things. You go into a studio and rent the instrument and the guy who comes with it. You play the melody line and come back in five hours to find the title is finished. That is actually how it often happens. That makes everything easier, but at the same time more difficult for those who want to achieve something more serious with these sounds.
KM: Do you see any dramatic change within the instruments manufacturing industry?
TD: It's often overlooked that the musical instrument market is a worldwide market. we believe, sooner or later one won't get around it, having to have specially designed equipment or custom designed software - or both. Otherwise, once large firms, who have a good philosophy concerning technological advancement, won't get through the technical jungle and will simply collapse. Companies like Roland and Yamaha can spend 10 million dollars on a four year period developing, then, they bring out a finished product. A company like Oberheim in its prime couldn't do that till the Japanese took over. Sequential couldn't do it, and I ask myself how long the others will continue to be able to. It's going in such a peculiar direction because everyone thinks they can ride their own wave. Basically though, everyone is doing what his competitor is doing.
KM: On stage, you work a great deal with sequencers. How much is determined by the sequencer and how much freedom actually remains?
TD: The sequencer, speaking cautiously, can open you as you would like to open yourself. Our purpose is not to deliver a perfect version of a studio project to the stage, but rather to show complexities in their complexity, in combination with the fun of playing. In other words, the listener gains nothing from hearing an edited version of a familiar piece just because the musician insists he may not implement a sequencer when playing live and proceeds to hammer a sixteenth for a half an hour with the left hand while playing something with the right as well, and, starts the drum computer with his foot. There are people who consider this "live". But you can imagine how it sounds. We would be silly to take a flyer which is built somewhere into the thirty second bar as a ramp in another program and play it on the keyboard. It's in the sequencer and flies by itself. Anyway, over the last several years, we retain the philosophy that we are composers. We see ourselves as composers and not tiny Arthur Rubensteins who wish to and must show, every evening, that they are the best piano players in the world.
KM: Can you use the technical mastery that some of you gained in academies and conservatories?
TD: One thing that we like to apply is the way of playing drums on the keyboards. We enter certain samplers and try out targeted rhythms, but also coincidental ones. For example, in that we take a run from Chopin etude and play it with the different drum sounds. Very amusing things occur and if they appear to be useful, we're trying to hold on to them. In any case, the results are baffling for drummers.
KM: What about the newer Workstation concept?
TD: This all goes beyond purely digital recording. Since the AES (an audio engineering exhibition) in November '88, where the workstation war began, we have been looking for a system to meet our needs. But we only wish to invest in a system that can be updated that is, without having to contend with drastic changes in hardware. Bad experiences has shown that if a new version of equipment had a lot of hardware to go along with it, you can forget it. Now we're at the point where we more or less have decided to wait for newer generations in software oriented developements which than will allow us to meet our very individuel needs.
KM: I have the feeling, from what you say, that among other things you are not satisfied with the solutions for man-machine-interface at the moment. Is that right?
TD: There probably isn't a thing with which you can be fully satisfied. It's really an insane thought that the human as a databank, as an information transmitter, as an information programmer or some such thing, could be equalled or even surpassed by technology. Most dream of this, but it isn't possible. It is not possible for the simple reason that, if, call it nerve transmission inertia in technology, existed, this nerve transmisssion inertia does not exist in our brain. There is no inertia, rather information is exchanged and digested on many levels at the same time, and, new information is formed out of old information. That is the phenomenon of the human mind. It is understandable that people want to imitate this with computers, but there are no computerized transmissions that could ever equal those of the human brain, even if they are faster. What makes us so slow is not our brain, rather our consciousness with which we approach the problem. The brain is inconceivably fast, it's our software which isn't so far along. With the term software, I mean our consciousness which reflects the sum of all our collected experience. This software, we know, loaded into our brain, is at six or seven percent of its capacity, not more. And now we can determine what a computer actually is. When one allows this comparison, you then have approximately the right relationship between man and machine. There we are and probably not all too much will change in the next fifty years, because our human behaviour reflects still some sort of stoneage programming, as you can watch mankind dealing with the still unknown secrets of the atom - our scientists are like little kids playing around with explosiv power of a handgrenade - and smiling!
KM: But you don't say, that everything in music should be continued without computers?
TD: Actually, a computer is nothing more than the wheel chair of the musician. It has the positive aspect that you can move faster with it than you would walking, but on the other hand not fast enough that you could shut out the other people as information sources. From this point of view, the whole thing seems to be a double-edged sword: if you want the sun, you have to buy the shadow, too.
KM: Let's talk about your current stage set-up.What's about your work with a SMPTE-related system...
TD: The current condition looks like this: An SMPTE remitter, on the last tour the Steinberg SMP24, gives the timecode to the entire system. Whereby we naturally reserve the right for the musician concerned to make changes within a track, for instance, one evening to play a sequence on marimbaphone and the next day on bass. There where just minor problems due to the fact that we had six computers on stage during the tour. Some where doing the work and the others where free for example for editing to monitoring the sound. We of course had huge lists of cue's and program changes which sometimes gave us a few seconds to think about 'right or wrong' movements for such set ups in general - we didn't want to make a ten month worldtour with such equipment.
KM: How have the Computer hardware held up for stage work?
