Essential albums: Christopher Franke

Most of The London Concert (1992) plays like a long, exotic, multi-episode epic and Franke's bubbling, polyrhythmic sequencer work binds it all together. By turns urgent and serene, euphoric and sad, straight and surreal, this is an essential work for fans of Tangerine Dream and the Berlin-school sound.

Christopher Franke

country of origin:

Ambient trance, Krautrock, Berlin school, psychedelia, electro-pop, progressive rock

decades active (as solo artist):
90's - 00's

essential releases:

  • The London Concert (1992, Sonic Images)

Reviewed by Mike G

Chris Franke's departure from ambient icons Tangerine Dream in 1988 was the last of that band's significant personnel losses. Originally a drummer when he joined the band, he soon downed the sticks in favour of pioneering the development and use of sequencers to generate electronic rhythms. Working at first with the Moog synthesiser and later with digital synths and samplers, he crucially provided the band's machine with its rhythmic heart.

Of his departure, Franke later told UK journalist Mark Prendergast: "I needed a creative break...we did not have the time to explore our minds for fresh ideas or explore the great [new] computer instruments we had at our disposal. Kids with much more time than us but less experience began producing better sounds and I feel our quality was dropping". Many Tangerine Dream fans would agree. His colleague Edgar Froese carried on alone with the name but by the mid 90's the rot had well and truly set in.

Not that Franke's break led to the kind of creative renaissance through his solo career some fans might have hoped for. He relocated from Germany to California determined to keep making his living from music and soon landed well-paying soundtrack work for TV and film. But disappointingly, his solo albums have seen little in the way of great releases. His debut Pacific Coast Highway (1992) suffers from a surfeit of lightweight, trite new age pop and polite relaxation muzak which is even more pronounced on the lame Celestine Prophecy (1996). His electro-orchestral soundtrack albums for the sci-fi TV drama Babylon 5 are solid but generic, effective in context but little more than TV soundtracking by the numbers.

Which leaves us only with his wonderful second album, the retro-flavoured London Concert (1992). The contemporary sheen of its electronic instruments circa 1991 doesn't stop Franke and his co-pilot Edgar Rothermich brilliantly integrating some of the exquisite TD sounds of yore, from both the Virgin Records years and from mid 80's releases like Underwater Sunlight (1985). The tracklist is a deft blend of TD compositions and the better moments from Franke's own debut release. Most of it plays like a long, exotic, multi-episode epic and his bubbling, polyrhythmic sequencer work binds it all together. By turns urgent and serene, euphoric and sad, simple and surreal, The London Concert is an essential work for fans of the classic Berlin-school sound.

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