Those electric waves coating brains from tape decks, net streams and earbuds the world over are actually residual echoes from Germany in the early-1970s, everyone's totally favorite era of genre alchemy. Propelled through the Krautrock fever under the influence of both avant-garde techniques (Stockhausen, Riley, Reich) and other pioneers of sonic technology (BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Moog Music, Xenakis), no band injected electronic music into popular consciousness as tangibly as Tangerine Dream –with the arguable exception of some other band from Düssendorf called Kraftwerk. Unlike those titans, Tangerine Dream's Berlin School syntheis explores headier, less rhythmic territory, paving (with Eno) a crystalline path not just for the deepening pools of ambient, new age, and progressive electronic music, but the natural application of such atmospheric drones to the support of the mighty Moving Image.
Preceding the pioneering ambient band's US tour this July is BAMcinématek's Tangerine Dreams series, a 10 film retrospective dedicated to the group's movie soundtrack legacy. The program features antecedents to the movement (1972's Douglas Trumbull sci-fi extravaganza Silent Running), linchpins of the zeitgeist scored by the Tangerines themselves (1981's Drive-ripoff Thief by Michael Mann; Ridley Scott's 1985 fantasy epic Legend), and a couple of TD's lesser-known scores (1987's Andrei Konchalovsky melodrama Shy People). Below is the entire soundtrack to Thief, bless the YouTube.
The true gem of the series, though, is Nouvelle Vague cohort Philippe Garrel's widely-unseen 1976 film Le Berceau de Cristal (“The Crystal Cradle”), finally making its really-quite-overdue US premiere. Garrel's film stars then-girlfriend Nico (for whom I will provide no introduction) and features the music of Ash Ra Tempel, Manuel Göttsching's pre-solo Kosmiche Musik outfit that also includes periodic Tangerine Dream member Klaus Schulze. Below, Nico in a scene.
A strictly “ambient” cinematic experience is the most obvious and accurate way to describe Garrel's work; it is a comatose succession of stillborn images with an impossibly languid pace, forcing the mind to wander in true harmony with the score. Nico and Garrel himself provide blinking portraits of pale, crooked faces, barely living statues in widely varying states of apathy and feeling, all atop spartan sonics, stretches of static silence, and Nico's intermittent, always-disconnected poetry (in fact lyrics to future songs from her 1981 album The Drama of Exile). Dominique Sanda and Anita Pallenberg appear as well, personifying fantasies and dreams, shooting heroin and mingling among rays of light and rich oil-painting details. As is sometimes the case, descriptive language perhaps unduly buttresses a palpable scarcity of narrative in the viewing experience, but, undeniably, the trance induced provides a truly courageous visual equivalent to the aural ambience on showcase throughout BAMcinématek's series. Pointedly, Garrel's atmosphere is pastoral and human, an organic warmth in those cold, electronic days.
Tangerine Dreams features 35mm prints of all features and runs June 1-7 at BAM Rose Cinemas. Le Berceau de Cristal screens only once, at 6:50 this Wed 6/06.