[Review] Tangerine Dream: Alpha Centauri (1971)

Part classical score for space, part science experiment, Alpha Centauri is your first destination.

Kronomyth 2.0: A space odyssey.

Tangerine Dream’s second album, Alpha Centauri, marks the beginning of their classic period. It’s a substantially different record than their first, recorded with a substantially different lineup. Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzler had left, leaving Edgar Froese plus new recruits Steve Schroyder and an 18-year-old drummer named Chris Franke to fill the void. And fill it they did, with a new lexicon of space sounds that prominently featured synthesizers for the first time alongside guitar, drums, organ and flute.

From the opening moments of “Sunrise In The Third System,” Alpha Centauri reveals a band on a (space) mission. Instead of alien and disembodied sounds, the music moves purposefully and builds in intensity, existing as a single organism toward a shared goal. Electronic Meditation was fascinating at times but often sounded like three people doing their own thing. On Alpha Centauri, it appears that Froese has taken control of the ship, and it’s a much smoother flight for it. The first track could be seen as a kind of decompression chamber that helps the listener get acclimated to the alien landscape of Tangerine Dream’s musical world. The thirteen-minute “Fly And Collision of Comas Sola” slowly builds a heroic theme that eventually crashes into chaos via an amazing drum solo from new member Chris Franke. Its abrupt ending is one of the great mindtricks in the electronic canon.

The side-long title track features very sophisticated (for their time) recording techniques that bend traditional sounds into alien shapes; gongs, synthesizers and flutes are blended into what seems like the tuning of the orchestral cosmos. It’s on this piece that the classical comparisons hold; in some ways, “Alpha Centauri” is a pastoral tone poem for the space age, the post-nuclear progeny of Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune now transplanted into a new world of strange creatures. If the band’s first album had seemed better suited to a horror film, Alpha Centauri is firmly in the science fiction camp. It’s one of the first truly great electronic records, and the first of many fantastic journeys to come. Later reissues of the album included both sides of the band’s mind-blowing “rock” single, “Ultima Thule,” plus the eight-minute atmospheric, “Oszillator Planet Concert.”

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Original LP Version

A1. Sunrise In The Third System (4:20)
A2. Fly And Collision of Comas Sola (13:05)
B1. Alpha Centauri (22:00)

Music and manuscript by Tangerine Dream.

CD reissue bonus track
4. Ultima Thule Part 1 (single)

CD expanded reissue bonus tracks
4. Oszillator Planet Concert
5. Ultima Thule Part One
6. Ultima Thule Part Two

Bonus 3-inch CD single (Japan, 2004)
B1. Ultimate Thule, Part 1
B2. Ultimate Thule, Part 2

2LP reissue version
A1. Sunrise In The Third System
A2. Fly And Collision of Comas Sola
A3. Ultima Thule Part 1 (single)
B1. Alpha Centauri
C1. Ultima Thule Part Two
D1. Oszillator Planet Concert

The Players

Chris Franke (percussion, lotos flute, pianoharp, zither, VCS3 synthesizer), Edgar Froese (guitar, gliss.bass, ii.organ, voice, coffee machine), Steve Schroyder (organ, voice, several echo machines, iron stick) with Udo Dennebourg (flute and words), Roland Paulyck (VCS3 synthesizer). Produced and directed by Tangerine Dream; engineered by Dierks.

The Pictures

Sleeve design and cover painting by Monique and Edgar Froese.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1971 in Germany (Ohr, OMM 556 012) and Japan (EMI Odeon, EOP-80479) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1973 in the UK (Polydor, 2383 314 SUPER) and in Japan (Columbia, YX-7125-AX) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-released on quadrophonic elpee in 1974 in Italy (PDU, SQ-5096) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-packaged with Atem on 2-for-1 2LP in 1976 in Germany (Virgin, 28990-XBU) and the UK (Virgin, VD 2504) with gatefold cover.
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in 1986 in the UK (Jive Electro, C TANG 5) with unique cover.
  5. Re-issued on elpee and compact disc in 1987 in the US (Relativity, 8069-1/2).
  6. Re-released on remastered elpee and compact disc in 1996 in the UK (Castle, ESM LP/CD 346).
  7. Re-issued on compact disc in 1999 in the US (Castle, CMACD 553).
  8. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2002 in the UK (Castle, CMRCD 566) and the US (Castle/Sanctuary, 81241-2) with one bonus track.
  9. Re-released on remastered compact disc + bonus 3-inch CD single in 2004 in Japan (Arcangelo, ARC-7046/7) with 2 bonus tracks.
  10. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 2011 in the UK (Esoteric, EREACD1021) with 3 bonus tracks.
  11. Re-released on expanded super-high material compact disc in 2012 in Japan (Belle Antique, BELLE-121942) with 3 bonus tracks.
  12. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee in 2012 in Europe (Esoteric, EREALP 1021).
  13. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee + bonus picture disc elpee in 2017 in Europe (Tiger Bay, TB6065) with 3 bonus tracks.

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