CHRISTOPHER FRANKE: BABYLON 5:
MESSAGES FROM EARTH - THE INTERVIEW
by Rudy Koppl
Christopher Franke first started scoring films in 1977 with the electronic
music group Tangerine Dream. Since then he not only composed many major
film scores with Tangerine Dream, but has exploded onto the film scoring
scene as a unique individual. He writes and performs most of his
soundtracks solo with his Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra. The composing
and keyboard work take place in Los Angeles, while the orchestra is
conducted in Germany. Also Franke formed his own label, Sonic Images, that
releases not only his scores, but other artists as well.
In the last year Franke has released The Celestine Prophecy, a beautiful
interpretation of the best-selling novel by James Redfield. Currently plans
are being made to make this into a TV movie. Also he released Tenchi Muyo!,
the soundtrack to an animated Japanese feature film, and Perry Rhodan/Pax
Terra a score of sorts to a popular sci-fi book series. But one of his
greatest accomplishments to date is Franke's score to the never ending TV
sci-fi saga Babylon 5. Recently the second CD of Babylon 5 scores titled
Messages From Earth was released.
Our interview took place in Los Angeles where his studio, high above the
Hollywood Hills, overlooks the universe of city lights.
RK: What was the first score you worked on?
CF: There was a guy called William Friedkin who called out of the blue into
Berlin. He said we should score a film called "Wages of Fear", which was
later named "Sorcerer". That was our first major movie, but we did a film
in Germany before. This was called "Vampyra", a stylized film about
vampires with a modern approach. Friedkin said we should do the film not by
seeing the finished product, but by scoring in a pre-production session by
reading the script and using our instincts. Then he would take this to the
set to inspire the actors. This was a first in the industry. He tried that
and we succeeded 50%. It was worth the shot. We started early with unusual
RK: Did you have any idea you would become a major film score composer?
CF: We were quite innocent at the time. Meaning fearless and hopeless. No.
RK: What was the first score you composed alone?
CF: That was a film called "McBain", an action film with Christopher Walken.
RK: How long has it been since you've been scoring Babylon 5?
CF: We are in the fourth season and it doesn't feel repetitive yet. I
thought to go episodic would be annoying because of the repetition, but I'm
lucky with the story. It's evolving and I can push the envelope. I can look
for sounds and try different things out. So four years of Babylon 5 and not
RK: How did you get this project?
CF: They singled out four or five composers. The pilot was done by Stuart
Copeland. He didn't hit exactly what they expected, so they looked into a
certain group of people who are known for their openness and certain
experiments. I was the lucky chosen.
RK: Babylon 5 has a lot of special effects. When you need to score and
these are done later, what happens?
CF: We talk about the unfinished parts. There could be a hole as long as a
minute where there is a black picture describing what happens. Then I get
color copies of certain drawings or sketches and we talk verbally about the
content and movement of those special effects. In a lot of other cases the
effects are there and then it's not as abstract. I can always remember how
it was to score films twenty or thirty years ago. Then I admire all these
guys who had to work in a very abstract situation, hopefully with a
photographic memory, because they didn't have a video recorder at home. We
are blessed by working with the latest tools and should not forget how the
great art of film scoring came through all these obstacles.
RK: What approach do you take on scoring Babylon 5?
CF: Be as experimental friendly as possible without leaving the happy
marriage between the orchestral and electronic sounds. But for every season
there are some underlying musical rules I try to establish,
types of instrumentation, a degree of edginess. The show is getting more
and more intense and aggressive as well as sad because the aggression is
not welcome within the characters of the show. So there is an increasing
level of change from season to season. It's an ever evolving process.
RK: How much time do they give you to come up with each score (weekly)?
CF: It depends on the scope of each episode. There are easier episodes
which you can do in three days, the average is four and a half. It depends
also if I have to score a movie of the week at the same time, then I not
only have an eight hour day, but twelve or sixteen hours is quite possible.
But I'm happy to do this because my residence and studio are in the same
building. So I don't mind doing two shifts per day. Sometimes an episode is
very, very dense like an opera because the music never stops. I sit there
for six days for one episode because it has effects, drama, and fights
going on. Sometimes the show is more dialog driven and the music is less
because it's much simpler and not as dense. It's a more atmospheric show
where you use a lot of sound morphing and electronic tools and I don't have
to record that much orchestra. So it varies between three and six days.
