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Electronic Music of Dune

My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.

“Arrakis—Dune—Desert Planet” I just had to recite those words from the first pages of the novel, Dune, by Frank Herbert.

Dune is a science fiction novel written in 1965 by Frank Herbert. Epic in the science fiction manner, it covered large spans of time, galaxies crawling with imperial intrigue, murder, politics, human computers, genetic manipulation, and mysticism. Shrouded in a cloak of ecological awareness, it also strongly echoed concern around the welfare of a planet’s natural resources and the relationship of humans with the world around them that was becoming fashionable in the 1960s. Earth is never mentioned among the many worlds that occupy Dune and it is difficult to understand the temporal context in which the story and its five sequels take place other than it begins about 8000 years in the future in the year 10,191. A delightful paradox invented by Herbert is how an advanced, space travelling civilization had banned the use of computers, relying instead on human computers or mentats to plot likely outcomes and mental space navigators to sail the narrows of space while they travelling great distances without moving, as they described it. Herbert delighted in not explaining how things worked but rather focused on the results and the relationships between the many intriguing characters found in the world of Dune.

As a result, this novel written long ago continues to inspire musicians and filmmakers. While recently looking through my archive of recordings I noticed a recurrence of the Dune theme. So, I’ve gathered these instances together for you to enjoy in this podcast.

There are at least three film and television versions of Dune and I’ve included tracks from Toto, Brian Eno, Graeme Revell, and Hans Zimmer for those. Then there is a fusion jazz interpretation of the novel by David Matthews. Dune also remained a lifelong source of fascination for Klaus Schulze. I’m including not only his original Dune work from 1979, an album side’s worth of classic Schulze electronic music, but also a track from his final recording from 2022 called Deus Arrakis. Along the way we will hear author Frank Herbert reading from Dune, some short tracks by Kurt Stenzel inspired by the Jodorowsky's version of Dune that was never made and a track from Grimes and her first album from 2011 called Geidi Primes, a galactic system found in the novel. Then there is Australian electronic musician Zheani reciting the Litany Against Fear, from the novel. While I usually organize my podcast in chronological order, I took a few liberties this time for the sake of effect, so please see the podcast playlist for a reading on all of the tracks that I’m including.

Episode 106

Electronic Music of Dune


1. Toto, “Main Title,” “Robot Fight,” and “Dune (Desert Theme)” from Main Title / Robot Fight / Dune (Desert Theme) (1984 Polydor). A single produced from the soundtrack of the David Lynch film version of Dune (1984). Toto, with its big synthesizers, created most of the soundtrack, although Brian Eno, Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois had one track (included later in this podcast). Bass, David Hungate; Drums, Percussion, Jeff Porcaro; Guitar, Steve Lukather; Keyboards, David Paich, Steve Porcaro. 6:36

2. David Matthews, “Part I: Arrakis,” “Part II: Sandworms,” “Part III: Song Of The Bene Gesserit,” “Part IV: Muad'Dib” from Dune (1977 CTI Records). Arranged by David Matthews and produced by Creed Taylor for his CTI jazz label, this was an extended work inspired by the novel by Frank Herbert. Cliff Carter plays the solo synth (mini-Moog?) on the first track and other places. The work is jazz with bits of electronic music blended into the instrumentation. It remains an interesting artifact partly because of the legal problems CTI faced once they released the album. Because CTI had not secured writer Frank Herbert’s authorization to use his novel Dune as the thematic center piece for the album, Herbert filed a law suit against CTI and won, forcing the label to delete it from catalog. For this reason, that interesting album was never reissued in the USA. Enjoy. Alto Saxophone, David Sanborn; Bass, Mark Egan; Bass Trombone, Dave Taylor; Concertmaster, Sanford Allen; Drums, Andy Newmark, Steve Gadd; Flute, Piccolo Flute, Dave Tofani; Guitar, Eric Gale, Hiram Bullock; Keyboards, Cliff Carter; Oboe, Clarinet, Lew Del Gatto; Percussion, Gordon Gottlieb, Sue Evans; Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Grover Washington, Jr.; Trombone, Jerry Chamberlain*, Sam Burtis, Tom Malone, Wayne Andre; Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Burt Collins, Jim Bossy, Joe Shepley, John Gatchell, Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff, Randy Brecker; Vocals, Googie Coppola. Recorded at Electric Lady Studios, June 1977. The first side is the Dune suite, the second side features interpretations of other sci fi film themes (Silent Running, Star Wars, etc.). 20:29

3. Frank Herbert reading Dune from Dune, The Banquet Scene (1977 Caedmon Records) combined with a track by Alan R. Splet, “Space Travel W/ Changing Choral Textures” (2003 Sub Rosa) from An Anthology Of Noise & Electronic Music / Second A-Chronology 1936-2003. The recording of Herbert was made at the height of the Dune craze, the late 1970s. When David Lynch made his film for release in 1984, he was working with Splet who is not credited by whom may have contributed some electronic and ambient sounds. This track appears to confirm that and I’ve combined it with the Herbert reading. 5:07

