Living the Dream
Writer Patrick Baglee doffs his cap to the musical and graphic experimentation of German electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream.
As varied as their output (they’ve released 100+ albums) and as ever-changing as their line-up, the graphic identity of electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream has never settled. Over 50 years of work, the typefaces and word marks that represented the band on album sleeves and merchandise became symbolic of restless experimentation (their early glowering Teutonic rock was counterpoint to Jean-Michel Jarre’s radio-friendly ambient electronica).
Live, the band were said to be one of the world’s loudest (Newsweek described them as ‘apocalyptic’). They spent the early 70s rattling transepts at cathedrals throughout Europe, often playing in near total darkness.
For fans, their graphic promiscuity was maddening. No sooner was a jacket embroidered with the latest font der mode than the thread would be yanked out in favour of some new typographic whimsy. In the 70s, the choices would range from the elegant serif of ‘Encore’, to some of Letraset’s more illustrative output. Victor Hammer’s American Uncial was used on 1974’s ‘Phaedra’, evoking the primordial soundscapes for which the Dream became famous.
This graphic charivari was in part due to the artistic backgrounds of founder Edgar Froese and his first wife Monique (Froese’s first band played as guests at Salvador Dali’s villa in the late 1960s).
Amid the tumult, some regular motifs were present. One enduring graphic was a bleached out photo of the most celebrated line-up. All cow gum and Letraset tape, a jagged electronic signal is passed through the heads of Froese, Christoph Franke and Peter Baumann. When Baumann left, the merchandisers just pasted the new bloke in, printed more tour t-shirts and carried on.
Ahead of their time, it’s possible that the band foreshadowed modern branding theory by choosing to live by an enduring purpose (musical boundary pushing) instead of adopting a single, restrictive visual identity. But then for a band that released a live album called ‘Logos’, I suppose none of this should be at all surprising.