RK: Do you write for your keyboards as a part of the orchestra?
CF: People know me as a keyboard player, but I started my music education
with the violin which I gave up for the trumpet. My mother is a violin
player and plays in an orchestra. That's how I got started. Of course there
was a piano in the house which I started as a side instrument. So I had a
classical education through my parents. Everybody played an instrument in
the house and we always had string quartets playing on the weekend. I just
grew up with that sound. But also my parents gave me a hint very early that
there is the modern classical music to be watched. I fell in love with
people like Stravinsky, Penderecki, Legiti, and also the early baroque
music, which I found very pure. I said, "This is not classical music, this
is pop music." I taught my parents to not take classical music so seriously
because I discovered this has hooks and early baroque music is great. I
went to school in the afternoon at the Berlin Conservatory, but the piano
came a little bit latter. Also I had a counterpoint to all this classical
training which was the drums. This was my puberty anti-aggression relief
instrument which was also like my gate to free form, rock, and underground
music. So I had the two sides, classical and the more experimental open
music. Certainly when I write for orchestra you can't do everything by
doing it through a keyboard. I certainly like the keyboard for certain
sound modules. It's a perfect triggering and percussion thing. Lets take a
string section that's very woven in, I don't like at all because the
arrangements which sound best for this instrument group are very hard to
enter through a keyboard. The hand is much too small to type in on a
keyboard a correct arrangement. So instead of pencil in the early days, I
used a mouse and then an electric pen on a graphic tablet. I have the
staff underneath a transparent graphic tablet and I just enter the notes
pretty much in the way you would write it on a piece of paper. Of course
you want to digitally enter notes from the staff. I am using the program
Cu-Base for this, which is pretty similar to conventional scoring
technique. I take a graphic tablet and enter notes very quickly. I have a
special pen which is tracked by the Mac even if I don't touch the graphic
keyboard. There is a little electronic built in so I can even lift the pen
up an inch and the computer still knows where it is and I just put it in.
So one can combine keyboard entering methods plus pencil entering methods
and then you can use all the goodies of the computer age like cut and paste
plus all the editing things. Then I play it back with a sample of an
appropriate instrument and then I like or don't like it. Some samples are
good and can stay as a final product, others will be used a model and
replaced by the real instruments.
RK: How many pieces are in your Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra?
CF: It depends on the project. This can start as little as four people and
can end up being eighty plus musicians.
RK: Are you the founder of the BSFO?
CF: It was my idea to used my studio in Berlin which is big as a score
stage because I built it into a cinema. It is an old building with an
interesting history and architecture. It has no parallel walls in seven
different rooms including the scoring stage. The acoustics are fairly nice
and you can get a good sound without any bouncing going on. I built it to
have a bigger room to put every possible thing under one roof. Like
rehearsing with Tangerine Dream for a tour or just to be there and
improvise. I just wanted a big room, a think tank, to see what happens if
you put people in there. But when I moved to America I now use it as a
scoring stage because I started to rediscover the acoustic quality and
suddenly digital recording was there and electronic sounds were over used
at the time. Me and Tangerine Dream kind of started it and also put it into
movies. It was brand new then and admired, but people found out it was
cheaper to do it the electronic way. Then it was used and also misused
widely, so some scores sounded not very elaborate. For some producers an
electronic score meant like a B or a C score, not as expensive, not as
elaborate, and not as talented. So you heard so much of this that the good
electronic innovators sound became more ordinary. I played with digital
recorders, new microphones and ideas which I learned through. I tried to
have an acoustical analogy and started to work with musicians by recording
them on separate tracks with close microphones. I used an orchestra like a
synthesizer and just experimented. If an orchestra is needed on a daily
basis, how can I afford this? Synthesizers were always there, but musicians
you had to hire in an in and out situation. So I started to group people
around me during the time the wall came down. A lot of musicians in East
Germany didn't have a job and the only real film orchestra in Europe fell
apart. I found some musicians willing to learn from me how I record. So I
put together a group of twelve people which expanded into twenty and then
we hire for bigger jobs people from various orchestras. We hire from the
Berlin RSO Orch. And from the chamber orch. And I work with three different
conductors which help me with the timing. Now that I'm in LA and not Berlin
anymore I still use the facilities and the guys. So I use fiber optics to
record actually from LA real time to Berlin which is a really big help so I
don't have to travel. A conductor is needed for any size more than six
musicians to take care of the timing. Also the conductor can help me with
the music in the form of a floppy or over the internet. The orchestra is
important because the turn around time is so much shorter than to work with
local musicians. I very spontaneously book a session.( NOTE: When using the
fiber optic transmission from Germany, C. Franke uses six phone lines at
once to transmit the information. This includes the music, SMPTE code, and
sometimes even the picture when they play.)
