Tangerine Dream: Zeitraffer (Barbican Music Library, 16 January-2 May 2020)
Trevor Paglen: From ‘Apple’ to ‘Anomaly’ (The Curve, Barbican, 26 Sep 2019—Sun 16 Feb 2020)
So, the Barbican – aka the alcohol-free concert hall – was heaving and so the slightly complicated but with good sight lines for a rendezvous foyer turned out not to be a smart move. Especially when Dennis was playing havoc with the trains. But that didn’t dissuade the thousands of people who had descended for a wellness fête (and who were queueing in their hundreds for the ladies loos hidden in the bowels of the building).
So, two and a half hours and a pub lunch later, we got into the Music Library for a free exhibition devoted to Krautrock legends Tangerine Dream.
We being two of my three oldest schoolfriends Neil and Paul and Neil’s wife Nadia. At some point Neil and I had gone into Nottingham, possibly together but I think not, and bought Rubycon and Phaedra for £2.99 and began the journey of discovery around Tangerine Dream. At some point, ironically or appropriately, we heard Stratosfear at a wellness lunch event at school, in the darkened space of the Drama Room. And we’d turned Paul onto them too.
Tangerine Dream were Edgar Froese, although he did solo stuff that sounded similar, inspired by Salvador Dalí to produce music with electronics and guitars with first a group of people I’ve never heard of, then with Steve Joliffe and Klaus Schulze, then eventually to Christophe Franke and Peter Baumann, then via a couple more shifts to Froese, Franke and Joliffe, Froese, Franke and Johannes Schmoelling (the line-up we saw live) and through many more unknown names to beyond Froese’s death. Despite the lack of t’internet, we ended up with all of the studio albums, a few concerts and soundtracks, mostly in glorious gatefold mode.
I’m not quite sure what I expected – I recalled the fetishization of kit of the V&A’s Pink Floyd blockbuster – and we did indeed have keyboards and synthesizers. There was a VCS 3 (II), complete with knobs and holes, music as cribbage scoreboard, a minimoog with more dials than keys (how could you switch modes?), a Prophet 6 and another keyboard whose name rang no bells.
There were facsimiles of the covers to Phaedra and Rubycon, a display case of Phaedra in record, tape and 8-track formats, a display case of movie soundtracks, laserdiscs and VHSs. Letters in facsimile from John Peel and Richard Branson, from whomever the Anglican dean or bishop was who invited them to tour English cathedrals after the shenanigans at Reims Cathedral had led them to be banned or excommunicated… Relics of the GDR. Black and white photographs.
It was, I guess, a nostalgia trip. There was another person with a long beard and bald pate of around our age looking round and a couple of people younger than the Fall of the Berlin Wall. But I’m not sure it would have made any sense if you didn’t know who was who and what they did. Who designed all those astonishing covers (Monique Froese) and who was that child who appeared half hidden in some of them (Jerome Froese)? A single explanation board gave significant dates in the band and the world, but what has the marriage and death of Lady Diana got to do with it?
You could listen to selected albums on vinyl, but the feel of the band was missing. I think we were probably done after twenty minutes, but we mooched a bit longer.
And then, trying to find the Silk Street exit and a ground level walking route to a pub and Kings Cross, we stumbled across the last day of Trevor Paglen’s installation in The Curve.
The starting point is a painting by René Magritte, Ceci n’est pas une pomme, the fruity cousin to his not-pipe, but inevitably we think of the computer company.
Beginning with the dataset of photos of apples from ImageNet – taken from Flickr – Paglen follows the algorithms to similar images, clustered around orchards, fruit pickers, valleys, oceans, fish, skies… Somehow this starts leaping to the more sinister of bankers, convicts, anti-Semitism, criminals … There are cute cats and eye candy, there are lions and tigers and bears, oh my. There’s Donald Trump, at least twice.
In total there are 30,000 images, pinned to the exterior wall of the curve and stretching five or six metres to the ceiling. It’s a shame there was no gantry to allow access to the upper images. I suspect we ended up spending as long in that as the Tangerine Dream exhibition and I could imagine losing days to browsing an online version.
Maybe that’s the treachery of images.