On the night of November 14th 1940, 515 German bombers descended on the industrial city of Coventry in the west midlands of England. Their mission was to destroy the city’s factories and industrial infrastructure, but nothing was sacred in the brutal carnage of World War II, including sacred places. St Michael’s Cathedral, built in the 11th century and at one point the largest church in England, was reduced to ashes that night. All that was left from the magnificent structure was the tower and outer wall. The ruins were left to serve as the most visible modern-day reminder of the Blitz. The day after the bombing a decision was made to build a new cathedral next to the ruins, and on the 25th of May 1962 the new cathedral was consecrated as a symbol of reconciliation, deservingly hosting the premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, written for the occasion. It is then a poetic twist of history that 35 years after the bombing, a German band performed at the cathedral during a tour that yielded a milestone album in electronic music. This is the story of Tangerine Dream’s Ricochet.
The idea of adding performances in cathedrals to their tour schedule came about after the band was invited to perform at the Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral, located at the heart of the wine making Champagne region in France in December of 1974. The crowd that descended on the religious monument that day was not the typical Sunday morning flock. Father Bernard Goureau, as cool a clergy man as you can find, remembers: “It is true that the youth smoked marijuana in order to better enter into communication with Tangerine Dream’s sound and the spectacle at large; it is also true that others, to satisfy a natural obligation, urinated against the columns of the cathedral; and finally, it is again true that to combat the cold, couples were seen in kissing embraces. But it is equally true that some 6,000 young people, remaining sat upon the floor for three hours in the dark, had enjoyed the music and could have caused much more serious damage, with far less decorum.” The event, enhanced by an opener set from Nico, who sang solemnly and played her Harmonium, proved so successful that three cathedrals were added to their UK tour a year later.
The British tour took place in October of 1975 with twelve shows, including performances at the Coventry, Liverpool and York cathedrals. As band founder Edgar Froese stated at the time: “We prefer doing special memorable events rather than just a series of concerts”. Indeed, the show was a spectacle. Reversing the lighting scheme in music concerts, the stage was lighted until the band took the stage, at which point the lights were dimmed and the show was performed at near-darkness. Back then the band did not yet implement a light show, and almost no movement happened on stage, which consisted of three large consoles of keyboards and electronics, one for each band member. In short, the audience sat in the dark and listened. And what they heard was unique to that moment, not to be repeated again, for the band played a complete improvised set. For its time this was a non-trivial feat given the amount, complexity and early stage of the equipment involved.
The array of electronic equipment used by Tangerine Dream on that tour was formidable indeed. For its time it looked nothing short of a futuristic world controlled by machines. For the die hard rig fanatics, an approximate list of the machines used by the three members of the group at the Coventry Cathedral show included:
Edgar Froese: Mark V (double Keyboard) Mellotron, M400 Mellotron (Black model), PPG Kompakt synthesizer, Fender Rhodes Electric Piano, Fender Stratocaster Guitar, EMS VCS3 synthesizer, Synthanorma Sequencer (connected to the EMS VCS 3), ITA Mixer (10 into 4 channels), 2 X 200W Marantz Amps, 4 X Expo speakers, Revox A77 Echo machine with Dolby noise reduction
Chris Franke: Moog 3P modular system (plus 960 sequential controllers/ sequencers).
Modified Moog 951 keyboard controller, M400 Mellotron, modified EMS Synthi A synthesiser, Elka Rhapsody 610 String Synthesiser, Compact A Phaser, Computer controlled Rhythm programmer, TFE mixer (16 into 4 channels), 4 X K+H 200W slave Amps, 4 X Altec Lansing A7-500 speakers, EMS Quadrophonic Effects generator
Peter Baumann: M400 Mellotron black model, 3 Cabinet Modular Synthesiser containing:
Moog, Projekt Elektronik and PPG modules, including Moog 960 sequencers. EMS Synthi A synthesizer, Elka Rhapsody 610 String Synthesizer, ARP 2600 synthesizer, ARP 3604 controller keyboard, Revox A77 Echo machine.
That computer-operated rhythm controller and the Moog sequencer were the basis for the arpeggiated sequences, so prominent on that 1975 tour. The band started to employ very basic sequencers after signing with Virgin Records in 1973, and used them on Phaedra, their first album with the label. They kept improving and modifying their equipment to create sophisticated sequences that added a hypnotic texture to their live sets. When you listen to Ricochet, spare the beginnings of parts 1 and 2, almost every minute in the album has a sequence that energizes the music. While the sequences were driven by a customized (and primitive compared to today’s technology) computer system, the notes themselves were mostly produced by a Moog synthesizer. The warm analog sound of the instrument adds to the appeal of these sequences and the band members were smart to tweak the sounds in a live situation and avoid the sequences becoming stale. Many electronica albums today use a boatload of sequences, but very few reach the warmth and ability to evolve the sequences like Tangerine Dream played them live in the mid 70s.
