How’s this for a career arc? visuals guy for Gong and Magma, android creator, art director for EuroDisney – from Daevid Allen to Einstein to Mickey Mouse*. Enter: Bernard Szajner, born in a cave during the Nazi occupation of France, later decorated as a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. Along the way, becoming fascinated by the interface of lights and music he invented the laser harp, created numerous other synths and released some music. In 1979, under the name Z he released an album called Visions Of Dune, inspired by his favourite sci-fi novel. Handily for us non-millionaire collectors of analogue synth music, InFiné re-released it in 2014 on gorgeous chunky vinyl, with two bonus tracks and a nice insert that I am embarrassed to say I only discovered yesterday, as it was stuck deep in the sleeve.
Funnily enough despite earning my geek wings (first class) by the age of 18 I only read Frank Herbert’s Dune for the first time in 2013, possibly because I’d been put off by a half-remembered viewing of the film when I was 12 – it was crap, I remember thinking, it went on for 9 hours and didn’t have a single TIE Fighter in it. I thought the book was excellent, so when I got told about Visions Of Dune I snapped it up.
I was hooked right from the first notes of ‘Dune’, transported into a spacious, slandscape** and it was hard to see anything other than a desert at dawn, the shimmering keys trilling and the bottom end, umm, bottoming? There is a subtler, more expressive feel to Z’s music than many of his contemporaries like Jean Michel Jarre, possibly because he was willing to step outside of his synthy world and utilise more conventional instruments at times, Colin Swinburne (of Bachdenkel) provides guitar (of the shimmering Steve Hillage glissando type) on a handful of tracks, and occasional bass and drums, along with a treated voice, to great effect, here and there. A closer correlate might be Tangerine Dream circa Phaedra-ish, but this is less out there, more to a purpose.
Visions Of Dune is segued together and so you get a full immersive lights-off experience every time you spin it, having only to surface to turn it over every 20 minutes or so. It flows beautifully too, as such an album needs to, the textures and melodies shifting like the sands of Arrakis itself. Some tracks are melodically driven, others rhythmically driven^, the parts adding up to a much greater whole. It’s actually quite difficult for me to pick the individual tracks out, which is I think a reflection on just how well Szajner creates a thematic unity throughout the album, tracks often subtly foreshadowing, or echoing their neighbours.
I don’t mean to imply by all of this that this is in any way insipid or insignificant music, far from it. As any good soundtrack does, even ones like this that remain completely unattached to anything as plebeian as a film, it creates moods of all sorts. The last track, a bonus one (thus confusingly not on the vinyl, but only on the MP3 version you get a voucher to download) ‘Spice’ is splendidly menacing, it actually sounds very contemporary, even in terms of the synth sounds used.
This is full-on proper head music, I remember lying in bed one night in the Lake District after a mountain day, staring out of the window at the stars playing it on my headphones – the music taking me out into the infinite void … well, until I fell asleep and started snoring before the end of the first side, anyway. This is definitely music best heard in a darkened room, rather than listened to cruising the strip in a Dodge Viper, swigging Jack from the bottle on the way to pick up your stripper girlfriend from a late show – I should know, I have scientifically tested Visions of Dune in both experimental conditions.
Overall I would thoroughly recommend this LP to anyone looking for a good synthy escape into otherworldly realms. Not only is the music rather good, but the luxuriously finished sleeve is a thing of enduring, classy beauty too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to become the Mahdi of Arrakis.
PS – I was hipped to this intriguing little beauty by the ever-reliable-if-slightly-overly-fond-of-shoegazing Mr J Hubner. Thank you, again/.
PPS – I’ve never heard the Toto soundtrack for the film.
*his ‘droid was called Einstein.
**my brand-new word, a sandy, landscape of sound. Royalties = 20p every time you use it please.
^even to the point of, almost, getting a synthetic-space-funk-on at one point.