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Tangerine Dream - Phaedra CD (album) cover

PHAEDRA

Tangerine Dream

 

Progressive Electronic

4.17 | 824 ratings

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Phaedra
5 stars Phaedra is one of the most revolutionary and beautiful collections of music ever conceived, created, and recorded. This album is not only a window into the human subconscious, but an artistic vision of an entire kingdom of people, events, objects, and philosophies. In this collection, the sounds of an expanse, immortal and unending, that stretches into the realm of infinity. From Phaedra, one hears the sounds of the Cosmos, as if it sings to us in its ethereal immensity; anyone who hears this album is taken away by the realization of just how small human beings are in the void. This is no ordinary one-offer for profit or fame; this is a work of art, philosophical ideation, and visions of a universe so grand that we, in our tiny stature, cannot totally comprehend.

I. Phaedra. This title track is one of the miracles of music. There is hardly an apt description for this work, which approaches eighteen minutes in length. What words can be found to describe it? Infinite, Eternal, Forever, Ethereal; it is not even a question of words anymore, as it seems so huge as to transcend any language used to describe it. This first movement slowly climbs forth from a black abyss, synthesizers oscillating back and forth until it appears that whatever this music represents has crawled its way out of its ancient home. As the oscillators chime, there is an impression of falling and rising, carried out by an immense Shepard tone, an acoustic property whereby different notes sound as if they're ascending and descending simultaneously. This stroke of genius is as pure a picture of the stars, nebulae, gas and dust, galaxies, quasars, and black holes that we humans only glimpse in shades from beneath our sky. The oscillators quickly give way to a rolling electronic bass line, not brazen and harsh like an electric bass guitar, nor driving and dancelike as latter day techno bass, but subtle. Along with the sheer sound of melodic waves washing over the ear, this bass line creates a sense of movement, perhaps of a voyage.

If this movement is supposed to be some stellar or undersea voyage, it is well represented indeed. Driving along with force and conviction, the bass line accompanies the music as it descends deeper into bizarre clusters of sound. It is not dissonant; in fact, it is incredibly pleasing to the ear! One may well imagine space in all its colours and immensity, but this reviewer feels that it represents a journey of the mind. The music appears to climb in and out of awakening and sleep; dreams and reality. It is an epic voyage, without a single human word uttered, without any concrete melody to drive the observer on. As the music begins to ascend out of the tonal chaos, there is a sense of impending doom and fear; the synthesizer pangs higher and higher, lifting everything up and away, the bass line still chugging away like a mad steam engine. Yet within all this tonal shifting and oscillating frequency waves, there is a sense of calm. It is as if one is thrust into a state of rapt attention such as sleep paralysis, where the individual is acutely aware of everything around, but cannot react. It is fearsome and yet so ethereal in its beauty. The bass line finally dissipates after many minutes, more than half way into the piece and it is left drifting. It is as if the vehicle has stalled and left everything stranded, alone in the deepest regions of the mind, or the cold, dead shell of a once bright star.

After such a huge voyage, the ghostly aura of death surrounding the music is a perfect contrast. Odd synthesizer blasts, almost akin to some alien version of our Whale species on Earth, begin to sound it. It is some terrible nightmare, yet a beautiful, grandiose dream of places we may never see. This loneliness of nothing in space and time slowly gives way to one of the most beautiful mellotron solos in the history of music. The mellotron, that ever present king of progressive music, slowly ushers itself in like a stately rescuer in this moonlit landscape, devastated by the ravages of time. We are slowly and deliberately pulled out of this deep sleep, this hibernation of the mind, and as the mellotron fades into eternity, all that is left is silence.... a long silence. Then, as an afterthought, seemingly out of the world of dreams in the subject's waking hours, are the sounds of children playing. At first it is eerie, with tape echoes and reverberation, but for a few seconds we hear the joy of life in its full recorded form. The children laugh, and just as we feel as though we are home again, it is gone. Silence.

II. Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares. Out of the first movement of this album comes one of the serenities of progressive music. It is as if the title track were but a premonition of this beautiful, heavenly statement of infinity. Almost this entire piece, ten minutes in length, is made up of mellotron with sweeping effects. It seems to blow a frozen wind at the listener, as if everything has suddenly been transported to that moonscape of the dream the night before. It is the future becoming a reality in music. This feeling cannot be understated, as Mysterious Semblance... is one of the greatest realizations any person can have. Its gigantic sonority, its huge and epic sound, tells of just how inconceivable, how immeasurable, how chaotic and somehow beautiful our raging storm of a cosmos is. After several minutes of the most serene, calming, and meaningful mellotron waves, piling on top of each other in a manner akin to ascending through the highest cosmic orders of the universe, the melody becomes more choppy and distant. It is as if we're being treated to a view over the entire universe for just a brief and glorious moment, and then it is over. The music may last around nine minutes and fifty-five seconds, but it moves with such grace, such simple beauty, that it feels as if it is over in a much shorter time frame. This feeling of brevity is only confused further by the fact that the music is so large, and so timeless. Truly one of the greatest pieces of music to come out of minimalist ambient and electronic music.

III. Movements of a Visionary This third movement is detached from the other two, in that it sounds very experimental. A series of synthesizer pangs and chimes form together to give the impression of a sort of jungle in the night. It is no ordinary earth jungle, though, as it has that sense of foreign and alien foreboding about it. Some of the sounds are like the chopping of helicopter blades, or a train going past at a great distance. It is as if Mysterious Semblance... was the reality of the dream that evolved in Phaedra, and Movements... is yet another dream. Or perhaps we have been inside our own head the entire time; it is a very deep and meaningful idea that surrounds this music. The bizarre sounds give way to a rolling bass line, much like that in Phaedra, but this one much lighter and more fluid. It is no longer chaos or fear, but a driving curiosity that the object of the music feels. A far away organ, somehow displaced yet perfectly in balance, is heard far, far away, washing over hill and crater to reach us from some distant place. This is dream music of the highest degree, the height of the journey through the human brain's highest centers of thought and learning. Stripping away the philosophical underpinning, this piece is absolutely revolutionary in its use of synthesizers, organ, and the Moog in particular. Though it is very subtle, nuanced, and fleeting, there is not a better example of electronic music being shaped into art than Movements of a Visionary.

IV. Sequent C'. The very last period in the paragraph that has been spoken about the universe is indeed a dark and ominous one. Gone are the bass lines; gone are the waves and oscillators; gone is the immensity of space. Here, in just more than two minutes of music, the entire journey is encapsulated in a summary. There is only one instrument: a flute. It is given that ethereal, melancholy feeling through tape echoes and reverberation. What a perfect way to end such an excellent journey of mind, sound, and meaning: with a small and dark summary. There is no light, curiosity, or hope; it is merely there in all its bleak loneliness, and it fades away into the infinity from which the music first came.

Phaedra is not just one electronic album, but a pioneering collection of almost sublime and unknowable proportions. It is so mysterious, and yet so revealing, that it leaves the listener drained from the process of thinking over its meaning and effects. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this music was revolutionary in 1974 and continues to break boundaries in 2008. This is a must have album for any progressive minded music listener.

Phaedra | 5/5 |

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