Even by the standards of Tangerine Dream’s discography, the history of The Keep is a convoluted one. Fresh off the back of their 1982 White Eagle LP, and with the soundtrack for Michael Mann’s 1981 debut film, Thief, under their belt, Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke and Johannes Schmoelling were enlisted to turn their hand to the soundtrack for Mann’s next project: a period horror set during World War II, in which the Nazis have to fight an evil spirit.
Before long, both Mann and Tangerine Dream found themselves battling forces beyond their control. Froese and co initially had to start recording instrumental passages before shooting had even begun, and, when Mann finally did start to roll film, the production stretched out way beyond its planned three-month schedule. Numerous re-shoots and the director’s own indecision compounded problems, and when the crew’s special-effects supervisor, Wally Veevers, died during filming, The Keep appeared all but done for.
Mann struggled on, emerging with a 200-plus minute cut that was, unsurprisingly, rejected by his backers, Paramount. Meanwhile, Tangerine Dream had amassed more than enough music for the film, much of which resembled less a traditional score than it did a series of brooding electronica passages. With covers of Brian Eno and David Byrne’s ‘Mea Culpa’, and Howard Blake’s ‘Walking In The Air’, among the original instrumentals (of which multiple versions were laid down in the studio), the group were fast embarking on their own unwieldy epic.
Yet while Mann’s film did finally see the light of day – albeit in severely truncated form – the release date for Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack receded into the distance (though it’s long been claimed that that vinyl copies of the soundtrack appeared in shops in 1984, before being hastily withdrawn by the group’s record label, Virgin). It wasn’t until 1997 when anything resembling an official release surfaced, when the band pressed a severely limited, 150-only CD copy of the soundtrack through their own TDI label.
However, what was labelled the “TDI Special Edition” of the soundtrack was largely a 16-track collection of instrumentals that didn’t appear on the film. The likes of ‘Sign In The Dark’ is an ominous passage that, with its initial electro bursts, approximates the sound of a Blitz, while the spectral keyboards and tangled guitar lines of ‘Weird Village’ are suitably haunting. Based around a Christmas mass composed by Thomas Tallis, the album’s opener, ‘Puer Natus Est Nobis’, is one of the more beautiful moments on the collection – but it wasn’t the track chosen for the opening credits of the film. That honour went to the Eno/Byrne cover. So where was it?
When the group reissued The Keep in 1999 (in another scarce run, this time of 300), no answers were forthcoming. Though this edition was given new artwork and came as part of a Millenium Booster set, along with a pre-release version of their Great Wall Of China soundtrack, plus additional paraphernalia such as a poster and T-shirt, the tracklisting remained the same.
It wasn’t until the early 00s when more a more complete picture of The Keep’s recording sessions could be pieced together. When bootleg CDs such as The Keep Cues and The Keep: An Alternative View – Tangerine Tree Vol 54 started circulating among collectors, it finally became possible for fans to configure their own versions of the original film score. Whether the group – or anyone else, for that matter – seek to give their contents an official release in the future remains to be seen. Meanwhile, so long as the mystery remains, fans are likely to try and get their hands on any music from The Keep that they can find.