Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On Sequencers, Sonatas and Drum Machines

I have taken an interest lately in the electronic music group "Tangerine Dream". I have heard much about then but realized that I have never bought or listened to any of their albums so I recently got a copy of Phaedrus and Rubycon which are some of their most well know albums.

"Tangerine Dream", while popular in electronic music circles, does not make popular music and in fact, if you asked the average person on the street who they were, they would probably not know about them even though their work appears in many popular movies. Certainly if you asked someone who "Miley Cyrus" was or "Britney Spears" were, the would have a ready answer and probably be able to tell you what their latest pop hit is.

Now its my personal option, but I am going to back it up, that the music of "Tangerine Dream" is far more sophisticated than that of either Miley or Britney for the same reason that a sonata is in classic music. Why? In large part what I am going to call the drum machine syndrome. I honestly believe that one of the negative effects of the use of drum machines and sequencers is that they have brought a certainly laziness to music. I you can just use a few drum tracks and sequenced bass to create mega hits then you get lazy and I see most pop music as lazy.

I am listening right at this moment to Tangerine Dream's "Rubycon". Now this is full of sequenced tracks but about every 5 to 30 seconds, the sequence changes, sometimes by only minor variations. The sequence also slowly morphs in time. This creates a rather stunning and powerful effect.

It seems to me that this is not so different than the sonata form in classical music. In many ways, you can say that Beethoven's 5th is only based on 3 notes but its the variations that that make it a great musical work. For the same reason, its the variations in Tangerine Dream that make for great electronic music.

I am not saying that highly syncopated rhythm is a bad thing always but when its the easy way out in music and music become more like the mass produced products that role off an assembly line then a crutch that limits music.


JoeD said...

Hi Lux. Interesting points. I congratulate you on taking up interest in Tangerine Dream. They were my starting point into electronic music, way back when. And "Rubycon" was my favourite piece for many years in the 80's. Their sequence-laden compositions were often beautiful. If sometimes very repetitive.

As an analogue synth enthusiast I recommend you to hear "Encore", a double live album, recorded on a US tour in the same period. Playing such instruments live can only command respect!

For entertainment I can also suggest "Cyclone", Tangerine Dream's only atempt to make vocal music. I think it was a good thing they left that bit to Kraftwerk ;-)

Lux_Seeker said...

Joe, thanks for the recommendations, I will have to check out your musical recommendations.