Peter Baumann/Romance 76
An influential album by former Tangerine Dream member
Peter Baumann is known primarily as a member of Tangerine Dream from 1971-1977 (except for a brief hiatus in 1975, when he was replaced for some live performances by Michael Hoenig). This was the group's first golden era, generally known as 'The Virgin Years' when the group's sound became chiefly synthesizer-driven and when the band first used sequencers, one of the first performers to do so on record. This advance led to the group's now-classic electronic albums Phaedra and Rubicon, records that, along with Jean Michel-Jarre's Oxygene, began to popularize the idea of electronic popular music.
By 1977 when the band recorded Sorcerer, the first soundtrack of many that the group would record, Baumann was on his way out. Baaumann told Uncut about the reasons that he left Tangerine Dream:
"We spent a lot of time together. Success always has a particular way of putting pressure on a group. It seemed like it wasn’t as fresh as it had been in the beginning. The juice wasn’t as fresh, the excitement and the electricity wasn’t quite there. It became a job, and we weren’t as satisfied as we would have liked to be. That’s why there was a change."
He had already recorded his first solo album, the extraordinary Romance 76 while working and touring with the band, and he left after Sorcerer. One of the first things one notices about Romance 76 is the rhythmic element which seems likely to have been one of Baumann's main contributions to Tangerine Dream. Edgar Frose's style is much more meandering and exploratory, while the music on Romance 76 sounds much more structured and composed. Interesting, since the Virgin years version of TD utilized a great deal of improvisation.
Within the first minute the second track, "Romance," begins to use the familiar arpeggiated rhythmic figures behind the melodic exploration that marked Phaedra, Rubycon, and Stratosfear as well as some of the recordings by Kraftwerk, who had already released Autobahn and Radioactivity and were about to release Trans Europe Express. The first three tracks, comprising the first album side, are pleasant enough and they pass by very quickly without overstaying their welcome.
The second side of Romance 76 is another matter entirely. It is comprised of a two part composition, "Meadow of Infinity" with the track "The Glass Bridge" in between the two parts. The first part utilizes strings and female voices in what sounds like a modern classical composition . This section is acoustic, or at least it sounds that way though it's not always easy to say what instruments are used to create certain sounds. "The Glass Bridge" starts with strings playing repetitive rhythmic figures overlaid by dissonant organ chords. Slowly the sounds morph from strings to electronic instruments, continuing in the second part of "Meadow of Infinity" which is all electronic keyboards and sounds. By the halfway point of this final section, Baumann has replaced strings with synthesizers and mellotron, and electric pulses begin to sound a bit like his old group. But the second side never truly sounds like Tangerine Dream, making it perhaps Baumann's most distinctive recording and taking Romance 76 into the realm of a forgotten classic.
In the September 2002 issue of Mojo, Icelandic musician Bjork recounted how Romance 76 was a very important album in her artistic development when she discovered it as a teenager. Her uncle, who lived with her grandparents, had a copy, and he introduced her to it. She had grown weary of the classic rock and roll that her parents listened to, the Pat Metheney records that her uncle and grandfather were into, and the classical music she was exposed to at school. "All my options were being force-fed Beethoven, and, in my household, Hendrix and rock guitars, and being told, 'Sorry girl, that's it." .
The 12 or 13 year old Bjork managed to discover other records, such as Sparks Kimono My House, which her parents hated, but Romance 76 was altogether different. "It felt like a beginning, like 'The old world is dead...the best is yet to come, throw your other records in the bin, you ain't seen nothin' yet,' said Bjork.
She goes on to discuss that it's difficult to pinpoint the record's influence on her musically, but that most of what she listens to is instrumental music and that she enjoyed the first, electronic, side more than the second side with the orchestra. "The electronic side was more rebellious" she says, continuing, "It's a big thing to say one single record changed my life, but nobody knew about Baumann, which made it my little secret. I liked that."
Everyone has their little record like that. It may not have been a secret, but often it is something we discover that is still relatively unknown in our little world. It's a breakthrough record that kind of rocks us out of our complacency and gives us fresh ears again. We hear everything, old and new, as though for the first time again, and we reaffirm our belief that music is an important aspect of the way we process our lives.
Records like that, for me, have included Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Phillip Glass' Songs From Liquid Days, Peter Gabriel's first two solo albums, and Fripp/Eno's Evening Star, which Bjork also mentions as a favorite record. In fact, she remembers only listening to Romance 76 for a single winter. Sometimes we get what we need to from a certain record, it hits us when the time is right, and we enjoy it and then move on. But we don't really every forget.