Danish Musicians and their relationship with Tangerine Dream. Part 1: State of Mind

Danish Musicians and their relationship with Tangerine Dream. Part 1: State of Mind

Interview by Jacob Pertou

State of Mind is currently Kim Bonfils’ musical alter ego. Kim Bonfils has been part of the Danish music scene for several years, including as part of Det Neodepressionistiske Danseorkester. In 2010, he released the 18-minute suite, Why Can’t This Noise, combining a wide rage of influences, including Tangerine Dream’s characteristic synthetic string sound from the era around Force Majeure and Tangram. As the first participant in a series of interviews with Danish musicians about their relationships with Tangerine Dream, I ask State of Mind aka Bonfils to tell us a little about how he relates to the band.

JACOB PERTOU: How did you discover Tangerine Dream, and what was your first impression?
KIM BONFILS: My first acquaintance must have been sometime in the mid-70s. I definitely remember buying Stratosfear, Force Majeure, and Tangram—so one of them must have been the first.

First of all, I liked the purely electronic soundscape (which at the time was still a bit exotic). And secondly, it was probably the first time I heard such a consistent use of sequencer tracks in music.

Both Kraftwerk (and Jean-Michel Jarre) used electronics to create new sounds but still based their songs on traditional structures with verses, choruses, and interludes. Tangerine Dream instead chose to work within the restrictions of the technology of the time. The early analog sequencers couldn’t do much more than just repeat a synth riff endlessly. And instead of fighting this limitation, Tangerine Dream used the hypnotic repetition as a compositional technique.

Do you have a favorite album?
I am very fond of the track “Thru Metamorphic Rocks” from Force Majeure. But if I were to listen to an album from beginning to end, I would probably choose Tangram—not least because of the fine little noise-percussion piece in the middle of side one.

What was the last album you bought, and when was it?
To prepare for this interview, I downloaded a box set with all their releases from The Virgin Years 1974-1978. I must admit I haven’t felt the urge to listen to their newer releases—there’s so much other music I’d rather keep up with.

How can one hear Tangerine Dream in your music?
There are quite a few echoes of Tangerine Dream in Why Can’t This Noise: The intro is built around a repetitive sequencer track. And for the flowing middle sequence with static string sounds, I consciously used Tangerine Dream’s soundscapes as inspiration.

Otherwise, you mostly hear it in sections without a rhythmic pulse—like the “Overture” from Importance of the Work at Hand or the interlude in “Stay Where I Am” from Miserabilism—again, more or less static soundcapes (often carried by string chords).

And the noise-percussion piece from Tangram (which I mentioned before) has probably also contributed to my use of noise percussion to this day.

However, my tendency to write somewhat banal, poppy synth themes I won’t blame on Tangerine Dream…

In what situations do you listen to Tangerine Dream?
It’s no longer music I sit down and focus on, but I sometimes listen to some old Tangerine Dream album in my headphones when I’m working or out walking.

What is the best thing about Tangerine Dream?
The first time I saw Tangerine Dream described as a sort of new age godfathers, I was actually a bit surprised. Of course, I can hear the endless, floating soundscapes. But I’ve always been more attracted to the funkier aspects of their music—like the sequencer track in “Thru Metamorphic Rocks.” While Kraftwerk stood for a more rigid and cool way of playing electronic music, Tangerine Dream (at times) had more “swing.”

And I have a lot of respect for the melodic richness in their music. The genre lends itself to endless improvisations, but Tangerine Dream manage to compose one classically catchy theme after another.

What is the worst thing about Tangerine Dream?
The melodic richness I mentioned also has a downside: Often the melodies are a bit too banal and crowd-pleasing. And in general, the music can lack a bit of edge.

A friend of mine recently pointed out how “cheesy” their sound can be—at least when you hear it today: “Beach Theme” from Thief simply sounds like it was recorded on a random stack of cheap toy keyboards.

Has Tangerine Dream exceeded its right to exist in 2012?
That’s a bit of a big and difficult question: When does a band have a “right to exist”?

You might argue that music should always break boundaries and explore new territories—and there Tangerine Dream probably falls short as they’re far from groundbreaking anymore.

But the demand for constant musical innovation is also a bit limiting (and smacks of musical snobbery): If an artist has found their style, why can’t they be allowed to go on producing quality within the same genre? Tangerine Dream certainly have their own unique sound—in a genre they more or less created themselves. And shouldn’t that be enough?

Unless, of course, all creativity has been exhausted and the band’s production becomes feeble variations on the same clichés. But I haven’t actually listened to their latest releases, so I won’t pass judgment on that.

At least they are still releasing new music—unlike Kraftwerk, which has now been reduced to primarily stand-ins—touring exclusively with the band’s back catalog. At that point, I don’t really think it makes sense anymore …

Have you experienced Tangerine Dream in concert?
Unfortunately not—the closest I came when they were at their peak was when the Canterbury Cathedral concert [Coventry Cathedral, ed.] was shown on Danish TV sometime in the 70s. A slightly disappointing experience because it was clear that the visuals were edited entirely without relation to the audio.

And in recent years, when I’ve lived partly in Berlin, I have never been in the city when they played. Otherwise, I would probably have given them a chance.

Would the fanbase be large enough to set up a Tangerine Dream concert in Denmark?
I have no sense of how many or how few Tangerine Dream fans there are in Denmark.

I might show up—mostly to experience the atmosphere.

But I have my doubts: Often the experience of hearing “old bands” live today has more to do with nostalgia than anything else. As if one tries to reproduce some experiences from a completely different time when they were actually hot and groundbreaking. Indeed, whether you personally experienced that time or not, you’re often just trying to bring the past back to life again.

And that can, of course, only end in either self-deception or disappointment…

(Interview given in 2012 to Jacob Pertou’s now defunct Tangerine Dream blog tangerinedream.pertou.dk. At the time of writing, State of Mind was still a solo project. Today it’s a duo of Kim Bülow Bonfils and Morten Barnekov Johansen)

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