Tag Archives: Tangerine Dream

Jean Michel Jarre Played Live at Boston Harbor-World Inexplicably Unchanged

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Jean Michel Jarre played Boston last week. Let me say that again-JEAN MICHEL JARRE PLAYED BOSTON LAST WEEK HOLY FUCKING SHIT!! The earth shifted on its axis temporarily, the sun came up in the west and set in the east. Up was down, right?

Why get so excited one may ask? Well depending on who you ask, this was his first US show ever, and is akin to Led Zeppelin just showing up to do an unannounced reunion show at the Paradise. This was BIG news for progrock/psychedelic/electronic astronauts, yet many didn’t even know it was happening. (side note: this show, and tour, are criminally underpromoted-no word anywhere. I found out by accident ten days ahead of time. Not one of my long time JMJ friends had ANY idea he was coming). It was the first US show of his first North American tour ever, and the third show of the tour. Most fans had long dismissed any idea of seeing him live. Those with longer memories may recall a single show he did in Houston thirty years ago (more later on that), but many consider this his first US show ever. Why is Jean Michel Jarre such a big deal?

A big deal he certainly is. Jean Michel Jarre is one of the foundation pillars of electronic music. Words like ‘innovator’ and ‘pioneer’ get thrown around pretty frequently. Along with Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk (Klaus Schulze and Vangelis to a lesser extent), Jean Michel Jarre  fleshed out a group of musicians that single handedly created electronic music as a scene, and by proxy a ‘little’ genre known as techno, now one of the most popular scenes in the world of music today. His devotion to the synthesizer as an instrument of incalculable creative power cannot be underestimated. Tangerine Dream had a trio of dudes chugging away at the complicated and quirky keyboard beasts-Kraftwerk a quartet. TD, Schulze and Kraftwerk were all German–Jarre was the lone French entry into this uncharted and rarely chart-able music scene. The ability to create sonic tapestries alone, and then dare to try to reproduce them on stage was unique at that time. (a nod to Klaus Schulze here for his multitude of solo improvisational shows). Jarre was able to not only play some impressive shows, but shift some major units all over the world. And draw some impressive crowds.

Bastille Day 1979

On Bastille Day 1979, Jarre played the Place de la Concorde in Paris to one million people, the largest outdoor show at that time. No one had ever seen anything like this before-the city was the stage, as lights fountained everywhere. It was a mastery of live multi media performance where the city itself was the stage, and buildings the backdrops for projections and lasers. It was his first live concert. One million people. Wowza! (see above for most of the show). Jarre controlled lighting cues and somehow managed in the pre-MIDI era to keep everything running, playing Oxygene and Equinoxe in their entirety. It was hard to imagine where to go next.

China 1981

Nobody played China, nobody. Hell nobody WENT to China. But the country was opening to the west, and somehow Jarre got invited to do shows in Shanghai and Beijing. This was China’s first exposure to the west, and it as documented on the excellent Concerts en Chine live album. Electricity was scarce-sections of the city had to be blacked out to provide power for the lights and sound. Jarre became somewhat of a Chinese phenomenon. Hundred of thousands attended.

Houston 1986

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Houston gets weird

Now that he’d figured out how to really set up a live rig, Houston was the setting for the high point of Jarre’s live era. He took over Houston-the sky scrapers bore tarps as projection screens. The generally quiet city became a blueprint for the modern rave scene. A ten piece band hit the stage, and 1.3 million Texans were treated to a full on electronic thundering freakout. Once again, Jarre had to draw excess power from the city grid, browning out the local FBI. Ron McNair, a NASA astronaut was due to play saxophone live from space during the performance, but was killed months previously in the Challenger disaster. Fireworks, lasers, searchlights and hundred foot tall projections transformed the cityscape into the world’s largest stage. (A murky version of the spectacle is above). Highways were closed as cars pulled to a stop to watch the spectacle of a city under a multi color hallucinatory siege. TV reporters struggled to describe the largest urban spectacle since WW2:

 

Paris Bastille Day 1990- la Defense

Seven synthesists and two drummers led a musical charge unlike anything the planet had ever seen. 2.5 million crowded from the Arc de Triomphe to the district of la Defense (the skyscraper district a la Houston). A pyramid stage housed the musicians and singers for the largest performance ever given in history. (for synth heads: a couple of ARP 2600s and two EMS VCS3s were part of the arsenal). Paris was taken over completely in an explosion of light, sound and colour.

