Dune: some French connections

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French poster by Michel Landi for the ill-fated Jodorowsky film.

There’s more to French music than Air and Daft Punk, and there’s more to cosmic French music than Magma, although you wouldn’t always know it to read Anglophone music journalists. I’ve been championing the electronica recorded by Bernard Szajner for a long time, and even tried without success to get one of his albums reissued a few years ago. (Which reminds me: Gav, you’ve still got my Szajner albums!) That album (credited to “Zed”), Visions Of Dune (1979), has been out-of-print since 1999 so it’s good to know it’s being reissued on vinyl and CD next month by Finders Keepers’ Andy Votel. FACT has a mix of extracts to give the curious some idea of its buzzing analogue soundscapes.

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Visions Of Dune (1979) by Zed (Bernard Szajner). Artwork by Klaus Blasquiz.

Visions Of Dune attempts to illustrate Frank Herbert’s novel in musical form; you wouldn’t really know this without the track titles but that’s the way it often is with instrumental music. The album has gained a surprising cult reputation in recent years although it’s difficult to tell whether this is merely a consequence of its rarity or whether it’s because people like Carl Craig have taken to listing it as a favourite electronic record. It’s a decent enough album but I’ve always preferred Szjaner’s follow-up, Some Deaths Take Forever (1980), a conceptual polemic against the death penalty which is ferocious enough in places to be classed among the post-punk electronica being produced in the same year by Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. Szajner later recorded an album with Howard Devoto, Brute Reason (1983), which puts him even more firmly in the post-punk camp. I suspect Some Deaths… offends the hardcore synth-heads with its squalls of electric guitar and other traces of the rock milieu. More amenable is another Szajner album, Superficial Music (1981), which remixes the Visions Of Dune tracks into seven chunks of doom-laden ambience. I’ve never thought of the resulting sound as very superficial, “unsettling” is closer to the mark which is why I included an extract in my Halloween mix last year.

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Chronolyse (1978) by Richard Pinhas. Artwork by Patrick Jelin.

Visions Of Dune isn’t the only Dune-related synth album from France. Chronolyse (1978) is the second solo album by Richard Pinhas, another musician you won’t find many Brit writers discussing even though he’s been recording since 1974. Pinhas’s inspirations are an unusual amalgam of science fiction and contemporary French philosophy, a subject he studied at the Sorbonne; prior to going solo he was performing with Heldon, a French prog band whose name is taken from Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream. Heldon may be classed as a prog group but their first album, Electronique Guerilla (1974), has one side dedicated to William Burroughs, features a track with “lyrics by Nietzsche”, and also contains an appearance by Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze and Norman Spinrad appeared on later Pinhas solo albums although neither of them are on Chronolyse which, like Visions of Dune, is a wordless (and often tuneless) meander through synthesised soundscapes named after Dune characters. The music on the first side is much more sparse than Szajner’s, and less satisfying as a result; the second side improves with the 29-minute Paul Atreïdes, a typical Pinhas guitar-and-synth jam with extended Fripp-like soloing. As with Szajner, all the Heldon/Pinhas output tends towards the abrasive, and looking at the recent Pinhas discography the man is showing no sign of growing soft, having played shows recently with notorious noise merchants Merzbow and Wolf Eyes.

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Dune paperbacks from Robert Laffont (1975–1983). Designer unknown.

Has there been any other Dune-related music from France? Given the French enthusiasm for science fiction I wouldn’t be surprised. A search for French covers of Frank Herbert’s novels turned up these strikingly abstract examples from Robert Laffont which I’d not seen before. That combination of foil backing and lower-case Helvetica is clearly derived from the celebrated Prospective 21e Siècle series of new music albums released by Philips in the late 1960s. Many of those albums featured exclusive recordings of musique concrète or electro-acoustic compositions (and many of them featured French composers) so there’s another electronica connection. Incidentally, if you ever find one of those Philips albums going cheap in a shop, buy it! The series is very collectible and some of them command high prices. Even if you don’t like the music, they’re worth having for the shiny sleeves.

Update: Further investigation reveals another French album with Dune connections, Eros (1981) by Dün, a Magma-like band whose name is taken from Herbert’s novel. So too are some of the track titles on their sole release: L’Epice and Arrakis.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune

Design as virus 17: Boris and Roger Dean

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The compact disc for Flood (2000) by Boris.

The music of Japanese heavy rock trio Boris has been soundtracking the past few days hence this addition to an occasional series which has already seen the band mentioned once before. It’s common for rock groups at the heavier end of the spectrum to find a visual identity which is maintained across all releases. Boris have never been interested in this kind of consistency; not only do the band vary their appearance for group shots but their music, and the packaging which attends it, explores a variety of different styles. The album cover which featured in an earlier post was a careful copy of the sleeve for Nick Drake’s second album Bryter Layter. All the releases featured here play with Roger Dean’s graphic style of the early 1970s. All art and design credits are given to the band’s own label, Fangs Anal Satan, so we’ll have to assume that it’s a member of the band responsible for the design and illustration.

