DUNE, CHAPTER ONE

Have you ever gone on a bender? Not an over-imbibing, CH3-CH2-CH2-OH-God-Where-Did-That-Stethoscope-Come-From escapade, but the pop-cultural kind. Where you discover—or re-discover—an author and simply must immerse yourself in their world.

So it was with your correspondent and Frank Herbert’s Dune, sometime last year.

It went like this…

I’d been listening to X, the tenth album by electronic wizard Klaus Schulze (a major German artist introduced here) and noted that amongst the titles—all named after a Schulze hero—was sci-fi author Frank Herbert. It immediately became imperative to re-acquire a copy of Mr Herbert’s acclaimed work and venture once more into the land of sand and spice, of treachery and transcendence. 

Not wanting to let “I dare not” wait upon “I would”, this cat placed an on-line order instantly. I then went about my everyday business awaiting the day when a parcel would hover before me.

Now a part of my everyday business is, naturally enough, seeking out records. At a record fair in a trendy inner-urban town hall I happened across an album which featured the word ‘DUNE’ on the cover. It had other words too, to wit:

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Original Score by

Kurt Stenzel

Directed by

Frank Pavich

Whose Dune? This collection of vaguely known names was a little off-putting, but a few minutes mobile research revealed that despite Frank Herbert not getting a mention, it was indeed his famous book lending its title to a soundtrack of a documentary about a doomed attempt to film the novel. All well and good, of course, but I bought the record on the basis of one sentence on the blurb: “Stenzel’s sound is a master class in the use of synthesizers”. That, I thought, is good enough for me.

And it was. A double LP of sparse yet engaging synth compositions that made you wonder what kind of documentary generated this weird and magical soundtrack. So I searched out the documentary and learned about one of the film world’s most heroic failures.

Alejandro Jodorowsky began work on his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune in 1974. More than ambitious, the director was aiming for something unique and visionary. Salvador Dali, H.R. Giger and Pink Floyd were all implicated. It says a lot that, despite foundering well before production began, the film was still hugely influential. 

Almost forty years later, in 2013, Frank Pavich made a documentary about the genius train wreck that was Jodorowsky’s Dune. 

Pavich commissioned Kurt Stenzel to create music for his film, resulting in a sprawling, hypnotic double album. Knowing that fellow blogger and electronic music lover JHubner was a fan, I suggested collaborating on a post about Stenzel’s music for Pavich’s documentary about Jodorowsky’s attempt to film Herbert’s novel. Once he worked out what the hell I meant, JH promptly agreed and plans were sketched out. Emails were written. A concept emerged. Music was listened to. Notes were made…

But, like Jodorowsky’s film, our article did not come to fruition. The fragments that remain are reproduced below entirely without permission from JH*.

VC: The entire work is recorded using analog synthesisers, giving it an immediate 70s sonic texture. Surprisingly, it doesn’t sound utterly dated or out of touch. Why is that? 

JH: I think the reason for Stenzel’s timeless sound is that he’s not recycling the typical tropes many composers rely on when using analog synthesizers. He’s not falling back on the tired synth “voices” we’re all accustomed to hearing. No envelope filter alien sounds or oscillating lasers firing. Kurt Stenzel is creating for one purpose: the documentary. He structures his compositions to help tell a story, and the story he’s telling is of ballooning ambition and boundless artistic expression that’s crumbling underneath its own weight. It’s dark and dreamy music; even hallucinogenic at times. Subtle enough not to pull you away from a book you may be reading yet throwing up moments that jerk you right into what’s going on. To me, that’s a perfect score.

VC: It is certainly diverse. Thirty-three tracks, only three of them longer than five minutes, a collection of vignettes and sketches, yet it all blends into a satisfying whole. The segues help of course, but it remains an impressive achievement.

JH: Absolutely. This could have ended up being very ham-fisted in the wrong hands. The strength here Stenzel’s ear for film scoring. The multitude of pieces prove he’s not being overly precious with his work, not demanding to be centre stage. He knows how long a piece needs to be to serve the documentary, and once he gets the moment captured musically he moves on to the next. 

VC: Yet it plays out as a seamless journey of discovery.

JH: There’s a mysticism to the album which not only captures the mood of the documentary but also of Frank Herbert’s world as well. 

VC: That meta-layering did my head in. It is kind of spiritual, or at least psychedelic, to take this trip; sometimes fluted ambience, snatches of gravel, spaced out prismatic sprays, the periodic murmurings of Jodorowsky himself…

JH: It’s an engaging listen on so many levels.

VC: Talking of listening, perhaps we should take readers on a tour of Jodorowsky’s Dune. When the album was released in November 2015, the blurb at the label’s website had an interesting comment from Kurt Stenzel. He said, “I wanted it to play like the records I grew up with, where every side was a journey”. The four sides of the album are Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection. Did Stenzel succeed? 

