Zeit

An album review I wrote some time ago.

 

1972 was an interesting year in music – January saw the live debut of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, although it would be a year before it was released on vinyl, Wishbone Ash’s third album Argus was released, Paul McCartney’s new band Wings made their debut, Michael Jackson released his debut solo album Got to Be There and Jethro Tull released the seminal Thick as a Brick, among many others.

In the August of 1972 Tangerine Dream released their third album Zeit (“Time”) on the Ohr record label. It was their first double album and was recorded in the legendary Dieter Dierks Studio near Cologne and was the first album to feature the classic Tangerine Dream line-up of Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke and Peter Baumann. It featured guest musicians Florian Fricke of Popol Vuh, Steve Schroyder, who had been a member of the band and had recorded the previous album Alpha Centauri, and the Cologne Cello Quartet, one of whose members was Joachim von Grumbcow who co-founded the progressive rock band Hoelderlin.

The album artwork is by Edgar Froese depicting a solar eclipse with photography by his late wife, Monique. The album features just four tracks, one per side:

Birth of a Liquid Plejades (19:54)

Nebulous Dawn (17:56)

Origin of Supernatural Probabilities (19:34)

Zeit (16:58)

Zeit differed from the previous two albums in as much as the first album, Electronic Meditation, was an experimental rock album using conventional instruments plus assorted non-musical objects such as a coffee machine, and the second album, Alpha Centauri, although closer in style to Zeit still used conventional instruments as well as organs and keyboards. Zeit all but abandoned conventional instrumentation in favour of a purely electronic approach. The exceptions were the cellos on the first track and Froese’s guitar on the third track. It was the first album on which they utilized the Mellotron, which would become a familiar feature on subsequent albums.

Zeit is essentially atmospheric drone music and according to the booklet which accompanies the CD release, written by Paul Russell, was “based on the philosophy that time was in fact motionless and only existed in our minds.” There are many who consider Zeit to be the first dark ambient album and is sometimes referred to as either “space music” or “cosmic music”.

Birth of a Liquid Plejades starts with four cello drones which weave in and out of each other. After nearly five minutes of cello drones the first hints of keyboards enter the fray, phasing in and out with the cellos subtly so one almost doesn’t notice their arrival or the cellos fading out at around seven minutes into the track. Once the cellos have departed you are left with organ-sounding drones and spacey effects. Fricke lends support with his Moog synthesizer and it ends with Schroyder playing a pulse organ with an almost liturgical feel to it. The track gives the impressions of flying, albeit slowly, through space while being buffeted by cosmis winds while comet debris whirls by. It is quite a sparse track with minimal drones and instruments.

Nebulous Dawn begins with a drone sounding like a lone horn while in the background is very faint interference, like white noise while over string-like drones come and go. Eventually a deep pulsating rumble replaces the drones with an engine-like chugging noise underlying the rumble. This builds up with added metallic sounds and dies down for a brief while when a slow sequencer bass note starts, all the while accompanied by the metallic sounds and other rumbles and barely heard effects in the background. The engine-like chugging-noise comes and goes throughout the track. All this is punctuated, at around ten minutes into the track, by bubbling water sounds. The track has a fuller more chaotic sound than the first track with far more going on – an electronic dawn indeed.

Origin of Supernatural Probabilities starts quietly with drones and whooshing noises and Froese’s glissando guitar. Slowly a pulsating, burbling background noise comes to the fore which puts one in mind of bubbling mud or lava, while drones and effects weave in and out above it all. After some fifteen minutes the burbling background fades out and more ethereal sounds emerge with a brief hint of  a deep rumbling which finishes the track.  It is not as chaotic as the previous track but still has a lot going on and conjures up images of planets forming, of the primeval surface of the Earth.

Zeit has a deep background which dips up and down whilst ethereal sounds, similar to the end of the previous track, call briefly over it as the bass notes fade away. After five minutes the sound of running water overlays the ethereal sounds. Then after seven minutes what could be birds start chirping away all with the ethereal call above them. It is as if time has started and life has begun on the newly formed world.

Zeit is an unusual album for its time (possibly even now) and certainly unlike any other release of that year. It is music that seems to infest the space it is played in and seeps into other rooms. It truly is cosmic music on an epic scale. It isn’t exactly music to chill out to because of the darkness that permeates throughout the whole album but it is certainly music to make you think, if you want to. It has a strange intensity to it although at first hearing nothing much is going on. It can be as cold as the cosmos and yet warm as well. It is the soundtrack to the evolution of planets. It is well titles as this is music for geological and astronomical time.

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