Egypt 2000-the Millennium Show

Jarre was asked to perform at the last surviving of the 7 Wonders of the World, the Great Pyramid at Giza for New Years Eve 1999-2000 by the president of Egypt. The logistics for this one were daunting. Sand + synthesizers is a bad equation (ask any Burning Man performer), plus electricity in the desert? Good luck. 120,00 attended.

(a quick aside: Many Egyptologists are aware that there are some difficult to explain anomalies associated with the great pyramid, and that it likely was not designed as a tomb, but as a device. What this device is–well, nobody is sure. Hints from ancient Egyptian texts speak of the ‘activating of the pyramid’ ceremony. The current pyramid is flat topped-the original had a large-ish  white marble scaled down pyramid to continue it to towards a point. This flat topped marble pyramid was topped by a gold pyramid that fit on top, topped by a crystal pyramid, and then the final piece, what they called the ‘mustard seed’. It’s anybody’s guess what this ‘seed’ refers to, the secret is still hidden to this day. Fast forward to 1999, and quietly the Egyptian government discussed the reactivating of the pyramid ceremony as something they might try for the millennium, helicopters lowering pieces into place. Blame it on the fog, blame it on some nervous Egyptian officials talking to Egyptologists who asked “what if this works? We don’t actually know if something might happen?” Discretion being the better part of valor, they-perhaps wisely-decided at the last minute against trying the ceremony)

Boston 2017

As noted above, it was fairly improbable that Jarre would ever tour North America. Fans had long given up any hope of him playing the States. Boston would be fairly low on my list of cities he’d hit, but nevertheless, his first US show of his first ever North American tour landed at the Blue Hills Pavillion, literally on the edge of Boston Harbor, show three of a nine city tour. Opening the show, a low key French DJ spun some Jarre-ish techno. His small DJ booth with no backdrop did not prepare the audience what came next.

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Kraftwerk got nothing on this

 

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Chain mesh curtains cast three dimensional images in layers, projections flickered everywhere, multicolored lasers fanned the audience. Pieces of the sonically familiar wove in with newer looks. (Like Mike Oldfield, Jarre seems bent on re-creating Oxygene several times. Tubular Bells VII anyone?). Pieces from Oxygene of all eras melted into Equinoxe and continued morphing from borderline techno then back to the classic electronic analog melodies that made his sound so original in the mid 1970’s. setlist here A head mounted go-pro camera gave us a look at his rig, which was fairly high up on a podium. Knobs and dials in bunches swirled by, ensuring us that he was playing this stuff (Kraftwerk in Boston 2015 was less clear about what-or who-was responsible for the sounds).

His session with the laser harp is usually a show highlight. Here in the somewhat weather susceptible venue, Jarre ventured “ok, I’m naught reely sure eef thees will work in zee outdoors, but less geev eet a try”.

Above is him giving it a go in 2016. He dons the gloves, tests the beams, and Boston Harbor shook in a fashion that suggested a Godzilla sized entity might be lurking under the waves somewhere offshore. He nodded: “ok eet works” and he was off. He beckoned to the less than half full audience to come closer to the intimidating stage area, and the crowd gathered closely to the stage.  He began to stick his hands into the laser beams as the crowd gathered ’round. Visually stunning? Sonically stunning?  The pavilion levitated a few centimeters as the earth shifted. It was one of the most literally breathtaking displays I’d seen in electronic music-a visual and audio sensory overload that warped reality. The founder of electronica came to the Boston shore to remind all the laptop and turntable jockeys-“don’t forget where this revolutionary sonic stuff all started…”   You hadda be there.

 

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You should have been ‘ere, oui?

 

Edgar Froese: Yes I Invented Space Rock. See You In the Cosmos

Edgar Froese passed away this week (January 20, 2015), and most of the world have zero idea what a legend this man was. That right there is a shame. John Lennon dies? John Entwistle? Johhny Cash? Headlines across the world. Edgar’s passing has created nary a ripple in most news outlets. And this is also a shame, for this man was a giant and a pioneer of synthesizer based music. He was the founding and sole surviving member of the German kosmische synthesizer trio Tangerine Dream. You may know them from the soundtracks to Risky Business or Firestarter. Others may remember darkened college dorm rooms with Stratosfear or Phaedra bending uninitiated minds to the edge of sanity. But one thing is certain: this man is single handedly responsible for most of space rock, krautrock and hell, even techno. That is a pretty large legacy for an under the radar German synthesizer  guy.

