Sabbath musical delight: Michael Hoenig, “Departure from the Northern wasteland”

I was planning to post an analysis of a forgotten pop music gem from the days when pop music could be inventive, but a walk outside in unseasonably cold weather reminded me of how much colder I’d experienced winters elsewhere.

Now as a Norwegian friend of mine put it, “there’s no such thing as too cold weather, only not-warm-enough clothes”. And truth be told, when dressed appropriately I really enjoy cold, clear, clean air. But I couldn’t help being reminded of the title of this forgotten gem of Berlin School electronic music: Michael Hoenig’s “Departure From The Northern Wasteland”. It always gives me a mental image of being aboard a jetliner taking off from Oslo, Helsinki, or some such place in mid-winter and flying south, back home.

Michael Hoenig began his career as a keyboardist in the German “Krautrock” band Agitation Free, but left it in frustration as he preferred performing composed music over their choice of freewheeling jams. For a few months, he filled in for Peter Baumann in a tour of the classic Tangerine Dream lineup of Edgar Froese (RIP), Christopher Franke, and Baumann — the latter had gone off to India to find himself (sigh of cosmic weariness).

Anyway, TD were at their first creative peak at the time, putting out such genre-defining classics as the studio albums Phaedra, Rubycon, and Stratosfear; the marvelous soundtrack to William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer”; and the [heavily edited] live albums Ricochet and Encore. But Hoenig put out his own take on the TD-era electronic ambient sound (what we called ‘cosmic music’ in Dutch – detractors may have dropped the ‘s’). Not improvisational like TD, but composed and rehearsed. (I’ve heard a bootleg recording of a live performance of the title track on Radio RIAS Berlin — it sounded almost note for note the same, except half a step down — may have been the tape speed of the bootlegger.) Below follows the album in its entirety: the best part is the eponymous title track. Those who like shifting time signatures, or Philip Glass / Steve Reich type “phase patterns” shouldn’t miss this one, and it’s great, relaxing background music when working or reading.

Hoenig later went into soundtrack work for movies and TV series (Dark Skies), and also for computer games (Baldur’s Gate is one title I remember — gaming has never appealed much to me). Anyway, this album is one favorite in my (large) electronic collection.

Enjoy, have a great weekend, and Shabbat shalom.

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