4. Brian Eno, Roger Eno and Daniel Lanois, “Prophecy Theme” from Dune (Original Soundtrack Recording) (1984 Polydor). This little track was the only one that remained of Eno’s contributions to the Dune soundtrack, although he reportedly composed an entire movie’s worth of music for the film. Some was used as incidental music. 4:21

5. Zheani, “The Litany Against Fear” from Eight (2018 Sleepcvlt). Cassette release from this Australian rapper, electronic musician, model and actress.This is a famous quote from Herbert’s Dune and seemed fitting to have it represented by a musician for the podcast. 0:36

6. Klaus Schulze, “Dune” from Dune (1979 Brain). Yes, Schulze, too, was infected with the Dune craze and created this ambitious 30-minute work to acknowledge it. This is a truly lovely electronic work from those days when Schulze was largely still working analog synthesis, and synthesize voices and orchestral sounds, much like his earlier album X. The cello is played by Wolfgang Tiepold, produced by and all keyboards by Klaus Schulze. The first side comprises the piece called Dune and the second side features an unrelated work with vocals by Arthur Brown. An intriguing album all around! 30:05

7. Graeme Revell & The City Of Prague Philharmonic, “Seduction” from Frank Herbert's Dune (Original Soundtrack From The Sci-Fi Channel Mini Series) (2001 GNP Cresendo). Composed by Graeme Revell; executive producer, Neil Norman; orchestra, chorus, The City Of Prague Philharmonic. This is the soundtrack for a Sci Fi channel mini-series back in 2001. The music is primarily orchestral, being performed in the Czech Republic and arranged by Neil Norman, Hollywood veteran of science fiction films. But Revell did compose it and there are a few tracks, such as the one featured here, that have clearly electronic elements that stand out. 1:51

8. Grimes, “Caladan” from Geidi Primes (2011 No Pain in Pop). Grimes’ first album was a concept album based on Frank Herbert's novel Dune and David Lynch's 1984 film adaptation of the book. This track is about the fictional home planet of the Atreides, the protagonist clan in the novel. Produced by, written by, played by Grimes. She used relatively simple sounds, overdubs, and interesting vocal mixes to tell these tales. 2:23

9. Kurt Stenzel, “Parallel World” (1:42), “Parallel World (Outro)” (1:04), “Leap Of Faith” (0:43), “Time And Space” (2:04), “Optical World” (2:56), “Nebula” (2:26), and “Invitation” (excerpt) from Jodorowsky's Dune (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (2014 Cinewax). This is a bit of a side-hustle because Alejandro Jodorowsky’s much hyped film version of Dune, which he sought to make in the 1970s, does not exist. It is one of the most famous movies that never existed. Still, the Chilean-French film director, producer, composer, actor stuck with the idea for quite some time until the David Lynch movie was produced in the 1980s and sucked all of the available Dune oxygen out of the room. But Jodorowsky’s passion for the project inspired others, including guitarist and synthesist Stenzel who produced this soundtrack to a 2014 documentary about Jodorowsky and the ill-fated project. Stenzel composed music inspired by the book. This double LP has 33 tracks and I focused on a selection of connected synth tracks from the first album. Moog Source, CZ-101s, Roland Juno 6, toy Concertmate organ, Ninendo DS, voice, Kurt Stenzel. 11:56

10.Klause Schulze, “Side E—"Der Hauch Des Lebens (The Breath of Life) Pt #1” from Deus Arrakis (2022 SPV Recordings). Dune remained a lifelong source of fascination for Schulze. This, his final album, was also inspired by the novel he loved so well. This is a three-LP set, but the first LP is single-sided. Because of his ill health, Schulze knew that this might be his final project. In the liner notes he wrote directly to his fans, saying, “Thank you for your great support over all these years. This is for you! May the spice be with you. Always.” Recorded and written by Klaus Schulze; Cello, Wolfgang Tiepold; Voice, Eva-Maria Kagermann. 16:24

11.Han Zimmer, “Arrakis” from The Art And Soul Of Dune (Companion Book Music) (2021 WaterTower Music). Zimmer composed the soundtrack for the Denis Villeneuve released in 2021. Villeneuve has praised Zimmer’s work on the film and that he had spent,"months and months creating new instruments, defining, creating, and seeking new sounds, pushing the envelope." In addition to a soundtrack for the film itself, Zimmer released two companion releases that provide an extended listen to the sounds and experiments that were created for the project. Three albums were released for the film by WaterTower Music, including The Dune Sketchbook (Music from the Soundtrack), Dune (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), and The Art and Soul of Dune on September 3, September 17, and October 22, 2021, respectively. This work is from the reading companion to the film. 13:28

Opening background music: Hans Zimmer, “The Shortening Of The Way” from The Dune Sketchbook (Music from the Soundtrack) (2021 WaterTower Music). This track is from a companion 2-CD set that accompanied the actual soundtrack. Zimmer called these sketches and they represent his sound experiments as he formulated the music for the film. This grand combination of acoustic instruments and synth sounds from Zimmer’s private studio is stunning in its scope and virtuosity and highly recommended. Synth programming by Hans Zimmer. 11:14

Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.

Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.

See my companion blog that I write for the Bob Moog Foundation.

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