Edgar Froese was the founder and leader of Tangerine Dream, the pioneering German electronic music group whose unique career trajectory included performances at cathedrals in Reims, Liverpool and Coventry, as well as York Minster. These came in the mid-1970s, when they broke through with the acclaimed albums Phaedra and Rubicon, the first two of 15 on Richard Branson's Virgin label, and they went on to record haunting soundtracks for celebrated film directors like Kathryn Bigelow, William Friedkin, Michael Mann and Ridley Scott in the 1980s.
Named after Froese misheard "tangerine trees" in the Beatles song "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", Tangerine Dream were compared to Pink Floyd and created a strand of "kosmische musik", a listening experience akin to space travel, with sweeping themes performed on synthesisers and keyboards, as well as the more traditional instruments he first used on their free-form 1970 debut Electronic Meditation. While their quieter, more contemplative moments hinted at the emergence of the ambient and new age genres, their use of sequencers foreshadowed the dance, trance and shoe-gazing movements of the 1990s.
They might have been squeezed into the Krautrock pigeonhole invented by the British music press as a catch-all for German bands as diverse as their Virgin labelmates Faust and Can, but they were a different proposition from Kraftwerk and the motorik beat favoured by Cluster and Neu! and arguably played just as important a role in shaping today's music.
"When Phaedra was released in 1974, I said, 'In about 10 years, everybody will play synthesisers', and the guy interviewing me replied, 'You're an idiot,' and walked out!" recalled Froese, whose vision came to pass with the synthpop boom of the 1980s. Indeed, as well as influencing acts like Simple Minds, Julian Cope, Radiohead and DJ Shadow, Tangerine Dream remained a pervasive presence as Froese moved into composing soundtracks for video games, most notably Grand Theft Auto V.
Born on D-Day 1944 in Tilsit, Lithuania, now the Russian city of Sovetsk, Froese never knew his father who, along with several relatives, was killed by the Nazis. "People my age have grown up with all the postwar memories," he said. "Privations on all levels of a daily life were normal. I personally never felt I was part of a specific nationality. I was a so-called cosmopolitical person from day one."
Raised by his mother in West Berlin, he began piano lessons in his early teens. He studied visual arts at the Academy and often used sculpture and painting as metaphors to describe his approach to music-making. In the mid-1960s he formed The Ones, a Rolling Stones-like cover band who cut one single and played for Salvador Dali at his Catalonian villa in Port Lligat. This turned out to be a pivotal moment that shaped Froese's subsequent outlook and determination to strive for uniqueness.
"His philosophy of being as original and authentic as possible touched me very intensively at that time," he said about Dali in 2010. "When I met Dali, I was 22, a youngster who knew immediately that nearly everything in possible in art as long as you have a strong belief in what you're doing."
This meant ditching The Ones, who had no interest in making experimental music, and working with more simpatico collaborators like Klaus Schulze, who drummed on Electronic Meditation and went on to make several definitive kosmische musik albums in the 1970s. Froese recorded his best work after he teamed up with Christopher Franke, a Tangerine Dream mainstay between 1970-87, and Peter Baumann, the third member of the definitive line-up between 1971-77.
Following the word-of-mouth success in continental Europe of the second and third Tangerine Dream releases, Alpha Centauri and Zeit, John Peel hailed their fourth, Atem, album of the year for 1973, paving the way for the group to leave the German label Ohr and join Mike Oldfield, Robert Wyatt and Gong at the fledgling Virgin. Froese enjoyed negotiating with Branson over games of chess on his houseboat and eagerly accepted his invitation to record Phaedra and the follow-up, Rubicon, at The Manor, Virgin's live-in studio at Shipton-on-Cherwell in Oxfordshire.
Now acknowledged as cornerstones of the electronic music genre and routinely listed among the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, both made the UK charts and, followed by the live recordings Ricochet – captured at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon in 1975 – and Encore, as well as the studio sets Stratosfear, Cyclone and Force Majeure, helped establish Tangerine Dream as Virgin's second best-selling act, behind Oldfield but ahead of the Sex Pistols, for the rest of the decade.
Froese was suspicious when approached by William Friedkin to provide the soundtrack for Sorcerer, the director's 1977 remake of the French existential thriller The Wages Of Fear, but enjoyed the experience. "We never had to change anything on that score," he said. "It was the most uncomplicated work we did for Hollywood." Though the film flopped at the box office, the eerie, brooding soundtrack provided Tangerine Dream with a great calling card and led to a raft of original commissions, including The Keep, a horror picture directed by Michael Mann, and the use of their music in projects like Risky Business, the romcom that launched Tom Cruise in 1983. Film work proved lucrative, even if Froese tired of the constant travelling between Berlin and Los Angeles.
His son Jerome became his right hand-man in the band between 1990 and 2006, as he continued touring, reprising their superlative catalogue and delivering new work. Driven and prolific, Froese had no time for drugs, cigarettes or alcohol and was a vegetarian. "Music coming from someone who has just smoked a ton of marijuana and presses down three keys, that's exactly what we're not into," he said.
He believed "There is no death, there is just a change of our cosmic address," and had recently completed work on his 500-page autobiography Tangerine Dream – Force Majeure – 1967-2014, available via the band's website. He died of a pulmonary embolism.
Edgar William Froese, musician: born Tilsit, Lithuania 6 June 1944; married 1974 Monique (died 2000; one son), secondly Bianca Acquaye; died Vienna 20 January 2015.Reuse content