RK: You must have a huge phone bill?
CF: If I had to go to a satellite it would cost me thousands per hour. The
phone bill is pretty sad. It probably sounds ridiculous, but it's totally
worthwhile to see the whole picture.
RK: What is your technique in combining keyboard sounds with orchestral sounds?
CF: I like to combine simply the best of the two worlds. I need this
acoustic dirt produced by live instruments and the ability to play so well
between two semitones. All this micro-tonality and acoustic dirt is just
something which is very refreshing. I like these noises a synthesizer
sounds too clean. On the other hand the natural instruments have weaknesses
like frequency range, dynamics, and control ability. Therefor I like to
combine the best of the two worlds. Since music has been done and
experimented over the last hundred years, the only new field I see takes
man power to get to new sounds. I see this in the combination of orchestra,
the electronic world of sound generation, and my latest experimentation
field, ethnic instruments. These three worlds will keep me quite busy for
the next couple of years.
RK: When you compose Babylon 5, do you view the video over and over again?
CF: All the time. I'm kind of learning the video. I don't do it all like a
breakdown as music editors do it for composers. My emotion should tell me
if the music is right or not, but I always like to test it right away with
RK: The first track on the new Babylon 5 CD is Main TITLE 1ST SEASON
(extended version). How does this differ from the original?
CF: It has an extended theme. The feel is going on, but it's extended.
There are a couple of new parts in it and the original parts are coming
back. This is because this music has certain durations. Music in film has
one format, but music only is a different format. I like a happy
translation from format A into format B. If I hear the music on a CD
without a film I think it's not fulfilling, but frustrating if the music
consists of shorter sound bytes. I want fulfillment to start a piece and go
through certain movements and want to have a closing. There are a lot of
releases of soundtracks where you have all these little cues and bridges
with cues of twenty seconds or forty seconds, I'm not fond of these. I want
music with a certain flow, movement, and expression. Therefor I took the
liberty to extend the main theme to open the record with a three minute
piece instead of a ninety second clip.
RK: Do you prefer this to the original version?
CF: No, this is a brother and sister which happily live together, only the
sister is a TV format and the brother is a music only format like a CD.
RK: Out of all the title tracks you've done on Messages From Earth (There
are four in all),which is your favorite?
CF: If it would be for the music only or listening pleasure, the third
title track is the most appealing one. This is because it's more balanced
between melody and the dramatic parts. Also it has certain depth and hooks
in it, therefor I like this the best. All the other titles, I like them all
when seen with the main title picture and knowing what the content in that
season was, because Babylon 5 is evolving in a more dense sequence of
shows. The main title for season number four is quite aggressive and
different. It bears a foreshadowing, speaking of shadows, of what will
happen in the fourth season. It has a lot of war and sadness, therefor the
main title is appropriate. But definitely title three for pure music, I
prefer that .
RK: I noticed on both Babylon 5 CDs you like to create miniature suites.
Why do you use this technique?
CF: Because I really turnover twenty two or forty four episodes and take
moments from all the shows and put them together as suites because not too
many composers do that. It's kind of an elaborate work, it takes me over
ten days to do this. It comes out of a deep frustration of soundtrack
records where they have a clipboard full of little clips and you never get
the atmosphere of the show. I like to make a better statement of respecting
the show, of respecting myself, and respecting the music in general by
doing elaborate soundtrack work. So since I'm always trying to push the
envelope a little bit, I like a better soundtrack, I like it for length, I
like a proper booklet with comments and notes and just good stylish
RK: There is a really beautiful theme nine minutes into the title track
Messages From Earth, where did you come up with this?
