Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese, Electronic Pioneer: An Appreciation

Edgar Froese
Virginia Turbett/Redferns

Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream photographed in Berlin in 1981. 

As far as Edgar Froese was concerned, there was a difference between making electronic music and making music with electronic instruments. And both with Tangerine Dream and on his own, he preferred to be thought of as doing the latter.

"We don't like what we do to be called 'electronic music,'" Froese explained during one of Tangerine Dream's early '90s tours of North America. "We are people making music, not machines. We are writing songs and compositions and then translate them with synthesizers...but also other instruments. I like to play guitar too."

Tangerine Dream Founder Edgar Froese Dead at 70

Nevertheless, Froese's influence on the electronic music world was immense, and he died Tuesday, from pulmonary embolism at the age of 70, as a recognized pioneer whose work is considered a touchstone by virtually the entire contemporary electronic music and EDM communities.

"Edgar and Tangerine Dream really brought a power and feeling of synthesizers and synthesized music forward as the primary instrument and source," said Beatport executive creative director Clark Warner. "Obviously bands like Pink Floyd used that on top of their core sounds, but along with Kraftwerk, [Froese] really made the synthesizer the forefront of a sound. They found a magic with computers and synthesized music that not everyone can do or has been able to do."

The Moody Blues and Brian Eno posted RIP messages for Froese on their social media, while film director William Friedkin -- who used Tangerine Dream to score his 1977 film Sorcerer – tweeted, "Sad news about Edgar Froese. Tangerine Dream...were an important band of my youth. RIP." German-born electronic composer Ulrich Schnauss wrote, "It's very hard to find words in such an unbearably painful and sad time."

Alex Frankel from Brooklyn synthpop duo Holy Ghost! sent this statement to Billboard: "We were fans of Edgar long before we met him, or for that matter, knew what Tangerine Dream was. His music was and is in our collective unconscious -- from the film scores, from the samples,  and of course, from the artists who emulated him (including us ). And that's a testament to the depth of his music. You need not know who Edgar Froese was to have been touched by his sound. He was and will always be everywhere electronic music is. Condolences to his family. A great artist has left us."

Froese's son and onetime bandmate Jerome announced his father's passing on Friday (Jan. 23) with an Internet message that "the Captain has left the ship...I'm very sorry to inform you that my father Edgar Froese passed Vienna. And as you already know; Life plays no encores. Rest in peace Edgar. You will be sadly missed." Tangerine Dream itself added that "The sadness in our hearts is immensely [sic]. Edgar once said, 'There is no death, there is just a change of our cosmic address.' Edgar, this is a little comfort to us."

Born in East Prussia during World War II, Froese began learning to play piano when he was 12 and guitar at age 15. He studied at the Academy of Arts in Berlin, initially to study painting and sculpture, but also played with a psychedelic rock band called The Ones between 1965-67, releasing one single, "Lady Greengrass."

Froese's experimental streak was encouraged by Salvador Dalí after The Ones performed at the artist's villa in northeast Spain. "Dalí was quite a big influence in my life because of his philosophy of being as original and authentic as possible had touched me very intensively at that time," Froese said during a 2005 interview with The Quietus. "I invested a lot of time, too, in training myself to follow such a philosophical path. When I met Dalí the first time, I was 22, a youngster who knew immediately that nearly everything is possible in art as long as you have a strong belief in what you're doing."

Froese put that belief into practice back in Berlin during 1967, when he co-founded Tangerine Dream with kindred spirits and created a body of work -- starting with 1970's Electronic Meditation and hitting stride with early '70s albums such as Phaedra, Rubycon and Stratosfear, which mixed ambient washes of sound with nuanced and often subtle melodic structures that had a propulsive power even in their quietest moments.

The group's achievements weren't limited to the studio, either; Tangerine Dream worked as a live act as well, with opulent, laser-lit productions that rivaled the best of progressive rock peers such as Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis. "Acts like Daft Punk owe them a debt for taking that [music] out of the studio and putting it on stage," said Beatport's Warner. "They were innovators on the live side as much as they were sonically."

Tangerine Dream has gone through more than two dozen members during its history, with Froese as his only constant, and it caused controversy among its fan base by incorporating vocals into its music during the late '70s and early '80s. The group's greatest impact, however, came from its film-scoring work, with Froese -- who acted in some underground German films -- and company composing music for Hollywood hits such as Risky Business, Firestarter, Sorcerer, Thief and Miracle Mile, as well as the video game Grand Theft Auto V.

The group's most recent albums have included the 2000s Dream Mix Series by Jerome Froese, which connected Tangerine Dream's music to EDM, as well as the 2014 studio set Chandra -- The Phantom Ferry Part II and the live Phaedra Farewell Tour 2014. Tangerine Dream toured the world in 2012 and performed in November 2014 during Melbourne Music Week in Australia. On his own, Froese released a number of solo albums as well as a soundtrack for the 1982 German film Kamikaze 1989.

Froese told Quietus that, "If there is a true possibility of creating modern synthesized music without any mental barriers, I would consider myself as one of the strongest followers of such a movement." His work, however, made him a leader and, as word spread about his death, left a legion of followers mourning the loss.