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For those who are new to this, let me get this out there: you need to own some Tangerine Dream albums. This band pretty much created a sound and scene on their own. Meetings and work in the late 60’s with Salvador Dali and Karlheinz Stockhausen cracked Edgar’s rock n roll reality. Multi media, lights, plays, music, improvisation? This was the signpost for the future.  A new wind blowing through Europe encouraged experimentation.   Fledgling experiments under the  moniker Tangerine Dream started in 1967, with Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive as the blueprint. But where Pink Floyd quickly abandoned their massive sonic improvisational sound for songs, Edgar and company took the model even further. The first Tangerine Dream album, Electronic Meditation (1970), was a miasma of sound. Klaus Schulze, future synth god was aboard as the drummer. Many of Germany’s great space rock musicians had floated though the band before they broke internationally. But still it was rooted in the rock format-drums, organ and guitar were the predominant blueprint.

Phaedra             Rubycon                 Ricochet         Stratosfear           Encore               Tangerine-Dream-Sorcerer

It was the period from 1972-1978 that was their glory period though, and the stretch where the albums that defined a genre were created. Kraftwerk, another synthesizer trio from Germany that broke in the US, were filled with repetitive blips and clicks. Tangerine Dream pulled in the sounds of the cosmos. Huge soundscapes were the order of the day. Melody, rhythm, chord structures? No thanks. 1972’s Zeit was a sprawling double album that sounded like a 60 cycle electronic hum accompanied by droning cellos. This was about as far from rock that anyone could get. Yet they swung in rock crowds, and attracted rock audiences. They caught the attention of Virgin Records, who were coming off the massive success of Mike Oldfield with Tubular Bells. They were looking to grab any fringe bands, and the enthusiasm of DJ John Peel for the band ensured they got signed. 1974’s Virgin debut Phaedra was the result. The classic trio of Edgar Froese, Chris Franke and Peter Baumann had pretty much abandoned their ‘normal’ rock instruments (guitar, drums, keyboards respectively) for a new form of musicianship. VCS3 synthesizers, mellotrons and electronic effects replaced normal instrumentation for most of their tunes. Prototype sequencers generated hypnotic rhythmic patterns, drawing in the LSD and stoner crowd from England and Europe. Fans of space rock who thought Pink Floyd had sold out and gone commercial and that Hawkwind was stagnating in format now had a new darling-a synthesizer trio that could genuinely freak out the hard core freaks. Washes of sound induced paranoia could come on the heels of delicately beautiful piano driven melodies. Moog modular synthesizers could conjure up genuine vertigo as the sensation of the floor suddenly slipping away poured from your speakers. This was some heady stuff. But was it rock? Lester Bangs described it as the “sound of silt seeping across the ocean floor”.

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Phaedra was the breakthrough. It sold massively in the UK, and was the underground hit of the year. With little publicity and zero airplay (barring John Peel’s rabid enthusiasm), it shot to near top ten in British charts. Europe and America started to notice. A tour in 1974 used cathedrals as venues (the natural ambience providing a powerful and impressive reverb character to the sound). A concert at a cathedral in Reims France in summer 1974 drew international attention when over 5,000 fans tried to cram into a cathedral that barely held 2,000. People were literally hanging from the rafters. (the Pope banned them from cathedrals, and sent emissaries to ritually ‘exorcise’ the sullied church) What the hell was going on? People were in a frenzy trying to see what many thought was just subliminal hums and static? And the band reinforced the image by never acknowledging the crowd. They came on to a darkened stage, played, and left. No song introductions, no hello or goodbye. Was this rock n roll?

After the international success of Stratosfear (1976), Tangerine Dream’s legend was assured. A massive tour of the United States was documented on the 1977 live album Encore (highly recommended as a starting point for anyone uninitiated, as is Ricochet). Krautrock was a recognized genre (see: Can, Cluster, Klaus Schulze, Conrad Schnitzler, Amon Duul 2, Faust, Neu, Guru Guru, Klaus Schulze, Kraan, Eloy…) and German synthesizer pioneers started to work with dance club divas (Donna Summer’s I Feel Love was a prime example). The seeds that spawned techno had been planted by German synthesizer pioneers.

So this brings us back to today, and the passing of a genuine electronic music genius. His work has been massively influential on swaths of musical fields. I had the pleasure of meeting Edgar briefly back stage after a 1986 US show. I approached him to shake his hand, and said “Danke schoen Edgar”  He looked me in the eye and said in a thick German accent: “You’re welcome”. Thank you Edgar. See you in the cosmos.