CF: There is a deep love, an almost forbidden love, between two characters
in the show which is Capt. Sheridan and Delenn. This theme is an extended
version of several moments of the show where those two people express
things and try to understand each other deeply. It's a very noble moment,
but also very heart felt. It has a lot of pathos in it. A deep moment for
the two, therefor this moment musically is pretty monumental in a way.
Because they are coming from two different races. They should not do what
they're doing, but they do it anyway.
RK: Is the score from the track Z'ha'dum from the episode where Capt.
Sheridan goes there and launches the warheads into the heart of the planet
sacrificing himself in an effort to win the shadow war?
CF: He sacrificed himself, by saving everyone's world to do that. It was a
crucial moment and the music had to be very special. So instead of just
scoring what we see, I tried to implement what this will lead to or the
consequences. The music in Babylon 5 is interpreting the past or the
future. Babylon 5 all the time goes into the past or the future because it
doesn't have a constant time axis. Because telepathy, flashbacks, and
manipulation of time, manipulation of the force dimension, they are already
talking about dimensions which we don't even have names of yet. But
musically it means I also can bring different layers of different times in
there. When I play when he's jumping in there (Sheridan jumps into an
endless dark abyss) I play already that a lot of people will be totally sad
and amazed about what happened. I see already the reaction of Delenn and
other people of Babylon 5 when he's jumping. So I'm playing the actual
moment, but I'm having already the consequences in mind. So you have a
blend of two different feelings. Therefor it sounds sometimes emotionally
appealing. So it's the technique about those moments which happen from time
to time. Larger than life moments.
RK: This might be the greatest climax of Babylon 5, how do you deal with this?
CF: I cannot work with these scenes on a rational basis. I have to try to
almost meditate for a moment and try to find my instincts. Music then
becomes like a painting where you have all layers, it becomes like clay
where you mold something. It becomes a different medium and you mold and
paint as long as you feel together with the video. Your hand palms become
moist and the hair on your neck stands up, when you reach that feeling then
you know you have the right music. It's unexplainable how you
reach that point. You just keep trying and have to stay very focused and
concentrated. Just lock yourself in the studio and live that theme. You
just have to almost become a musical actor.
RK: When the writers come up with an episode like this, doesn't it surprise
CF: It's a special show with a lot of analogies from the past hundred years
in it. This is a great thing which becomes edutainment, a mixture of
education and entertainment. The older people appreciate that we process
again our feelings and political opinions, while for the younger people
it's a little bit of a warning and they can relive what we know about the
past of the last two world wars. So it's explaining the past through a
visionary future in order to makes us more alert or aware about our real
future. We have to like the show for that. Babylon 5 just got an award for
human noble content.
RK: Explain the beautiful voices five minutes into the track Severed Dreams?
CF: I always have real singers and sometimes I blend some great vocal
samples, like the singer Enya. She's singing live on those records and has
samples of her own because people have to breathe and that interrupts the
flow of the music. Sometimes a keyboard vocal sample sounds great in the
flow, but it lacks all the notes in-between and doesn't have any great
pitch bend things. So the best formula in vocals is to mix the real voice
with samples. In this case it has more operatic voices. I had four singers
do this and I layered them eight times, because I didn't have the time to
record a full orchestra just for one minute. If I have a fuller
orchestration I even do that in my Berlin studio that has a gallery, a kind
of loft thing where the choir sits above the orchestra.
RK: What inspired you to write the beautiful segment ten minutes into
CF: These voices are very special to me because they can be very haunting
or human, but if used wisely and not too often, human voices are like
pearls in an arrangement and can really make your emotions stir. I need to
transcend sometimes something which is not materialistic, which is like the
energy of thoughts, the pureness of peoples behavior, then I really like to
use the human voice and try to process it so they don't sound like the
Italian operatic sound. Also it should not sound like the typical clich�
>from heaven. This should be very special and very unexpected for those
moments I get into this very rare raw material, which is the human voice.
