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)

BoardSo, 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).
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The Sorrows of (Not So) Young Werdna

Inevitably this contains several plot spoilers


In criticism we – I – start from where we know and head into new territory. We have a political or critical viewpoint – Marxism, feminism, aesthetics – and apply it to a new text. Or we use a text to explain an idea or an idea to explain a text. (There’s a line somewhere from Mallarmé – shameless name drop – about the folly of saying clearly what the author has said opaquely.) We needn’t reinvent the wheel, of course, we build on the shoulders of giants. Sometimes people haven’t seen the giants, so we get people suggesting that no one has written about Katherine Burdekind or that everything thinks John Wyndham is cosy, when, in fact, he isn’t.

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Upon this Key, Time Will Slide

I don’t recall how it was I first got into Tangerine Dream in the early 1980s. With Neil and Paul I shared an interest of making music although I was always on the production side. I don’t recall whether we got into Tangerine Dream because Neil had a keyboard or whether Neil got a keyboard because we were into Tangerine Dream. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Genesis were hanging around, perhaps drifting from older brothers’ bedrooms and there were two drama teachers who were to be our gurus to alt.culture. Jean-Michelle Jarre had released three albums – Oxygene was too abstract for me, Magnetic Fields felt too commercial and Equinox was just about right.

We were considered to be old enough to be allowed to go into town with friends or even on our own without adult supervision, and not only were there two or even three HMVs, but Selectadisc had two branches, probably three shops, and WH Smiths still sold vinyl. Brothers in Arms was yet to convince us that plastic boxes were the way forward. There may have been an Our Price and an (ho hum) Andy’s Records, and a market stall and – a miraculous discovery – Good Vibrations, a secondhand music shop raising money for Greenham Common protestors with a psychic cat who sat on the precise stack of LPs you wanted to look through next.

Of course, we must have heard some – it was regularly used in documentaries and we watched Horizon most weeks – or got into it somehow because one day I went into town and went from shop to shop checking prices. The cheapest two available were Phaedra and Rubycon and I suspect that I just thought that the ghostly blues of the sleeve were more pleasing than the drop of water on Rubycon.

It would be ten years or more before I was to read Walter Benjamin but already I got aura. A gatefold is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. The twelve inch of cardboard already gives a fantastic canvas, but a gatefold gives you a landscape. In time it gives you Roger Dean (and you end up with Avatar) and a whole new world. (Triple albums on the other hand I was in two minds about. Maybe they were a little … decadent? Pretentious?) The album held a magic that CDs never did – they were regressive in design terms, mere functional – and I cannot embrace to download, as a child of objects rather than services. I scoured the sleep for information – dates, personnel, who played what and noted a child’s face (a boy? a girl?) hidden in plain sight in the artwork.

And having got the bus home and the not then so Aged Ps being out at work, I could listen to Phaedra on the stereo in the living room. There is that moment of anticipation when you buy a record you know nothing about – if I could remember church services I might compare to the vicar raising the host or something – the moment of not knowing what sound is going to emerge or whether the stylus will not just scrape across that disk.

I can’t write about music and I can’t dance about architecture, but then you knew that. A seventeen minute thirty nine seconds instrumental using moogs, mellotrons, organs and sequencers – the flob flob flob running water/fan of the VCS3 – and somewhere in the mix guitars and bass and flute. It felt – at an age too young for drugs – like I’d been taken on a trip. Certainly I was already hooked.

Meanwhile Neil had gone out and bought Rubycon. He played it to me and I liked it but obviously it wasn’t quite as good as Phaedra, although it had that secret head hidden on it. We had a kind of unspoken agreement – home taping was killing music and so we would each buy a Tangerine Dream album and allow the other to record it. We went into town and – trust a thirty year memory – we bought Stratosfear and Tangram. (Might it have been Exit with its sell-out five minute tracks or Ricochet?) I can’t remember if Neil’s version of Tangram had an inner sleeve design or an insert, but some versions had them. We researched tangrams. We looked up the strange words from the track titles in dictionaries and thesauri. We went out and bought Force Majeure and Hyperborea and I liked both them rather more than Neil did who wasn’t sure if that had been a fiver well spent.

At some point Paul joined in – I think we let him buy Cyclone (oh poor pretentious children) and I think he bought White Eagle and I had this sense that was risking the pact because we weren’t keeping up in buying them all together (really? What was I thinking?). Over the next two years we collected all the Virgin studio albums and two live albums. The local library had – why I have no idea but someone must have ordered it – the OST for Sorcerer and one of us must have bought Thief and Le Parc. The double live album Poland came out and was maybe a little meh. The Virgin years were behind us. TD wise.

And we saw them live at Nottingham Concert Hall, sat in the front row and then we had everything they’d released (or we assumed) and the new stuff was too electronica my tastes. I saw them live again and again too much BPM. By then we were at uni and I listened to taped copies and the albums gathered dust – I bought some of Paul’s cast offs and filled in my gaps. Vinyl was over though.

How did we know what the gaps were? I suspect we scoured microfiche in the library and maybe there was a reference book. I’d borrowed Atem, Alpha Centauri and Zeit (“Shite”) from the library, but a boxset scored me copies along with Electronic meditation. Klaus Schulze had gone solo and I think I was the only one to really like him – although the fake strings of X (“Heinrich von Kleist”?) nearly swayed Neil’s classical loving Dad. Peter Baumann released two albums – poppy technoish – and so did Steve Joliffe – one about extra bodily experiences the other butterflies. Edgar Froese released solo work – but that was pretty well Tangerine Dream anyway, although I was less of a fan. I tried atonal music and Bach and dipped into Eloi, but never quite went the krautrock route. I collected Bo Hansson’s four albums and some of Gong and… the pretentious progrock of Yes.

Vinyl was dead. My brother bought me CD compilations and when I saw the other CDs in Fopp for a fiver I picked them up. I put some on my hard drive. My brother burnt me later albums onto CDs, I found bits on Spotify and YouTube but it lost the aura.

And now Edgar Froese is dead. Chris Franke aside, he was for me Tangerine Dream.

I’d only just played one of their CDs but don’t blame me.

It’s a whole chunk of my teen years – my eighties as uncanny echo of the then hated (by others) seventies, the decade that taste forgot. Did I write about them in Solar Flares? (I dance on the inside.) It was technology and culture and internationalism; it was Saturday mornings; it was friendships and altruism and rivalries; it was teenage bedrooms and joss sticks and a row of trainers by the front door; it was playing with keyboards and home made multitrack; it was a pile of TDK D90s. It was a way into baroque and to minimalism, although for me it wasn’t the diddly diddly diddly music our parents scorned but the minimalism that would change, the abstract that shifted into tune – the unexpected melody of a piano, the screech of electric guitar disguised. It was analogue fucking with digital. It was the thrill of the hunt, it was that pile of record sleeves. It felt real and it would last forever.

It didn’t. It probably wasn’t.