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Logo for rock group Budgie by Roger Dean, 1973.

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Flood CD insert.

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A label design from 2006 based on Roger Dean’s first Virgin Records logo.

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Virgin Records label by Roger Dean, 1973.

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Walrus/Groon (2007).

The most elaborate Roger Dean pastiche is this 12-inch single, a collaboration with Japanese noise man Merzbow. On the A-side the band play a version of I Am The Walrus while Merzbow makes noises in the background; the B-side is named after a King Crimson track but the racket everyone makes sounds little like the original. The sleeve is a gatefold affair based on Dean’s design for Close To The Edge (1972) by Yes, complete with handwritten credits and Dean-like painting in the interior. The vinyl disc came in a variety of coloured formats and used the imitation Virgin label. In all, a very collectable item.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Design as virus 16: Prisms
Design as virus 15: David Pelham’s Clockwork Orange
Design as virus 14: Curse of the Dead
Design as virus 13: Tsunehisa Kimura
Design as virus 12: Barney’s faces
Roger Dean: artist and designer
Design as virus 11: Burne Hogarth
Design as virus 10: Victor Moscoso
Design as virus 9: Mondrian fashions
Design as virus 8: Keep Calm and Carry On
Design as virus 7: eyes and triangles
Design as virus 6: Cassandre
Design as virus 5: Gideon Glaser
Design as virus 4: Metamorphoses
Design as virus 3: the sincerest form of flattery
Design as virus 2: album covers
Design as virus 1: Victorian borders

Val Denham album covers

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Funeral In Berlin (1981) by Throbbing Gristle.

British artist and musician Val Denham was mentioned in yesterday’s post so I thought it worthwhile following up with a selection of the painter’s record sleeves. Denham’s art stood out for me when I first saw the cover of Throbbing Gristle’s Funeral In Berlin album. For its visceral immediacy this is still a big favourite. The early 1980s were the perfect time for Denham’s paintings to appear on record sleeves, the diminished area of CD packages providing a poor stage for work that’s this vivid and dramatic. Denham’s associations with Throbbing Gristle extended to work with Marc Almond, a cover for the Some Bizzare compilation If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t, Please Your Soul which featured ex-TG members Coil and Psychic TV, and further associations with Coil allies Black Sun Productions. Many of these connections can be explored at Denham’s detailed website which has a great gallery section showing work in a variety of media from the past thirty years. Denham’s art is surreal, intense, often disturbing, and deeply personal in its exploration of shifting gender boundaries. Isn’t it time someone published a Val Denham book?

Some cover samples follow. More can be seen at the artist’s website.

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Untitled (1982) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

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Torment And Toreros (front, 1983) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

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Torment And Toreros (back, 1983) by Marc and The Mambas. Design by Huw Feather.

Continue reading “Val Denham album covers”

Wyatting

These are people after my own heart as this is something I’ve been doing for years with jukeboxes. Usually the challenge was to find the weirdest thing in the whole selection of records which would often be a B-side of some sort. “Wyatting” seems a rather unfair name for something that’s annoying people (although if it’s going to be named something it may as well be after the wonderful Robert). If it’s irritation you want then “Merzbowing” (see below) would seem more apt, not least because of its relation to the Dada works of Kurt Schwitters.

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Wyatting (vb): when jukeboxes go mad by Ned Beauman

Just as the best way to judge an adult is by his or her record collection, the best way to judge a pub is by the albums on its jukebox. Or it was, until the 21st-century caught up with the noisy machine in the corner. There are now nearly 2,000 internet-connected jukeboxes in the UK, each of which can access as many as 2m tracks – and with them has come Wyatting, which is either a fearless act of situationist cultural warfare or a nauseatingly snobbish prank, depending on who you ask.

The phenomenon was first identified in the New York Times by Wendy McClure. She was in a grimy rock bar when someone pulled up Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon, which consists of a single distant piano phrase repeated for more than an hour, and found herself too mesmerised to leave. “Imagine replacing the brass cylinder in a music box with a Möbius strip made from nerve endings,” she wrote. The rest of the bar’s patrons , however, were soon in revolt.

This wasn’t to be an isolated incident. After music critic Simon Reynolds linked to McClure’s article on his weblog, several of his readers wrote in to confess that this is a game they regularly play. Carl Neville, a 36-year-old English teacher from London, coined the term “Wyatting” because sticking on Dondestan, the 1991 avant-garde jazz-rock LP by ex-Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt, is the perfect way to disrupt a busy Friday night in a high street pub. Other favourites are free-jazz clarinetist Evan Parker and surrealist Japanese noise producer Merzbow. In theoretical terms, Wyatting has been explained as enacting the theories of Adorno, who believed that subverting pop music would help to bring down capitalism. Alternatively, if you listen to Neville, it’s simply “childish, futile, but finally hilarious”. (More.)