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.
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.