This is so over used and it becomes meaningless, so I try to be very
careful with that.
RK: Do you think it was necessary to do a fourth main title for the show?
CF: Oh, yeah! It's a consequence of the formula of the show. Every season
we do new music for the main title and end credits. We try our best to
reflect what the producers tell me. What will be the bottom line of that
season. Then I kind of forebode that feeling or foreshadow it and have that
certain feel and edginess or softness or whatever it is in the main title
so that it fits. So every new season will have a new dress. This will be
done for upcoming seasons and I like it.
RK: In the beginning of the track Voices of Authority there is some really
nice orchestration with brass. What inspired you here?
CF: There is a whole thing there with bass trombones, french horn,
trumpets, and French horn. I wanted a nice closing suite which is not again
hyperactive and ends on a strong note. I wanted something more mental and
heartfelt, so I went back and collected all types of little splinters of
motifs and little themes throughout the last couple of seasons. I took
little themes from the characters again like Capt. Sheridan, from Drall,
>from the First Ones, and I wanted to express something very classic so this
piece is very symmetric. It starts with an A and B part and then becoming
suddenly in the middle back to a B and then going forward to an A and again
then to B and in the end it's again reversed and we're ending on a
variation how it started. So it's a very classical symmetrical arrangement
very planned and very architectural. No surprises and very straight to
appreciate the cycle in life and about also eternity. Because that's always
a thing, how often are we coming back? The first ones will never die,
they're the first ones! This piece allows me to have my own moment where a
theme can be developed in a classical manner without being stopped because
a theme is ending. It's an interpretation, that music is not even used in
the show, it's like little jigsaw puzzles put together in a more complete
theme. It can be used in future episodes, but the whole track eight Voices
of Authority is not from the show itself. It's my interpretation about the
bottom line of the show. It is noble with pathos and a conflict of the
world with sadness. The theme starts fairly heroic and fits Sheridan
because he has the guts to do it. But when he doesn't stop that he is going
to the ultimate tragedy and disaster in this world because you have to go
to war in order to do peace. The bottom line and moral here explains why
sometimes in this world we have to do the ultimate disaster. There are
heroic notes, but also very tragic and heartfelt notes here.
RK: I find your new Babylon 5 release a much darker score than the first
CD. Is this where you're going?
CF: Exactly. That is how the four seasons evolve. You start light hearted
as you get to know the characters. There are very humorous moments and very
sympathy building moments and also there were much more stand alone shows
which were unconnected. Now every show is like an on going drama. If you
don't know the story and just see one episode you might not understand
much. So therefor the music is evolving this way because of more aggression
and more drama. We are going from more peaceful times of Babylon 5 to war,
a dramatic situation away from earth, with all this corruption going on,
you know, telepathy gives the Psycorp so much power. It much more serious
and aggressive as well as bitter in parts.
RK: Has Babylon 5 progressed beyond the original ideas it started with?
CF: Definitely! They're getting better as they do it. They come out with
such a great output in such a short time that I find myself becoming a real
fan of the show. This happened in the middle of the second season. I now
read all of the scripts as soon as I get them with a special effort. Now
it's interesting that I have an opinion how the scripts evolve, how deep
they are, and how much symbolism is implemented. I have to admire the
production crew on how they come up with such quality stories and yet have
to deal with so many obstacles. Since the show is not mainstream they have
to keep a budget in a television landscape where there are so many channels
but not a bigger audience. There's less and less money per show, so to
RK: I hear the show is moving to TNT (Cable Channel). Will this effect the
quality of the show?
CF: It will enhance the quality because TNT can be seen in a premium time
slot throughout the country. Its not a syndicated show anymore, like in
some markets like L.A. you have a great time slot, while sometimes in Utah
it's somewhere at night buried. Also there will be two movies, two made for
television movies and we're starting in April to do the first one.
RK: What episode of Babylon 5 did you do your best work on?
CF: There was a few. There's a great show called Geometry of Shadows,
there's a great show called Severed Dreams, there are about four or five
episodes which were really great. The pictures were great and the stories
were great so I tried my best to come up with a good score. But for these
two shows I could slap myself on the shoulder and say "I helped the show
RK: What are you currently working on?