To find out, JH and BJ divided up the sides and wrote a response to each…

Except they didn’t. They meant to, but it just didn’t happen. So if you want to experience the transporting experience of this sprawling, diverse, fascinating slice of 21st Century analogue electronica, you’ll have to seek it out yourself. Both JH and VC agree, it is worth the effort.

As for Vinyl Connection, you may be wondering whether we are done with Dune.

Does one drink make a bender?

* Totally untrue. JHubner is a particularly gracious fellow and enthusiastically gave his blessing. You can find JH’s original post on the album here, along with loads of other interesting stuff.

 

26 comments

  1. I thought at first, you were actually going to write about David Bowie, and “CH3-CH2-CH2” was the stuttering chorus for “Changes.” Well, your description was intriguing, so I’m listening to the album while I make dinner. I already like the “Muezzins Singing Into a Tin Pail” that kicks it off, the “Wookies Repairing Vacuum Cleaners” movement, and “Pong Game Run Amok.” (Just kidding, it’s actually pretty cool stuff, like vintage video games, I’m seriously going to suggest it to the planetarium in Rochester). This is a very interesting and entertaining blog you’ve got going, I’m enjoying your posts! Cheers, Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Just love those track names! In fact I think there needs to be a skewed synth ensemble called Wookies Repairing Vacuum Cleaners. Right now.

      Delighted you are enjoying the VC journey, Robbie. Thanks for your contribution!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. JHubner is a man amongst men!

    This sounds great. I loved the documentary. Shame Netflix removed it (in Canada).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You know, don’t you, that the J in JHubner stands for Jodorowsky?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. No I didn’t. I guess his Facebook profile is a ruse.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I had no idea. And down the rabbit hole I go. By the way, where did that stethoscope come from?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First draft had ‘traffic cone’, but I listened to my heart and opted for something more left-ventricle. I mean -field.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wowwww so much to love here. It’s been an absolute age since I read Dune. I’m in love with that trilogy in one volume… Dammit I’ve got about 15 books to read and now I wanna read Dune too! Could I order another lifetime in which to make all of this happen?

    That LP looks interesting and is a total score. I mourn the loss of a collab with Hubner, but you’ve handled this beautifully yourself too. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Half a Hubner is better than none, I reckon!
      Glad you enjoyed the post, Aaron. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy (at least the first volume) when you find time for a re-read. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it (and how much I’d forgotten over the decades!).

      Like

      1. Yeah that’ll be me, forgotten a majority of it. But I know it’s excellent and I think I still have (at least) the first book here, somewhere…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Really enjoyed this chaps. I only read Dune for the first time about 5 years ago and was knocked out by it.

    The Kurt Stenzel vinyl is one I’ve craved for years since JH reviewed it, it always seems so pricey though.

    Have you got Z’s Dune soundtrack too? Or the Toto one?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Why am I not surprised by this?

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve had this LP on my list for a while, but, like Mr. LegoFace, I find it a bit too expensive. But then, that’s vinyl these days…

    As for my own experience with Dune, I have memories of the flick (not rich memories, so I’ve actually been keen to revisit) but I have never read any of it. Ever. Oooft.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, the small pressing runs mean that lots of interesting things get (re-)issued, but then they disappear and become pricey grail-like items. Bring on the 3-D vinyl record printers, I say!

      Reckon the first Dune book is definitely worth getting hold of. The film plays fast and loose with the story, but has a certain charm.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll have a root around eBay / Amazon for that first Dune book (or the compiled volume, of cheap enough). It might take me 6 years to read, right enough.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice one gentlemen – the book has been on my to-read list, interesting to see that’s just the tip of the dune iceberg!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Appealing though the idea of a dune iceberg is, I’ll offer that only the first book is truly essential.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Have I ever went on a bender? My name is actually Cincinnati “Benderhead”. Benders are what I do. I am now going on a Jordorowsky bender. I watched his first couple films (numerous times) when they first came out. You have sparked me to finally watch this one. I love these kinds of docs. Side note. A friend of mine had lunch with Alenjandro at some film festival in Europe. He said it was very pleasant. Again, good stuff Bruce. You mix it up nicely. This take is a mindful.Lots of places to take people like me.

    Like

  9. […] were previous attempts to turn Dune into a film. Alejandro Jodorowsky (see previous post) was not the only director to struggle. Ridley Scott (of Bladerunner fame) had an unsuccessful […]

    Like

  10. […] Dune, Chapter One […]

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  11. How was the hipster experience at the trendy record fair? Or was it all a blur after this find? ‘Genius train wreck’ is certainly intriguing. Now I want to read Dune.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I recall, my beard was way too short and way too white for me to be confused with a hipster, but that didn’t stop me carting away a nice haul.

      Read Dune. It’s good. I’m gonna say a bit more about the book next week in Chapter Three.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. […] So far we’ve explored the synthesised creations of Klaus Schulze (Chapter Three), the film soundtrack by Toto (Chapter Two) and Kurt Stenzel’s soundtrack to a fascinating documentary about trying to film Dune (Chapter One). […]

    Like

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