The new outfit’s recently released double-album is rooted in L.A. and California dreamin’.
Peter Baumann and Paul Haslinger are talking about the past and the future. The two longtime friends are sitting inside the study at Haslinger’s Los Feliz home, a little more than a month away from the release of their first album as Neuland.
For the past few years, the two musicians have been at work on the audiovisual experience that draws from their decades of work in electronic music, while pushing toward, as their German name succinctly states, new territory. Their self-titled debut, released on Nov. 22, is, in its purely aural state, a double album of synth-driven, largely ambient instrumentals. With the Blu-ray/DVD release of the album, Neuland brings in a visual component to create a more immersive experience for the listener.
Both Baumann and Haslinger are former members of the pioneering German electronic outfit Tangerine Dream. However, they were part of the group at different points in time. Their more than 30 years of friendship and the music that has developed from it are rooted in Los Angeles.
Baumann was a member of Tangerine Dream in the 1970s, playing on now-classic albums like 1974’s “Phaedra” and 1975’s “Rubycon.” He went on to release multiple solo albums and launched the label Private Music, known for albums by artists like Yanni and Suzanne Ciani. Meanwhile, Haslinger joined Tangerine Dream in 1985 and played with them during a prolific period that included multiple movie soundtracks, including the Grammy-nominated “Canyon Dreams.” Their paths first crossed when Tangerine Dream released the album “Optical Race” in 1988.
When Haslinger left Tangerine Dream, he moved to Los Angeles.
“I think, for both of us, growing up in Europe, there’s always been something about this place feeling a little bit less restricted,” Haslinger, who was raised in Austria, says. “It was a sort of un-restrictedness about the place that really informed it and, as a creative, I fell in love and that’s probably why I’m still here.”
Baumann was based in the city at that point — Private Music had offices on Melrose Avenue — and the two began work on their first collaboration, “Blue Room.” “It was an interesting point because it was the end of a phase for both of us,” Haslinger says, “for Peter with his time with the record label starting to come to an end [and] for me, I had just left Tangerine Dream. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do next.” The “Blue Room” album was never officially released, although the recording would ultimately resurface online.
Their careers went down separate paths. Haslinger delved deeper into film and television music. His credits include four “Underworld” films, “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” “Fear the Walking Dead” and numerous other projects. Baumann eventually moved up to San Francisco, started a think tank to look at the human experience and returned to making music.
About three years ago, the two old friends met up in San Francisco. They talked about music and philosophy like they normally do. This time around, though, it led to another collaboration. Both had spaces to write music and develop ideas, and Haslinger’s studio in L.A. was an ideal spot to produce the album. The music would come together in Los Angeles, the visuals in San Francisco.
They spent nearly a year gathering ideas, writing bits and pieces of potential tracks and sending them to each other. After that, the duo examined the ideas looking for the common threads. “That was the more tricky part of the process,” Haslinger says. “It’s always easy to just go out and play and develop stuff together and enjoy a track. To string an album together or, in our case, a double album, that involves more coming back to stuff, looking at it from different angles.”
Then came the visual components, a mishmash of images seemingly taking the viewers through earth and space, to ancient ruins and inside modern technology. “The music always evoked the sense of a journey,” Baumann says. “The visuals expanded on the music, on the sense of space and movement and atmosphere. They’re very closely linked, but the videos are simply an extension of the music.”
Baumann and Haslinger brought the work to an intimate audience inside a Burbank rehearsal studio late last year. Each musician performed on his own platform, surrounded by gear. They used a mix of analog and digital instruments to fill the space with sound, the blue-tinged images playing on screens behind them providing most of the light in the room. The overall effect was both soothing and cerebral, less bombastic than what one might expect from live music. These rehearsals served as a turning point for the project.
“After the rehearsal, it was pretty clear how we wanted the sequence to run on the album and some of the mixes were adjusted based on that,” Haslinger says. “It’s a little bit like a magnifying glass if you play stuff live.”
Whether or not they will play live in the future is still to be determined. “We don’t want to just play a few cities and do a regular tour,” Haslinger says. “It will depend on circumstances, either finding a cool space, a cool technology to work with or something where we can do an installation.”
There may seem to be a lot of big ideas within Neuland, but at the heart of this collaboration is simple intuition. “You can’t let music be determined by the brain,” Haslinger says. “You need some brains to put it together, but the core decisions in music are done with intuition. If it’s just a really smart thing, it’s not going to do much. There has to be a part of it that takes on some other level and creates an effect that perhaps you can’t explain.”
Haslinger continues, saying that some of the tracks from their album have been in development for more than two years, with the creative breakthroughs coming later in that process. Time can be important.
“You can’t force it,” Baumann says. “The important thing is to allow it to fall into place.”