CF: I'm working on the film "Inheritance." After that there will be a four
movie for CBS titled "The Celestine Prophecy" based on the book and some of
the themes I already established on a compendium album. After that there is
a movie with no name yet, which also by the story line is seeking for
orchestral scores in combination with ethnic instruments. Where there are
African drums and Chinese players, that is what I express is the most
interesting combination right now. So I'm looking forward to scoring TV
movies this year, TV episodic material, and also big screen. All falls into
a category which I much prefer over action films.
Christopher Franke -
by Elana Kestrel
"Impressions of a Sonic Painter"
(1) Who Is Christopher Franke?
"Nature wanted me to be a painter, but by accident I became a musician. I think of myself as a sonic painter. I feel like a painter or a sculptor forming with sounds as I would form with plaster or paint." So speaks Christopher Franke; solo artist, soundtrack composer and a well-respected master of electronic music.
Christopher's own life has been has been an incredible tapestry of sound colors and life events. He is best known for his involvement with the legendary German electronic band Tangerine Dream. Chris' career with TD spans eighteen years, 27 studio albums, hundreds of live shows and dozens of soundtracks. Tangerine Dream's music is known for it's work on several films, including "Sorcerer, "Risky Business" and "Firestarter". A few years ago, Chris left the band for a long break and to plan his solo career.
Since 1991, Chris has conclusively proven himself as an accomplished solo musician in his own right. His credits already include: over 20 movie and TV music projects, as well as the creation of a new music label titled Sonic Images. Sonic Images now handles not only his OWN releases, but that of other ground-breaking artists/groups such as Shadowfax and Mark Shreeve. In the meantime, Chris maintains his own orchestra in his studio in Berlin, which he records via a high-speed modem setup for his TV and film work.
(2) The Earliest Years
If a person's life could be described as a painting, it would take a complete art gallery to accurately portray all the colors and events in Chris' life. Born as Christoph Franke in postwar Berlin in 1953, he grew up in a family where his mother, father and older sister all played classical instruments. Six years of strict classical training became much too monotonous for the young Christoph. So, as a young teenager, he switched to playing drums and later formed the band Agitation Free with school friends. Together they played a free form of rock and roll, which was, as Chris describes: "loud, noisy, ugly and very similar to punk music." They wanted nothing to do with the music of the nineteenth century. Agitation Free fit well in the freewheeling '60's atmosphere of protest and the breaking of traditional conventions.
After a time, the basement at Chris' parents house was not the place for Agitation Free to rehearse anymore. A music director named Thomas Kessler at the Berlin Conservatorium then gave them a room of their own for practicing. Chris remembers, "He wanted to take care of us because we were only fifteen or sixteen at the time. So he became a sort of a mentor. He taught us about electronic music and avant-garde music. They installed reel-to-reel tape machines and microphones, and Kessler showed us how to make 'musique concrete' with them. We tried to blend these things into our experimental rock music." The school room became a meeting point for other like-minded young musicians interested in experimenting. "We couldn't rehearse more than twice a week there anyway. Since the equipment was there and the place was made soundproof, we had a nice kind of basement room. We decided that this place should be also open for other interested people. So other people came who have since become known on the Berlin electronic scene."
(3) In The Beginning With Tangerine Dream
It was in this room where Chris first met Edgar Froese. "At the time I met Edgar, my group Agitation Free was falling apart. He was in a transition at that time, too. Tangerine Dream had fallen apart because Klaus Schulze and Konrad Schnitzler had just left the group. Edgar and I understood each other very well from the beginning. He and I were very interested in working together because both of us wanted to get away from written music. We wanted to make long songs and improvise. Horizons opened for us - not only in classical and electronic, but also via East Indian and African music. It was an eye-opener. When I decided to play with Edgar, I waved my education goodbye. From this time on, I must say, I worked as a professional musician. I was about seventeen and my parents had to sign my first record contract. Edgar is nine years older than me, so that made some things interesting..."
Little did they know how interesting things were going to become. Chris soon discovered his first electronic music synthesizer in London and brought it into the band. It was a small EMS "suitcase" synth. Says Chris, "In doing so, I brought a virus into the band, because now everybody wanted to use one. The first record to feature these abstract electronic sounds was 'Alpha Centauri.' This was my first album with Tangerine Dream."
