Category Archives: Christopher Franke

Christopher Franke Discography

Christopher Franke was a member of Tangerine Dream from Alpha Centauri (1971) through Canyon Dreams (1987). He originally joined the Dream as an 18-year-old drummer, having previously played with Agitation Free. Along with founder Edgar Froese, Franke was a principal architect of the Tangerine Dream sound through the 70s and early 80s. His sequencer work on Rubycon and after changed the sound and shape of electronic music.

Disenchanted with what he felt was the band’s increasingly formulaic approach to making music (no argument there), Franke left Tangerine Dream to pursue a solo career. You would be right for thinking that his solo music would be less productized than Tangerine Dream. But you would be wrong, dead wrong. Franke’s first official release, Pacific Coast Highway, was frothy new age music that made the mid-80s Tangerine Dream sound like Zeit. Over the years, Franke would split his time between soundtracks (including the television sci-fi series, Babylon 5) and new age releases.

If you enjoy new age electronic music, I would recommend checking out Pacific Coast Highway, The London Concert and The Celestine Prophecy (yeah, I know, right?). But on the off chance that you’re expecting a return to the dark corridors of the old Dream, you won’t find it among the works of Franke.

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Christopher Franke: Pacific Coast Highway (1991)

Hogsblood (stunted demon of a weak mind) snatched up this recording as a way to woo the white-haired witch of his affections. White witches as a rule love new age music, which this ostensibly is, but born of a darker strain he hoped (having wiled hours in the twisted corridors of a certain Dream with pleasant consequences). He imagined himself, striking a pose as urbane as a barrel-shaped figure with green skin and tiny bat wings might, leading a pleasant discourse on the merits of Christopher Franke over, say, George Winston. After several tracks, however, it appeared there might not be much to talk about. The difference between Pacific Coast Highway and the tantalizing but ultimately inedible fruits that grow on the slopes of Windham Hill is so slight, the point hardly seems worth making. Don’t misunderstand; if you enjoy new age music, then you’ll find plenty of enjoyment here (like the lovely, ethereal & Enoesque “Electric Becomes Eclectic”). But if you expect to draw a logical line between the murky grey matter of Tangerine Dream and the bubbly melodies of this disc, be prepared to draw a few right angles. Obviously, for a small demon of modest intellect, crossing the great divide between hallucinogenic tone poems and music written for commercials that show the dew forming on green grapes was too great a challenge. Hogsblood packed it in with a heavy sigh somewhere around “Driving Into Blue.” Me, I have to stick it out with these albums until a clear picture emerges that I can communicate with the six or eight people who actually visit this site. (Sometimes, being a demon has its advantages, although listening to music still beats rolling a big rock up a hill.) So I’ll tell you that this is excellent new age music, realizing that those words should never be so close to one another, and offer up that PCH indicates an auspicious future for Franke in the genre. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a great musical mind curdled this quickly, but I suppose that’s the power of California. Which reminds me: wine, Hogsblood, white wine. All white witches like white wine.

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Christopher Franke: The London Concert (1992)

Christopher Franke and Richard E. Roth mounted a performance of Franke’s works at the Royal Apollo Theatre in London, showcasing recent selections from his first solo album, Pacific Coast Highway, interspersed with some old and new material, which is captured on The London Concert. As live recordings go, this is a pristine affair; other than some enthusiastic applause at the end of the performances, this could pass for a new studio recording (which, I suppose, is the advantage of making music with machines). For Tangerine Dream fans, The London Concert is probably the safest musical entry point into his solo catalog. You’ll hear that the Highway selections are lighter fare, featuring what I’ve derisively referred to in the past as frothy melodies (“Purple Waves,” “Black Garden View”). The closing “Private Diaries,” one of two “bonus” tracks included here (bonus in the sense that they don’t appear to be from the original concert), is another perky entry that probably dates from the Pacific Coast period. Fortunately, The London Concert strikes a balance between Franke’s lighter and darker halves, with the new (at least to me) “Empire of Light” and “Vermillion Sands” recalling the turbulent Dream of old. Those two tracks plus the classic “Cloudburst Flight” and more recent “Dolphin Dance” will provide enough substance to satisfy the Dreamers. What The London Concert doesn’t provide is an answer to the question of why Franke needed to leave Tangerine Dream to make music (“Purple Waves”) that sounded a lot like contemporary Tangerine Dream. As I’ve said before, none of the Franke albums are compulsory purchases unless you enjoy new age music or mid-period Vangelis, with this being more compelling than most of them.

