Electronic Pioneers Tangerine Dream Shape-Shift Evvel Again

Before this spring, the last time Tangerine Dream performed live in the United States was on Sept. 30, 2013. The occasion was “Live From Los Santos: The Music of Grand Theft Auto V,” a showcase presented during the 51st New York Film Festival.

Surrounded by fellow composers and a phalanx of session musicians, the pioneering electronic-music band was hard to pick out of the crowd. But you couldn’t miss the group’s leader, Edgar Froese, front and center in his signature black hat.

It was the final New York performance by Froese, who died of a pulmonary embolism in 2015. He had founded Tangerine Dream in Berlin in 1967, and kept the trailblazing group alive through myriad lineups and stylistic shifts: from eerie soundscapes and hypnotic sequencers in the 1970s, through anthemic synth-pop suites and successful film scores in the ’80s, and guitar-stoked E.D.M. during the ’90s, to the splashy, stage-friendly sextet of his final years.

Now, a new Tangerine Dream is touring the U.S. and Canada, arriving at the Knockdown Center in Queens on Saturday — precisely a decade after its last New York appearance. Huddled together for a video call backstage in Tucson, Ariz., before a recent show, the current members — the keyboardists Thorsten Quaeschning and Paul Frick, and the violinist Hoshiko Yamane — delighted in the tour’s progress so far.

“Absolutely brilliant,” said Quaeschning, 46, a member of the group since 2005 and its musical director since 2013. “It’s getting better from concert to concert.”

“A lot of people talk to us after the show, who share their memories of old Tangerine Dream shows and albums from before I was born,” Frick, 44, said.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Apart from a one-off South by Southwest festival show in March, this is the first time Tangerine Dream has performed in the states without Froese. But the former leader is uncannily present: not only in back-catalog selections like “Phaedra,” “Stratosfear” and “Love on a Real Train” (the haunting theme from the film “Risky Business”), but also in new music fashioned with musical sketches and digital recordings from a 60-hour archive Froese bequeathed to his second wife, the German artist Bianca Froese-Acquaye, who now supervises the band and its legacy.

“For him, Tangerine Dream was always a kind of project which could be developed,” Froese-Acquaye said in a recent interview in a Times Square hotel cafe. “The individual musicians never were that important; he always said the music was the star.”

It wasn’t the first time Froese had proposed a Tangerine Dream without him. “I had previously had the slightly strange idea of placing the group’s musical future into other hands in 1990, and to perhaps work on as a provisional director from behind the scenes,” he wrote in “Force Majeure,” an autobiography completed and published in 2017 by Froese-Acquaye.

The line of succession now pointed toward Quaeschning. “There was always this sort of teacher-pupil situation between us,” Quaeschning said. “He had very set and crystallized views about scales and sound design, and the ideas behind the music.”

“I feel like Edgar watches us at every concert,” Yamane said. “Or maybe I want him to.”Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Yamane, 42, enlisted in 2011, adding violin and cello to a lineup already augmented with guitar, saxophone and percussion. When Froese stripped the band back down to its electronic core in late 2014, Yamane — who uses a five-string electric violin to control keyboards — opted to carry on with the group, which added another keyboardist, Ulrich Schnauss.

“I add the sound of my violin not as a solo melodic instrument,” Yamane said in an email interview, “but as one of all the sounds that can be played from the synthesizer.”

After Froese died, the trio worked briefly with Peter Baumann, who had played with Froese and Christopher Franke in the foundational early ’70s lineup, and signed a later version of the band to Private Music, his upstart record label, in 1988. Baumann’s renewed presence might have allayed concerns about a Tangerine Dream without Froese. But the combination failed to gel.

“For them, it was hard with me coming in from the outside and obviously having a history with the band,” Baumann said by telephone from his home in Northern California. “I didn’t want to fight, saying, ‘I’m the senior person here and will do what I want.’ It just was not fun, let’s put it that way.”

“There was always this sort of teacher-pupil situation between us,” Quaeschning said of the group’s former leader.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Forging ahead, the nascent trio was met with skepticism from concert promoters and industry executives. “It was really a tough time,” Froese-Acquaye said. “They called us a cover band and things like that.”

Former band members have also challenged the group’s legitimacy. Among the first to protest was Froese’s son, Jerome Froese, who played in Tangerine Dream from 1996 to 2005. “Tangerine Dream was my Dad and my Dad is dead and so is Tangerine Dream,” he wrote on Facebook in 2015.

By email, Jerome confirmed that his position hasn’t changed. “What has happened here,” he wrote, “is classic legacy hunting by people who would not have had a career without the name Tangerine Dream.” The idea that his father left behind surplus musical material, he asserts, is a “fairy tale.”

Johannes Schmoelling, who played in Tangerine Dream 1979 to 1985, says the current group lacks the technological tools and musical capability to match the historical band’s innovations. “It is much easier and commercially more successful to adorn oneself with this once world-famous name instead of having to earn one’s own laurels,” he wrote in an email.

The crowd taking in Tangerine Dream at Mohawk Austin.Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Even Baumann is skeptical. The original band’s success, in his view, was less about genius than serendipitous timing. “You can’t really recreate what happened in the ’70s,” he said. “You don’t have the same kind of instruments, you don’t have the audience, you don’t have the atmosphere, you don’t have the cultural environment.

“There’s nothing wrong with a cover,” Baumann added. “But it’s not the original, you know?”

Quaeschning has heard it all before, even in response to projects led by Froese, like a cantata trilogy based on Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” In the 2000s, Froese himself recorded new versions of several Tangerine Dream albums, including “Phaedra,” “Tangram” and “Hyperborea.”

“I’m used to people saying, ‘This is not Tangerine Dream,’” he said, laughing. “But what is Tangerine Dream?” Anyone hearing “Electronic Meditation,” the group’s clangorous 1970 debut, then “Phaedra,” its sequencer-driven 1974 landmark, and “Optical Race,” a slick digital release from 1988, would find it hard to reconcile the differences, he said.

“It’s hard to spot the Tangerine Dream sound from a distance,” Quaeschning said, “but the feeling and the concept were always there. And it feels quite right at this moment.”

“Quantum Gate,” released in 2017, and “Raum,” its 2022 follow-up, sound very much like Tangerine Dream, and not just because material by Froese was used. “The idea was going back to everything Edgar had done with Tangerine Dream in the ’70s and ’80s,” Quaeschning said, “with contemporary sound design and the idea that everyone has a role in the band, like an orchestra.”

Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

On tour, the upstart group won fans over with a mix of its new music and back-catalog staples. Harking back to the wholly improvised concerts of the earliest era, each show would end with a spontaneous collaboration lasting 20 minutes or more. Rather than improvisations, Quaeschning terms these performances “sessions.”

“I don’t like the idea of improvisation, because sometimes it feels like people doing the muscle-memory thing,” he said. Here, just enough information is shared in advance — often just a key signature and tempo — to harmonize collaboration, sometimes accommodating guests.

Schnauss departed in 2020, and Frick, 44, signed on. “A lot of people talk to us after the show, who share their memories of old Tangerine Dream shows and albums from before I was born,” he said. But new listeners are showing up, too, including some surely attracted by his work in the heady German techno trio Brandt Brauer Frick.

Frick is the first Tangerine Dream member who never met the group’s founder. But for his bandmates, Froese remains vividly present.

“I feel like Edgar watches us at every concert,” Yamane said. “Or maybe I want him to. I’m sure he will give me some advice, like, ‘You were good today,’ or ‘You should do this better.’”

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