Then came Chris' first encounter with the Moog synthesizer. "Somebody had bought it from the Rolling Stones, and had it their studio in Berlin. They could not find anyone who could make sense of that machine, so they invited me to use it. I barely knew how to work it myself. It was very new, had a lot of cables and no user's manual! It was a hilarious mess trying to understand that synthesizer. I had to learn to play it via trial and error. I found that it had something similar to a sequencer which can repeat notes over and over. By repeating it, you have the ability to manipulate all the sonic events. So may possible sound colors and textures! This was a wonderful dream."
(4) Tangerine Dream's Rise To Worldwide Fame
The first album Tangerine Dream created with the Moog synthesizer was 'Phaedra' in 1974. "No one could predict or believe what happened next." said Chris. "When Virgin released "Phaedra", it went into the top 20 after three or four weeks. A year later, we were awarded a golden LP for this instrumental, twenty-minute-long, non-vocal music. All this happened with no promotion and little airplay. Musical popes like John Peel proclaimed that this would be the music of the future. All this started an avalanche. We had never expected such a big success. I found this incredible. We were at the right place at the right time."
Tangerine Dream continued their pioneering work in electronic music, always using the latest technology available. From the mid-seventies on, the band shifted away from their early idea of destruction of harmony. Their music became much more melodic. Says Chris, "We switched to another extreme: very quiet, calm tracks. Then, after all our travels we came up with the idea to make landscape music. We actually used landscapes as a guideline; impressions of a desert, a rain forest, etc.."
These were true sound paintings. This particular musical period inspired legions of other musicians who have continued to follow TD's electronic dreams. TD brought their listeners on sonic excursions unlike anything anyone had ever experienced before.
With their initial successes came concert tours and more studio albums. Soon the film industry discovered them. Their first film score was "Sorcerer", by the same director who did "The Exorcist". From there, TD escalated to a total of over 50 soundtracks over the years. This involved constant work for the band. At times, Tangerine Dream came out with as many as four albums per year. This includes soundtrack, studio and live albums. TD's main motive was to enjoy their success to the full. There was almost no break from the workload.
Through 27 studio albums, almost two dozen major concert tours, and innumerable soundtracks both released and unreleased, Chris and Edgar remained as the core of Tangerine Dream. TD has traditionally been a trio, with the third longstanding members being Peter Baumann, who left in 1976, Johannes Schmoelling who left in 1985, and Paul Haslinger who left in 1991. Throughout it all, Chris stood center stage as the focal point in Tangerine Dream's live concerts.
Yet, to many fans, Chris remained somewhat of an enigma. Edgar and Peter released solo albums in the early years. But Chris, contrary to his colleagues, never released any solo albums during his time with Tangerine Dream. Because of this, there was no way of telling what aspects of any TD album could be Chris' own musical voice speaking.
(5) Leaving Tangerine Dream To Pursue A Solo Career
Then, sometime late in 1987, the voice ceased. Chris had left, with no reason given. Many months went by and no word came of where he had gone. Unknown to the fans, Chris had left the production line that Tangerine Dream had become. He went to Spain to take a long break from the years of work and to recover his lost creative energy. "A few weeks vacation was not enough for me. After three weeks you're just far enough to relax physically. Psychologically this takes even longer. For me that meant the creative pause had to last for at least a year. I planned the break around the time length it usually takes to get official permission to work in the USA."
In December of 1990, Chris' "Green Card" finally came through. The artist wasted no time in getting back on track. In the same month, he founded a second recording studio in LA in addition to his original one in Germany. In January of 1991 he founded the Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra with conductor Brynmor Jones. He sought soundtrack work, and soon got enough to keep him extremely busy for most of the coming year. In the same month, Chris recorded his first solo album, "Pacific Coast Highway." This album was released in May of 1991 in Europe on Virgin Records. In the USA it came out via Private Music the following October.
