Film music purists despise them. Studio heads view them as the pulse of teen audiences. Whatever your feelings about Tangerine Dream, they're probably extreme.
In films like William Friedkin's "Sorcerer," Michael Mann's "Thief" and Paul Brickman's "Risky Business," the German keyboard group--made up of Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke and Paul Haslinger--has crafted sound tracks of dense electronic effects that some critics brand hypnotic, others moronic.
Leader Froese describes their work as a "very original combination of classical and rock music. We try and transform the dynamics of classical music into a modern sound, to integrate its possibilities using synthesizers and electronic machines."
Tangerine Dream's latest score, for Ridley Scott's $30-million fantasy "Legend," has been the subject of considerable controversy. The synthesizer-dominated score replaces the symphonic music of Oscar-winner Jerry Goldsmith ("Patton," "The Omen") heard in the European version of "Legend," which is about an hour longer than the film that's currently in release.
Although director Scott has denied the charge, the music switch is widely considered to be an attempt by Universal/MCA to commercialize the troubled film by reaching MTV audiences. (Two songs, one by pop singer Bryan Ferry, were also added to the U.S. "Legend.")
"I first saw 'Legend' with Mr. Goldsmith's music, and I liked his introduction," Froese said. "He's a fine composer--but we're composers ourselves, and don't forget we're also businessmen. So we took it. Goldsmith definitely tried his best, but the people at Universal didn't like it. That's OK."
Unlike Goldsmith's quasi-Elizabethan orchestral score and songs, Tangerine Dream's music is a highly contemporary mix of synthesizers, percussion and occasional voices. Froese considers it the group's best score, and "Legend" their best film. (Few critics have agreed about the movie, swiping "Legend" 's simple sword-and-sorcery plot while praising its costly, dazzling visuals.)
"It is not a simple movie, but it has a very simple story about good versus evil. It says that although good is winning, evil is still out there. It's a great film."
"Legend" 's scoring took an unusually long two months (compared with the two weeks Tangerine Dream had for "Risky Business" and three weeks for "Thief.") "It's a complex score. It has lots of song-structured elements as well as music that's synchronized with the picture."
Froese is reluctant to criticize Hollywood's "musical conventionalists," but says "times are changing, and a change in music can't be bad. If you've been in this business for 15, 20 years and you started in the traditional way of film scoring, instead of adding something special--if you get settled into that kind of business, you can't break out any more."
Long before its first film score ("Sorcerer" in 1976), Tangerine Dream was known in Europe as a popular synthesizer band (Froese and company first performed live in 1967 in Berlin). The group still records non-film music and performed in the United States last month.
Rather than write music on paper, the three musicians compose on keyboards in their West Berlin studios (they have four). "We store everything on computer floppy disks," Froese said. "It's very fast."
And unlike many composers, Froese believes a good film score should be able to stand on its own. "A lot of soundtracks are quite boring because they just work with the picture. I think you should also be able to listen to it on a record. But we never release a soundtrack without adapting it to make it good listening on its own; we re-record things, re-mix them."
Froese says that not every film the group has been offered suits their music's "philosophy about searching for something."
"We got offers from the producers of 'Death Wish' and said no. Whoever wants to see such films can, and we've done films that had violence, but it was shown with a more social aspect. We also turned down the 'Conan' films--a lot of people thought we were crazy."
As for critics who feel Tangerine Dream's music is mindlessly repetitive, "believe it or not, I respect them, if they're serious," Froese said. "Sure I disagree, but I don't make a lot of noise about it. Obviously it doesn't mean it's the view millions of others have."