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Christopher Franke: New Music For Films Vol. 1 (1993)

Eno and Tangerine Dream come to mind, but best to put them out of your mind for the time being. These are not short, ambient pieces (they are short) but snippets from soundtracks. Not the avant-garde electronic soundtracks that Tangerine Dream used to write, but a traditional blending of orchestra and synthesizer. Of all the ex-Dreamers, Franke’s solo career may be the least interesting. Since splitting Tangerine, he’s split his time between new age albums and film scores, neither rich avenues of music. And not even scores to good films, but to bustblockers like McBain and Universal Soldier. So here you are: music you wouldn’t remember from films you never saw (She Woke Up, Eye of the Storm). Volume one. While I’m all for the historical preservation of music, repackaging these twenty-four tidbits into a new release is unnecessary. Franke presumably got paid the first time for writing them, and you don’t need to pay fifteen dollars to hear them again. However, if you’re a Tangerine Dream fan, there’s bound to be a little tugging at your conscience for not buying a Christopher Franke disc, so let me tug a little harder on my end. He writes very professional film music. If you snatch up James Horner soundtracks convinced that they’re classical opi, then by all means whip that money out of your wallet for Franke. But if you came here to catch a glimpse of the tangerine titan spinning new worlds from his imagination, keep dreaming. His solo career is by far the most business-like of the band, which is (I hope) financially rewarding for him, but not if you need to kick fifteen bucks into the kitty every third soundtrack. Aqua, Romance ’76, Dune, World Without Rules. Don’t even think of Franke until you own these albums.

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Christopher Franke: The Celestine Prophecy – A Musical Voyage (1996)

Kronomyth 8.0: A PROPHETABLE VENTURE. I’ve haven’t grown so soft around the middle that I don’t find the whole spiritual journey in South America theme just an itsy bitsy celestiney weenie-ish, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a second-rate libretto inspired a first-rate score. If you’ve read my other Christopher Franke reviews (and who hasn’t?), you’ll know that I don’t give him a free pass for past services rendered in the great dream. And, as a discographer, I can’t help but note that the man’s recorded oeuvre is littered with dubious entries, including no less than a dozen soundtracks to a series whose sole purpose seemed to be to make Deep Space Nine look like less of a complete crapfest, Babylon 5. (I still think both series should have ended after the first season with their ships colliding into each other.) Steeled for sixty minutes of new age navelgazing, I was surprised to find that Franke had instead written a surprisingly melodic, evocative score that held its own with the natural and exotic works of Kitaro, Vangelis and Jon Anderson. Although the story is set in Peru, Franke has some united notions about what the music should sound like; there are peruvian flutes, chinese flutes, australian flutes, american indian flutes, japanese flutes, african voices, gregorian chant and irish harp all intertwined. It’s an unusual approach to program music, this multicultural mixing, but Franke apparently felt the need to peru’s other vistas in his search for the right musical settings. To his credit, the songs match the program nearly perfectly, whether it’s the energy-filled gardens of “Viciente” or the right choices revealed in “Scene at the Crossroads.” Honestly, I had given up finding anything of merit in Franke’s solo catalog, and I obviously gave up too soon. The Celestine Prophecy is meritorious music that reveals a melodic side to Franke’s muse and deserves the accolade as one of the year’s best new age albums.

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Christopher Franke: New Music For Films, Vol. 2 (2000)

I wrote the AMG review for the first volume, so when I saw the second volume of New Music For Films I couldn’t resist buying it. This illustrates something that I think is very important in criticism: context. Comparing the first volume to the work of Tangerine Dream (and to a lesser extent, its titular namesake Brian Eno’s Music For Films) was the appropriate context for that review. The first volume represented some of Franke’s earlier post-TD soundtrack work, so listeners would approach the disc from that vantage point (i.e., in that context). My assessment in the AMG review? Save your money, TD fans, it’s fragmentary stuff. I wasn’t speaking to Christopher Franke fans because, really, in 1993 there weren’t Franke fans so much as TD fans who made the leap with him. Again, the idea here is context. So when I read the AMG review on the second volume of Films, I was disappointed because (among other things) the reviewer was still writing within the context of 1993. But the second volume was released in 2000, and today the appropriate context is as follows: not the long-removed soundtrack work of Tangerine Dream, but the substantial body of work (including soundtracks) that Franke has since recorded and its titular twin, the first volume of film music. In this context, the only relevant context for the audience (Franke fans), New Music For Films, Vol. 2 is by far the better disc by design. The first volume consisted of episodic, disjointed pieces. The second volume is made from a richer musical cloth and interwoven to provide genuine listening pleasure: “Morning Ride,” “Attack on the Village” and “Flight For Opar” are not only evocative as incidental music but they’re rewarding to hear as new music. It’s clear on the second volume that Franke and the Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra have raised their “score” considerably. In other words: New Music For Films, Vol. 2 is better than Vol. 1. I would think critics should be held accountable to the three Cs: context, content, conclusion. But so many reviews I read are extemporaneous history lessons, excerpted paragraphs from a fluid biography floating through the writer’s mind at a point in time. That said, commercial venues can be confining to a critic, as I found in my own personal experience. One of these days, I’ll have to assemble my own treatise of musical criticism, since the form is strangled by the proliferation of opinions on the Internet.

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