TD: We had great reservations at first, whether the computers were mature enough for stage conditions, but, there wasn't one real clash. Imagine it, that stuff went into the crates and was packed out of the crates everyday, in weather conditions that were anything but computer friendly and they survived it all. You have to admit though that there are no 'road computer' around. The plugs fell out at times, a computer and a monitor broke down, thank God it was in the soundcheck. All series computers offered at this time are not road-proof, no matter if they they be MacIntosh's, Atari's or PC's. And the so called adaptations for stage work are exactly that, adaptors, about which at best can be speculated. We are waiting with interest to see what the next hardware generations will deliver.
KM: From technics to music: is there defined work division musically within Tangerine Dream by composing and performance of the pieces?
TD: As far as division goes, we have had the basic philosophy since the Seventies that whoever can do what is at his disposal the best, he does it, and conditionless. This applies to piano playing, guitar parts, as well as to the drum programming or to the now and again necessity of finishing song texts. We work according to the principle of effectiveness in the relationship of time required to optimal quality exploitation. Certainly this procedure was the result of the fact that we do many things for which exact time commitments must be met. We can't afford to have a situation where we go into the studio with faces red as beets, and pull straws to see who will be allowed to play the solo. Professional music making means for us effective music making, whereby all are aware that that which is on the master tape is a result with which all of us can identify, even if a significant part was not played by particular one of us. Some people ask us how we do five soundtracks, three tours and this or that in one year. This work process is the whole secret. When one of us has a good idea, we say okay and go to the next Italian restaurant for two hours while he works on it. When we come back, the thing is keyed in and it's the next one's turn. Or we notice that some days we are all running at 50%. We then stick together and lend support because we wouldn't make it alone. Thus the optimal is achieved.
KM: Do you sometimes compose with algorythmic programs?
TD: Chris Anderton once wrote an article about these programs in which he said he never knew as he worked with these if he was composing himself or if he weren't executing some metacomposition of the programmer. This is the core of the problem. We recently heard a piece of music which was completely composed on the "M". As far as the sound and the idea goes, it was unbelievably witty and intelligent. It fulfilled all of the demands one places conventional good music. But it is still an 'M' recording and you could recognize the "M" during each musical event. We believe this species will be reserved for specialists who find contentment in them. As for our music, these algorythm programs aren't useful at all, there are nice toys to fool around with, but as a real composing tool, certainly not current.
KM: Without a doubt: sounds play an important role in Tangerine Dream music. Do you create them aiming at a specific idea? Do you allow yourselves to be inspired by the equipment? Do you give in to your playful instincts? How do these sounds emerge?
TD: Lately, we've gone with the principle plate of colorful clay as many others have done, too. What do we have for the overhead strucure? Very clear things offered themselves. What should we take for sequencing parts? What for melodies ? What for athmospheric clusters ? There were favorites but amongst these, we simply directed sounds together from the whole store of information and changed the curve to produce new sounds. There was a time we brought classical musicians to the studio who programmed samples because the working samples were insufficient. These days are over. There are different situations in which sounds have to be edited. First, there is the sterile situation. You choose a sound, listen to it and are disappointed, simply because it sounds bad. That has happened to us with several modules. The second editing situation appears when you work on a piece more concretely. You often insert a sound because no other voice is free and then realize in this constellation, it is exactly what you were looking for. That means, you only can undertake part of sound editing at a sterile level, you do the other part within the piece itself, exactly where it is important to hold time expenditure within limits so that you can work again musically as quickly as possible. In this light, the investment in a good editor with fast storage potential can be estimated. Exactly in the audio-digital area, the storage time runs often as long as the piece itself. Then, a sensible method is actually not possible.
KM: Tangerine Dream is, as has been indicated often during this interview, alongside recording projects and live concerts, quite strongly engaged in the film music industry. How does that work?
TD: We dealt with the Hollywood factory for fourteen years and many launches have developed positively. You get a script and read through it, though you know that 30% of the script never appears in the film. You can see though if the idea is right, if the action fits, and if it is an A, B, or C movie which determines what you earn. That is not the single criteria from which we decide whether or not to do a film. It does happen that a C movie for which you get relatively little money becomes a hit with audiences. You really must weigh it all. The next step is that you receive a rough cut video, about two or three month after the film is completed, which you have a look at. A month later you get the fine cut video with SMPTE CODE informations and cue sheets and that's when 'you're on' to make the best job you can to help the movie grow.
KM: What come next? How you step into it?
TD: The actual music emerges in completely different ways. We play some things totally ad libitum, the video recorder functions as master, a synchronizer can be the master and so on. It has a little bit to do with the location also. When we're in our studio, we have our own system. But sometimes we must record in other cities and we then have to adapt ourselves to the possibilities at hand. We have even recorded film music in a hotel room. Good, then the stuff is finished, the producer comes, the director comes, and they all come and shoot you down because they're the employers. It doesn't matter if you are Genesis, Pink Floyd, Bruce Springsteen or TD or if you come from "hicksville" and it's your first film music. You always have the status of a rented object for the project. It isn't seldom that production budgets of films exceed the multi-million dollar limit and therefore you, as a musician, have the role of a painting on the wall of an expensive interior design. That can change suddenly though when it becomes evident that the music accounts for 50% of the film's success, and, as happened twice in our case, the media all clearly point this out. Then you gain in value and are suddenly a well-traded stock.
KM: Thanks for your time and support doing this interview.