Edgar Froese, Adventurous Leader of Tangerine Dream, Dies at 70
Edgar Froese, the leader of the long-running and prolific German group Tangerine Dream — first an improvising avant-garde rock band, then an ambient electronic-music project, and finally an arena-filling machine of smooth and heroic synthesizer pulsations — died on Jan. 20 in Vienna. He was 70.
His death was announced on the Facebook page of his son, Jerome. He had a pulmonary embolism, according to a posting on the Tangerine Dream website.
Over many periods and many different lineups, with Mr. Froese as the only constant, Tangerine Dream released more than 100 albums. In the mid-1970s, when the band was signed to the Virgin label, it could amass unit sales in six figures for an instrumental album, with little radio play.
During this period, Mr. Froese, along with his bandmates Christopher Franke and Peter Baumann, created a meditative aural space of slowly unfolding patterns. Two of the group’s most successful records, “Phaedra” (1974) and “Rubycon” (1975), were albums of serene sonic research, their individual tracks lasting up to 20 minutes with no singing or drumming and minimal melodic or harmonic material.
Edgar Froese (pronounced FRO-zee) was born on D-Day, June 6, 1944, in Tilsit, which was then in East Prussia and is now the town of Sovetsk, Russia. He took piano lessons at 12 before turning to guitar. He studied painting and sculpture at what was the Academy of Art in West Berlin at the time, and for a few years played guitar in a rock band called the Ones. While visiting Spain in 1966, he met Salvador Dalí, whose insistence on following a path of originality inspired Mr. Froese’s thinking from then on.
The first version of Tangerine Dream was a free-improvising group influenced by Pink Floyd, with Mr. Froese on guitar. After two albums in that vein, the group got rid of drums; briefly incorporated the musician Florian Fricke, later of the band Popol Vuh, who owned a modular Moog synthesizer (rare in Germany in 1972); and shifted to contemplative sounds for the albums “Zeit” (1972) and “Atem” (1973).
In the mid-’70s, Tangerine Dream became known for performing in cathedrals. After a greatly oversold 1974 concert at the cathedral in Reims, France, Mr. Froese told interviewers, Pope Paul VI banished the group from any further performances in Roman Catholic churches. The next year they played in Protestant cathedrals instead.
Mr. Froese went on to score dozens of films from 1977 through the 1980s, including the Hollywood features “Sorcerer,” “Thief” and “Risky Business.”
The band’s music changed as the technology changed, becoming less sonically immersive and more beat-driven as the musicians began using digital synthesizers. With the addition of Jerome Froese from 1990 to 2006, the band moved in the direction of dance music.
Besides his son, Mr. Froese’s survivors include his wife, Bianca Acquaye.
After Mr. Froese set up his own label in the mid-’90s, the group increased its output enormously, releasing as many as four albums a year. By its final tours, the band was incorporating introspective spaciness, Latin rhythms, smooth-jazz soprano saxophone solos, brisk synth-pop and versions of songs by Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles alongside the old pulsating Tangerine Dream instrumentals.
The group’s first wave of popularity alarmed some rock critics, who feared a takeover by a Eurocentric, rhythmless pop that relied on machines and encouraged passivity. Lester Bangs, reviewing a 1977 concert at Avery Fisher Hall for The Village Voice in 1977, described it as “three technological monoliths emitting urps and hissings and pings and swooshings in the dark,” and said he left early.
But the group’s influence has endured. It can be heard in Detroit techno, English electronica and the work of current electronic bands like Glass Candy and the Chromatics. In 2013, Mr. Froese wrote music for the video game “Grand Theft Auto V,” contributing over 60 hours of material.
Though he was usually viewed in the context of German art rock and electronic music, Mr. Froese felt allegiance to neither.
“If there is a true possibility of creating modern synthesized music without any mental barriers,” he said in a 2010 interview, “I would consider myself as one of the strongest followers of such a movement.”