Quantum Gate by Tangerine DreamRelease date: September 29, 2017
Label: Eastgate / Kscope
Tangerine Dream’s prolific release schedule has barely slowed down since the passing of Edgar Froese. 2016 saw the release of a double EP, Particles, that suggested new sonic highways were opening up for the ensemble, alongside a double Live at the Philharmony Szczecin – Poland 2016, arguably synth player Thorsten Quaeschning’s most brilliant live performance on record to date. On the same day Kscope released Quantum Gate, Eastgate, the band’s own label, released a new album, Light Flux, presenting Froese and Quaeschning compositions alongside arrangements of classic Dream tracks, and a new two-track live album, The Sessions I, that further highlighted the new line-up’s desire to improvise and enter uncharted territory.
But as avid collectors of Tangerine Dream know, there are “event” albums littering their vast output and, following a successful crowd funding campaign and following Froese’s “change of cosmic address”, there was little doubt about Quantum Gate being a contender for that category. Released in the band’s 50th anniversary year, officially the fifth in the “Quantum Years”, this is the first full length studio album from this new era, an exposition that aims to set Froese’s ideas about quantum physics to record. Thankfully, outlines for the tracks had taken shape prior to Froese’s departure, and his playing and compositional genius can be heard all over the record.
There’s not a bad track on Quantum Gate. Perhaps the weakest is ‘Is It Time To Leave When Everyone Is Dancing’, composed by Thorsten Quaeschning and Ulrich Schnauss alone. It shows – something of Froese’s DNA is missing on the only tune not to feature the band’s magical founder. It’s a little bland given the company it keeps, but audio evidence elsewhere (the highly rated Synthwaves, released under the name Quaeschning & Schnauss, for starters) suggests fans have reason to be excited at the prospect of more fruits to come from this developing partnership.
‘Proton Bonfire’ builds on the themes covered in ‘Electron Bonfire’, a melodic expression from Quantum Key, an earlier “Quantum Years” release, shifting the focus from the wide open spaces of the negatively charged particle into the more massive world of the nucleus. It’s a standout: lush, dynamic and full of the sense of open-ended wonder only the best electronic music inspires. Hoshiko Yamane’s rendering of the melody violin is a particular delight here.
Closer ‘Genesis Of Precious Thoughts’ is another track already familiar to those who purchased Quantum Key, but works thematically and deserves its place bookending this chart bound album. Here, Yamane’s violin soars over intricate sequencer work before the lines begin to spiral, as though sucked down a black hole, to reveal a new sonic landscape on the other side. This is one of many tracks that presents different viewpoints to the listener along its length, with momentum and position interchangeable, perhaps to echo Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Concept aside, there’s a commendable journey-like nature to the tunes.
Quantum Gate displays a commitment to modern, high-end sound design, in part thanks to Ulrich Schnauss, whose electronic “shoegaze with sequencers” approach makes him a fascinating fit. There’s a focus on warm, analogue sounds although sometimes the drums feel frustratingly low in the mix. Certainly, there’s little of the rhythmic brio Iris Camaa brought to the Froese’s previous line-up.
Sequencers dominate proceedings, as they do in most Tangerine Dream. ‘Sensing Elements’ stately sequencer work is coated in bright lead lines, expressed in Froese’s renowned harmonic language. These make way for a more mechanical mode, as though exposing the inner workings of the universe to be clockwork. ‘Tear Down The Grey Skies’ prominent sequencers give the piece a dark, menacing vibe.
There’s a balance of internal and external realms explored on the album. ‘Roll The Seven Twice’ has tumbling drums and a full sound, leading to a dazzling end. ‘Granular Blankets’ sees Yamane wrap a natural warmth and textural resonance around a repeated note guitar motif from Quaeschning. It’s the only appearance of Yamane’s violin on the first half of the album, but she comes into her own as the LP enters its later stages.
‘Identity Proven Matrix’ dines out on Tangerine Dream’s signature sounds, before grinding the music to a halt at the two minute mark as though a record on a platter has been stopped. It’s an audacious move in an otherwise stock TD tune that marks the line-up out as prepared to take risks. ‘Non-Locality Destination’ is beautiful – pretty arpeggios are accompanied by legato violin lines from Yamane, before becoming discordant. Upon settling down, Froese takes to the guitar for a sublime solo that morphs into more expressive synth work from Queschning.
This album doesn’t mark a return to form for Tangerine Dream, as anyone who’s heard the “Five Atomic Seasons” or Froese’s mesmeric settings of classic literature, the Sonic Poems, will attest. What you do have in Quantum Gate is a vintage Tangerine Dream album. If you’ve lost touch with the band since their heyday, this is as good a place as any to pick up where you left off. Play the record at high volume to ensure it doesn’t pass you by: many tracks sails are filled with a New Age breeze, but wholly redeemed by the attention to detail and inventiveness on display. This is thoroughly modern, utterly magnificent Electronische Musik.