DUNE, CHAPTER FOUR

This Dune music series is longer than a deep desert worm. 

That odd opening sentence might cause some to wonder about a book producing such a welter of creative musical responses. 

How could Dune be described?

Dune. The planet Arrakis.

No rain but plenty of sand.

What, though, is Frank Herbert’s novel about?

Power and politics

Politics and psychotropics

Psychotropics and religion

Religion and fanaticism

Fanaticism and choice

Choice and genetics

Genetics and ecology

Ecology and integrity

Integrity and intrigue

Intrigue and betrayal

Betrayal and rebirth

Rebirth and Power.

Poster by DrFaustusAU

Something about Herbert’s novel inspires musicians. Perhaps it’s the visions of endless swirling deserts or maybe the rich, engrossing characters. Whatever the reason, Dune has inspired some great music.

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).

Both Schulze and Stenzel are electronic artists. 

So, too, are today’s contributors to the Dune saga. 

Bernard Szajner is not a well-known artist. In addition to creating electronic music, he also pursued creative ways of linking visuals to rock shows, working with Gong, The Who, and Magma. Visions of Dune (1979, re-issued 2014) was his first recording and truly is what it says on the cover blurb: an overlooked gem.

Bearing some tonal and compositional similarities to the music of Klaus Schulze, Szajner’s Visions of Dune is an ever-shifting mix of drifting drones and haunting melodies. But whereas the German synth-meister thinks nothing of exploring his ideas in extended pieces lasting half-an-hour, only two of the twelve pieces here are over seven minutes. Most are between one-and-a-half and five minutes long. This means that the listener tends to stay with the tone poems Szajner creates, rather than disappearing into a Schulzean netherworld of canvases the size of galaxies.

Opening with a pure glass harmonica note that could be the first ray of solar energy in an Arrakis dawn, Szajner’s music places shifting baselines under mysterious melodies while synthesisers surge and pulse and drift below. The addition of drums and guitar add tonal variety and an organic component to the music, without ever dominating. In this landscape, humans are always insignificant in the face of unforgiving nature.

Visions of Dune is a terrific late 70s electronic album that will delight aficionados of Schulze and Tangerine Dream while spicing up the ears of Jean-Michel Jarre fans.

Like Bernard Szajner, Richard Pinhas was born in France. Inspired by—but never in thrall to—Robert Fripp, Pinhas formed the innovative progressive electronic band Heldon in 1974. His first solo album, Rhizosphere, was released in 1977. Chronolyse, his second, came out in 1978.

I am a massive fan of Richard Pinhas. His mixture of electronics and layered guitar is often discordant to the point of evoking fear yet there are moments of serenity and beauty where you find yourself sighing without having noticed you’ve been holding your breath. 

While Chronolyse is perhaps not the best entry point into the dark, fractured world of Richard Pinhas, it is unarguably engrossing and would work as an initiation… a kind of trial by sandstorm.

Side one is entitled “Variations I—VII, Sur le Theme de Bene Gesserit” (“Variations on the theme of the Bene Gesserit”, as translated by google). It could equally be called “Studies for Moog”, as the short pieces are live-to-tape recordings where Pinhas explores characteristics of the famous synthesiser. Unlike much of his work, here there is space and simplicity; it is a beguiling side of electronic music.

Side two is another beast all together. A half-hour epic entitled “Paul Atreides” (the birth-name of the hero in Dune), it begins with deceptive moderation, a mysterious synthesiser introduction that leads you into the desert promising shimmering mirages and heat-haze wonders then scares the bejeezus out of you when you are confronted by a 400 metre sandworm with a mouth the size of a football field and a thousand scimitar teeth. 

The power of “Paul Atreides” is due in no small part to the drumming of Francois Auger, though it is the Frippian guitar of Pinhas that casts a dire magic over this massive work. Gentle guitar figures mutate and overlap, the noise component builds and tension with it; fight it and nightmares will plague you for nights, surrender and you’ll bend space and time.

Part avant-garde adventure, part experiment in repetition and variation, Chronolyse is thrillingly confronting and timelessly unsettling. Highly recommended for the hardy of spirit.

