Kraftwerk, Neu, Harmonia, Popol Vuh, Faust, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster – all are afforded suitable reverence. Yet Tangerine Dream are often considered kinda naff. Granted, since their seventies heyday, they’ve churned out an awful lot of bilge unworthy of the name. The classic trio of Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann and Christopher Franke, though, were as groundbreaking as any of their more celebrated countrymen during their early and mid seventies heyday (and also sold a lot more records than most of them). One of their most ‘out there’ works was the double album Zeit (time).
Zeit had just four tracks, each a side long. As well as the three core musicians there were several guests including four cello players. Both the opening cut “Birth Of Liquid Plejades” and the following track “Nebulous Dawn” are dominated by the cellos. They underpin the pieces with extended, sonorous drones that owe more to Stockhausen than they do to any kind of rock music, progressive or otherwise. This is avant-garde music in the guise of rock. “Nebulous Dawn” has all sorts of spaced out electronic burblings and analogue synth noises going on in the foreground, but it’s the drones that give the track its mesmeric power. It is only in the final couple of minutes, when the organ comes in, that there is the merest glimpse of the sequencer pulses that became the group’s trademark.
The whole album has a neo-classical structure – like a space symphony in four movements. It can be taken as prototype ambient music, but this is more intellectually stimulating than your run of the mill chill-out pap. It wasn’t until the Future Sound Of London’s Lifeforms album, released 22 years later, that another relatively mainstream act managed to take this music to the next level. 35 years on, Zeit still sounds like it was made tomorrow.