AMN Reviews: Avant Music Inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune

Not unlike H.P. Lovecraft’s and Tolkien’s books, Frank Herbert’s Dune series has had the ability to inspire generations of musicians. As Dune is soon to be a major movie release (again), it is a fitting time to revisit music inspired by these writings.

On its surface, Dune, the self-titled first novel, is an adventure story. I suspect that will be the focus of the upcoming movie – it will get the Hollywood treatment. But the book has many layers, and the action sequences that will inevitably make it to the screen are just one part. Herbert was something of a leftist libertarian, combining environmentalism, experimentation with drugs, and notions of shared consciousness with a strong distrust of government and religion – especially when the latter two are combined. These aspects are percolating about in Dune, but come to the fore in its sequels. Indeed, the psychohistory and philosophy embedded into these later novels make for heady reading.

The following are just a handful of albums inspired by Dune. There are many, many more across a multitude of genres from ambient, to new age, to punk, to metal. Here, of course, we focus on the edgier, avant-leaning recordings.

As an aside, all of these albums were released in a very narrow period of time (1978-1981). Also, my first exposure to each was over 25 years ago. Despite the apparent nostalgia trip, I have sought out newer recordings to little avail – as noted, there are a ton of albums related to Dune but few with the more outre approach that I was seeking out. Of course, if I missed any of note, don’t hesitate to let me know.

TLDR: Start with the first track of Schulze’s Dune and then all of Dün’s Eros.

Klaus Schulze – Dune (1979)

Hiding nothing in its title, Dune is Schulze’s 11th solo album. A veteran of kosmiche acts such as Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, here Schulze combines his keyboard work with Wolfgang Tiepold’s cello. On the 30-minute self-titled opening track, Schulze and Tiepold draw from an abstract sound palette, with plenty of whooshing and spaciness. This varies between thick walls, downtempo melodies, and general weirdness. Tiepold’s contributions are largely themes and motifs that intertwine with Schulze’s synth patterns, and these efforts go far to distinguish Dune from other Schulze albums. The result is both cinematic and majestic. On the second track, Schulze adds synthetic drum patterns while Arthur Brown contributes spoken vocals. As a consequence, this piece has a rather different feel from its predecessor. Newer releases of Dune also include a third track that was omitted from the original and focuses on rhythmic percussion and synth work. The first track remains the most evocative of the Herbert stories.

Dün – Eros (1981)

An instrumental concept album based on Herbert, Eros is avant-prog along the lines of Henry Cow and other Rock in Opposition groups. This French band was a 6-piece with guitars, piano / synth, vibes, flute, bass, and drums, along with a guest saxophonist on two tracks. The original release of Eros clocked in just under 40 minutes, but more recent reissues have added another 35 minutes of alternative takes and unreleased tracks. Musically, they combine the Western Culture era of Cow with jazz fusion and a hint of Zappa and Magma. The resulting amalgam is quite complex, and ultimately very rewarding to the listener. While there is nothing that overtly screams Dune in this music, the group certainly undertakes an analogously detailed approach as that of Herbert, resulting in plenty of knots to untie over multiple visits.

Richard Pinhas – Chronolyse (1978)

This is technically the first solo album from Heldon’s Richard Pinhas, though he did not release it until after 1977’s Rhizosphere. On it, Pinhas employs sequenced synthesizer patterns and drones. Sur Le Theme du Bene Gesserit consists of seven short sequenced pieces, each just long enough to make itself heard. Duncan Idaho provides minimalist synth and percussion lines that are slightly more elaborate than those of the previous suite. Paul Atreides is the most interesting track, with Pinhas on overdubbed dueling guitars and keyboards. Spacious prog-rock stylings abound throughout its 30-minute duration. This is fairly distinct from the more modern improv that Pinhas has explored in the last decade or so.

Z aka Bernard Szajner – Visions of Dune (1979)

With all 14 tracks titled based on people or objects from the Dune universe, synthesist Bernard Szajner does not even attempt to downplay his source. Szajner plays keyboards and sequencers, with guests on guitar, bass, drums, and vocals (one being Klaus Blasquiz of Magma) appearing intermittently on various tracks. As with the aforementioned recordings, Visions of Dune is a product of its era, with sweeping cosmic sounds and a progressive rock / kosmiche feel. Due to the heavy synth emphasis with Szajner soloing over sequenced patterns, this album lands somewhat between the Schulze and the Pinhas in terms of style. Favorite cuts are those that are more abstract and ambient, such as The Duke, as well as the dark guitar-laden jam of Harkonnen.

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