If his name had not been printed on the cover, no one would have believed that this was Chris' long-awaited solo album. This recording did not feature the spacy fast-paced sequencer rhythms familiar to all TD fans. Instead, "Pacific Coast Highway" consists of gentle, introspective music in the American contemporary style. Says Chris, "Pacific Coast Highway" is warm, honest music for me. These are soft, romantic, relaxing themes which I've felt very often in Spain. It is the music I wanted to make. I'm completely satisfied with it." Though the departure in musical style was a complete surprise, it has found wide acceptance among his audience.
(6) The Artist's Current Life And Solo Projects
Nowadays, Chris is happily composing music in his new home studio located in the hills overlooking LA. Los Angeles is, of course, the center of both the music and film industries for the USA. This helps Chris to take advantage of musical opportunities which he would not be able to do anywhere else in the world. He got to do the orchestral soundtrack to the 1992 film "Universal Soldier"the major success of which has brought Chris a lot of new contacts and respect in the film industry.
On the television side, the artist has been worked or is working on various shows, including the now-cancelled "Raven" from 1983, the made-for-TV Steven King movie "The Tommyknockers" which aired on ABC on May 9 and 10, 1993: the first several episodes of "Movie Magic" a TV-series on the Discovery Channel about special effects in Hollywood films which also aired that year: the two-hour tv-movie "Yarn Princess" which aired on CBS in November, 1993, "Angel Falls" a 6-hour TV-mini-series on CBS which aired in August/September 1983: the CBS series "Walker" starring Chuck Norris which is still currently airing: and - among many other projects too neumerous to mention - the Emmy-award science fiction series "Babylon 5".
(7) Franke Solo Albums
On the album side, there are enough releases to keep Franke fans very happy and VERY busy. The musical styles in his solo works change from album to album. The artist's first solo work, "Pacific Coast Highway" appeals to those in an introspective mood. "Music For Films, Volume 1" is a compilation album of some of Chris' past soundtrack works. The music is taken from the films "McBain", "Eye of The Storm" and "She Woke Up". This is somewhat of an orchestrial album. "Universal Soldier" would appeal even more to those who love the sound of orchestratrial film music. Veteran Tangerine Dream fans who miss Chris' classic fast-paced sequencer style cheer the release of "The London Concert." The music on this album is taken from Chris' first and only live solo performance back in October, 1991. Even more electronic and energetic is the special-release CD "Klemania", created in honor of the longtime Dutch progressive-electronic music fan- organization KLEM. "Raven" is the soundtrack to the aforementioned TV show. It is a mixture of rock, vocals, and various electronic music. This CD is only available in Europe, where reuns of this show are very popular. "Enchanting Nature" is a remix of "Pacific Coast Highway" with beautiful nature sounds interwoven into the music. Last, but not least, is the release of the great, long-heralded soundtrack to the Emmy Award-winning science- fiction series, Babylon 5.
(8) Sonic Images
In addition to creating his own music, Chris has been building his own music label. Sonic Images became a truly independent music label in the fall of 1994. This label is releasing the music of various artists, including the firey electronic British instrumentalist Mark Shreeve and the well-known newage group Shadowfax, among others. Sonic Images is in the process of becoming a very innovative label, one that everyone should be looking out for in the years ahead. With Chris Franke at the helm, this should be no surprise.
(9) The Artist's Inner Vision Towards the Future
When asked "Where would you like to be in ten years?" Chris smiles. This artist is not lost in material visions of owning a fancy car, famous stardom "...and all that @$#%!". Instead Chris sketches a picture of his own future which is much closer to the heart. "I want to have a sense of balance. I want to become more wise and mature, yet still keep a sense of wonder about the world like a child. I want to know about things, yet also keep a certain spontaneity. To become wiser, to never lose that sense of wonder, and to become closer to the meaning of life... yes that is where I want to be in ten years."
This sense of wonder and meaning often colors the lives of very creative people. Thus, in a metaphorical sense, Chris is a true master painter... as shown by the colors and details already depicted on the canvas of his own life. Over the years, many people from all over the world and in many walks of life have drawn some very positive inspirations from the artist's life and works. This inspiration shall continue for a long time. Many years have yet to pass before the last brushstrokes of Christopher Franke's lifetime sonic painting are finally complete.
(Originally written 12/17/92; updated on 4/23/95)