Froese on working with early sequencers: “In those days we had sequencers which couldn’t be transposed like it is possible with modern computer technology today. Instead they kept on running on a predefined interval pattern in the baseline, and there they stayed. We only had three options, three basic patterns, so we picked C, A or E. So when listening to our music, one will find that most of our tracks from that time are in one of these three keys. The reason was, that once these boxes were switched on, we were unable to shift or transpose.” Chris Franke, who used to play drums and was responsible for many of the sequenced parts: “The sequencer is a great instrument. The type of repetition it creates is used a lot in African music and minimal music. Bach also has some great sequences. The sequencer makes it great to go into modal music. It makes it much easier to get away from certain types of harmonies, and that’s important to us in making music work for the mind. I was a drummer and always was wondering how I could make these bloody drums be in tune. It was just impossible. I wanted percussive sounds that were in tune and that bore some tonal relationship to what the rest of the band was playing. I used to use tape loops, and for years people thought that that’s how we did it. They didn’t know that we had switched over to sequencers.”
Ricochet was the first live album released by Tangerine Dream, although the term Live is loose. A number of live performances from that 1975 tour serve as the basis for the album, mainly from Salle Des Fetes De Talence, Bordeaux (September 20th 1975) and Fairfield Halls, Croydon (October 23th 1975). You can listen to the original Croydon set, the basis for Ricochet Part 1, and hear the difference between the original live and final studio version. Chris Franke: “The concerts were much too long to use in one context. We had to edit about forty or fifty hours of music, kilometres of tape to find the most important parts, the most typical things of us. We were very satisfied with the results.” The mixing of the live shows took place at the Manor Studio, owned by Virgin Records’ Richard Branson and where Tangerine Dream recorded their previous albums on the label, Phaedra and Rubycon. The studio is legendary for hosting the recording sessions for Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield a few years earlier. The studio work for Ricochet also included the addition of percussion overdubs by Chris Franke. You can hear them starting around the 2:00 mark in Part 1. Most strikingly is the piano introduction to Part 2, a first on a Tangerine Dream record. Accompanied by a flute sounding synth, it is the first time I hear the band playing something resembling a real song that you can whistle after first listening. That ability to write more commercial but still artistic pieces of music will be a major part of their next albums, including the excellent follow up Stratosfear and their last 70s album Force Majeure. Also new on Ricochet is the use of sampled human voices and industrial sounds, for example around the 13:00 mark in Part 2.
Tangerine Dream is a unique band in the realm of electronic music. Unlike many other artists and bands who focused on studio work to master the instruments and bring to life music produced by electronic circuits in a lengthy process of engineering, Tangerine Dream’s roots are in improvised music in a live situation. While the instruments may be the same, the process of creating music on the spot using the analog equipment at the time was very different from studio work. It required not only great mastery of the instruments, but an ESP-like connection between the musicians. Froese in 1975: “We are now at the point that we can find the end of a piece without connection between us. It sometimes surprises us too that we come to the end after 40 or 50 minutes and we all begin to feel it must end, so we are going down and then we stop without any signals from one to the other.” Mind you, the live setting on that UK tour in 1975 pretty much eliminated eye-contact between the three musicians. Each time you hear some new phrase starting, a sequencer rhythm kicking in, a shift in musical key or mood – it is all improvised with no verbal or visual contact between them. Given the state of the equipment in 1975 and the amount of manual work required to manipulate the sounds, a mostly-live album sounding as great as Ricochet was an admirable achievement.
Years later Edgar Froese recalled the live experience that yielded Ricochet: “Croydon Hall, on the Ricochet tour, we went up on stage and called out the key to one another, and we said ‘ok, tonight it’s E’, (I don’t remember today if it was really E or maybe A, I think it was one of those two), and we didn’t know anything else…really that was all we knew. So we went up, and one of us started with a soundscape maybe, or sometimes with a flute, or someone surprised us by kicking in with the rhythm right at the beginning, and then things started to converge and everything ran together – or it didn’t converge at all; it was a total adventure.”
Unlike the studio-enhanced live set that became Ricochet, audiences that sat through a two hour long live set could have a different experience. Froese: “That was a form of risk that we probably would not be willing to take today, but it was part of the philosophy of the band back then. It was part of the concept, and it did happen a number of times that after 10 minutes we reached the ‘game over’ point. It was ‘game over’ simply because nobody knew how to go on. There you had three people on stage turning and twisting knobs and switches, but it was over, nothing came out of it. On the other hand if things got running and all of us were right on target, then it was such an experience that we all had shivers running down our spine, nobody knew why but then it ran incredibly well, and it ran and ran and ran…”
Ricochet was released in December 1975 and peaked at no. 40 in the UK chart. Compared to the success that found Phaedra and Rubycon, their earlier records on Virgin, it fared less as a commercial hit. The photograph on the front cover was taken by Monique Froese on the ocean shore near Bordeaux. The back cover credits give a special thanks to Assaad Debs, their promoter in France, who organized many concerts for Virgin Records artists, including the aforementioned concert with Nico at Reims Cathedral. The album name was taken after the TV video game that the band was fascinated with during the long hours in between shows on the tour.
On October 3rd 1976, as part of the Omnibus series, BBC2 aired a film by Tony Palmer captured from the live set the band played a year earlier at the Coventry Cathedral. The sound from the live taping was lost and instead the music from Ricochet, their latest album then, was slapped on top. Hence the sound is obviously not synchronized with the images, but nevertheless this is a wonderful document of that great tour of 1975.
Today the album is considered one the band’s best of that classic 70s period. Chris Franke summarizes it well: “Ricochet is probably my favorite, because it proved that when we create live music, it is always different. When we create in the studio we pursue particular directions and we experiment, and it becomes more polished, but somehow the live work remains more classic. Ricochet still says something to me.”
Here is the full album, broken into sides 1 and 2 of the original LP:
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