20 comments

  1. Checked out some of this, found “Bene Gesserit” but not the B side. I liked “Reverse” a lot, but no sandworms evident in that piece. While I was busy making dinner, “Visions of Dune,” which I enjoyed very much, summoned a trickle of sand under the door, even though I’m on the 4th floor, and it has blocked the door to the closet where I keep the dustpan and vacuum. (Hoover, I mean, not space). Well, running out to the store for clams and a sunlamp, may as well go with the flow.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Grab a few beers too, Robert. And don’t forget the sunscreen and stillsuit.
      (The League of Physicists warn against storing vacuums at home, so relieved to hear yours is a cleaning device)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m listening to the Szajner’s Dune right now – Wow! That’s electronic music I like! Thank you for expanding my musical knowledge with this gem. Now I have the strong urge to find it on vinyl 🙂 . Pinhas is next on my playlist 🙂
    Arterrorist

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thought both of these might be up your alley, Arterrorist. Glad you are enjoying M. Szajner – might not be too hard to track down as the re-issue was only a few years back. Good luck!
      (Let me know how you find Chronolyse)

      Like

      1. Chronolyse is very intriguing record. First side filled mostly with sketches – nice classic analog synth sounds, delicious sequences but, as I said, sketchy, short and not tied up properly with each other, despite the common title suggests they should be more coherent as a whole. Thankfuly last two tracks on A side are substantial enough to enjoy them fully.
        And then comes heavy bite by the B side from not exactly expected direction, judging from the first side. To quote the classic: “A spectre is hauting Pinhas – the spectre of Fripp”. Terrifying yet fascinating soundscape. What a delicious monster of a track it is!
        Any other Pinhas recomendations to dive into?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Definitely! There aren’t any I dislike. ‘Iceland’ has some Schulzean chill, the recent ‘Reverse’ is really solid, “L’Ethique’ is great…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Sand. Solitude. Spice.
    Is an excellent tag line
    Or haiku first line.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! That haiku idea has lodged in your brain like a grain of sand in an oyster.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. chris delprete · · Reply

    Curse you!! Not only have I had to go back to my mother’s place abdydig out my old SF novels but now I’ve got more music to explore. But seriously thanks for reminding me of all the science fiction and fantasy I loved so much in the seventies and eighties. How fabulous were the covers of those New English Library paperbacks? How great was Spaceage books on Swanston Street, my go to place for all things of that ilk- books, posters, comics and later records. I’ve got the books out of storage and I’m about to re-enter the world of Arrakis (with suitable weather musical accompaniment of course).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, Chris. We share much heritage, it seems. One of the posts I enjoyed writing the most was ‘Of Fleas and Faust’ which name-checked Space Age (and Goesunder!).

      Enjoy Arrakis. Take your parasol.

      – Bruce

      Like

  5. Some really interesting music here, Bruce. I’m particular drawn to the Richard Pinhas release… there’s something about the coldness of his music that’s particularly enticing.

    I’ll need to check that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Do. Talking of chilly, try his “Iceland” too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Suitably titled, I expect! I’ve made a note!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m a big fan of the Z album. I had a great night camping by myself listening to that LP just staring up at the stars, all quite magical.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like my kind of party!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Space is deep, Joe.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not familiar with Pinhas but I quite like that description of inspired by but not in thrall to Mr. Fripp – I imagine he’d be pleased with that as well, I certainly wouldn’t mind someone describing my guitar work as such!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too right Geoff. Fripp is a master. Yesterday afternoon I finally picked up Daryl Hall’s ‘Sacred Songs’, an album produced by Fripp and featuring his playing. Been after it for ages as it is a companion piece to Fripp’s own ‘Exposure’ and a Peter Gabriel album.

      Pinhas’ music is often disquieting but worth persevering with. I usually recommend his band Heldon’s second album (Heldon II) as an accessible intro for the curious.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Will give Bernard a go. You already turned me onto Richard earlier. I listen to his ‘Reverse’ a while back. You are keeping me into this style.

    Like

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