Given the myriad horrors American society faces, desensitization can be a survival mechanism as well as part of the problem. Numbness can easily turn to apathy when we’re bombarded unrelentingly with mass shootings, climate-change-induced natural disasters, stealthy new COVID-19 variants (plus monkeypox), a 24-7 news cycle broadcasting the horrors of the invasion of Ukraine, and increasing threats to our right to bodily autonomy. This stress on our collective psyche makes it easy to overlook (or just not care about) the deaths of beloved artistic heroes.
German electronic-music overlord Klaus Schulze passed away in May (within days of his Greek counterpart Vangelis), but his death was barely mentioned in the mainstream U.S. press. Schulze was a singular artist who remained true to his darkly ethereal vision throughout decades of constant sonic innovation. He began his career in 1969 as a drummer in freak ’n’ roll bands such as Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel (which he joined in 1970). As Tangerine Dream morphed from space rockers into a synthesizer crew making electronic soundscapes, Schulze went through a similar transformation as a solo artist. He eventually recorded more than 50 albums under his own name, including forward-thinking classics such as 1972’s Irrlicht and 1973’s Cyborg; collaborated with fellow outsider artists, including Arthur Brown, Michael Shrieve, and Lisa Gerrard; and worked on tons of film scores in genres as diverse as porn and science fiction. More recently, Schulze teamed up with Hans Zimmer on “Grains of Sand,” the end-titles theme for Zimmer’s Oscar-winning soundtrack to the 2021 film of Dune. Schulze was so inspired by the 1965 Frank Herbert novel (which also provided the source material for David Lynch’s 1984 Dune) that in 1979 he released an album of Dune-inspired music. His work with Zimmer awakened that old itch, and Schulze returned to Dune for his final opus, the mammoth new triple LP Deus Arrakis.
The fact that Schulze was still reaching new audiences in 2022 makes his death even more tragic—he sounds newly energized on Deus Arrakis, and it’s a shame we won’t hear more of that. Schulze’s previous studio releases, 2018’s Silhouettes and 2019’s reconstructed soundtrack for the 1982 horror film Next of Kin, use modern-sounding vocal samples and beats as well as live or sampled string instruments, but Deus Arrakis peers back into his pure-synth space daze. “Osiris,” the first of several long pieces, incorporates phased waves of sound as a backdrop for layers of divine cosmic-keyboard melodies. Schulze is at his most experimental on “Seth,” which runs an epic 32 minutes: it begins with an intro that sounds like being stuck in a sandstorm (and perhaps dreading that a giant worm might emerge to swallow you), then settles into a ceremonial stream of ambient cascades that gives way to rhythmic synth patches (recalling classic Schulze albums such as 1975’s Timewind). The final piece, “Der Hauch des Lebens,” nearly half an hour long, is as fitting an epitaph as an artist has ever laid down. The title means “The Breath of Life,” and it feels like Schulze acknowledging his mortality: he’d been suffering from renal disease for years, and it seems unlikely that death caught him entirely by surprise. To appreciate the slowly unfolding sonic colors of this visionary, atmospheric piece, you need patience, but your effort is well rewarded. Like any journey, whether in sci-fi or in life, it moves between realms of pure bliss and darker terrain. Schulze’s sound may have provided a foundation for the icy, emotionless coldwave genre, but his music has always elicited an impassioned response from me—and his last album is no exception. Rest in psychedelic power, maestro.
Klaus Schulze’s Deus Arrakis is available through his website.