In this final UK interview before his recent passing, the hugely influential German electronicist Klaus Schulze reflects on his time with Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel and discusses the lingering influence of the sci-fi classic ‘Dune’ – as heard on his new album, ‘Deus Arrakis’

Klaus Schulze’s final record is undoubtedly the sound of an artist coming full circle, though it was never intended as a requiem. Released 43 years after ‘Dune’, his 1979 album inspired by Frank Herbert’s epic novel of the same name, ‘Deus Arrakis’ was to be a complementary piece made by a man in his twilight years, a reflection of the work of a much younger musician from across the decades. Ultimately, it serves as a bookend to the remarkable career of the wunderkind of the Berlin School.

It was well documented that the 74-year-old had been unwell, but in the email he sent to me four days before his death, there was no hint that this was the end of the road.

“Good morning! Got up late today,” he writes unfussily, before divulging some discomfort. “I have a bad tooth that kept me awake for most of the night, but it has finally gone to sleep, so I can now do this interview at my coffee table in a much better mood.”

The musician was housebound because of medical machinery installed in his home, making face-to-face meetings impossible and even video calls difficult – hence the email exchange. Given his predicament, I ask how he was able to work recently with Hans Zimmer. Schulze collaborated with the multi-Oscar-winning composer on a track called ‘Grains Of Sand’ for Zimmer’s soundtrack to the 2021 film version of ‘Dune’ – a project that would reignite his earlier obsession with the oeuvre of Frank Herbert and lead to further exploration in the shape of ‘Deus Arrakis’.

“I am very happy I did not have to travel, otherwise it would have been way too demanding for me,” he says. “I cannot travel due to my regular dialysis rhythm. And Hans was also very busy in his own studio. But with a few emails, phone calls and file transfers, it was never a problem.”

Schulze exudes good cheer in his written missives, with hints of optimism about the days ahead, making his words seem all the more poignant.

“This year marks my 75th birthday and I will be a happy man celebrating it. All of this is hard work for me. I need to take care of my health and energy, keep my own timing, focus on my music and not talk for hours and hours about myself. That’s why I just do selected email interviews now.”

He tells me not to take it personally, so I ask what comes next.

“I’ll let you know when I know myself,” he replies. “I’ll make some music, of course, but I have no real plans I can speak of. Wait, no – there are two new promising software synths waiting for me in the studio and a hardware sequencer I am willing to try. Let’s see where that takes us…”

Born in Allied-occupied Berlin on 4 August 1947 to a writer father and a ballet dancer mother, Klau Schulze has tended not to give too much away about his personal life over the years, preferring instead to let the music do the talking. Growing up, he learned to play a number of instruments – bass, guitar, drums and keyboard – and went on to study at the University of Berlin, where he specialised in German literature, philosophy and modern classical composition. That was also where Schulze was inculcated in the musical language of Richard Wagner, a fandom he maintained even when it wasn’t particularly fashionable. Liking Wagner was especially frowned upon by a milieu of musicians who sought to disassociate themselves from the preferences of the war generation, but Schulze, ever the spirited maverick, followed his own nose.

“I guess that should be a no-brainer,” he says. “I have always admired Wagner publicly. He was the biggest inspiration. Pretending or denying things to distance yourself from your parents or your cultural heritage is a common thing when you are of a certain age, but over time one should be able to find out who he is and where he comes from. You can never escape your roots.”

In 1969, Schulze encountered a number of kindred spirits at the Zodiak Club in Berlin, founded by Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler, who also formed Kluster with Dieter Moebius. Roedelius had returned from Paris, where he had witnessed the student uprising in May 1968, and the whiff of revolution was in the air. I wonder what the Zodiak Club was like, given that so many great bands formed there, including Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, with Schulze playing drums on their groundbreaking debut albums.

“The Zodiak really was a melting pot of young creatives,” he recalls. “Not only musicians but artists in general, willing to cross borders and try different things. It’s a good example of this unique and innovative atmosphere at that time in West Berlin – a small island separated from the rest of West Germany and a great place to explore and exchange. Which was something you noticed immediately when stepping in. And, of course, I have some treasured memories!”

Given his need to conserve energy, Schulze mainly focuses on questions related to Frank Herbert, ‘Dune’, his ‘Grains Of Sand’ track for Zimmer and the two albums recorded 43 years apart.

“As you can see, I did not answer everything via email,” he explains. “My working hours are shorter than before, and I don’t have to do all of the things I had to do in earlier years, which is a good thing.”

I enquire about some of the individuals he met along the way – Schnitzler, Conny Plank, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and The Cosmic Jokers – but these questions go unanswered. Likewise, queries about ‘Timewind’, ‘Mirage’ and ‘Irrlicht’ (his solo debut, an ambient watershed that was somehow recorded entirely without synthesisers), receive no replies .

He can’t, however, resist answering that age-old question about why he left Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, each after one album. To leave one legendary band is unfortunate. To leave two seems like carelessness…

“Oh yes, that’s an all-time classic FAQ!” he says amiably. “To quote some other proverbs: ‘You are the maker of your own happiness’, ‘Build your own legend’, and so on. First of all, I had good times with all the members – I learned a lot, I had fun and I left those bands without any anger. I was just tired of discussing music for hours and making compromises all the time. I wanted to be free to do my own stuff.”

In the end, creative differences made him plough his own furrow, and he ponders which other groups at that time would have tolerated his penchant for 30-minute soundscapes with weird time signatures.

“Of course, I played second fiddle in Tangerine Dream because Edgar [Froese] was that band,” recalls Schulze. “So I founded Ash Ra Tempel with Manuel [Göttsching] and although I left again, Manuel is still a friend of mine and we collaborated together several times afterwards. It was the right decision to strike out on my own. Despite our common roots, Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel and Klaus Schulze all developed differently, which is a good thing.”

The ‘Dune’ album of 1979 wasn’t Schulze’s first tribute to Frank Herbert. A proto-trance track bearing the sci-fi author’s name was released the year before on ‘X’, which references other influences from Schulze’s life, including Friedrich Nietzsche, the Austrian poet Georg Trakl and King Ludwig II, who’d also been the subject of ‘Ludwig’, a song by Amon Düül II from 1975’s ‘Made In Germany’. Why was there such interest in the flamboyant, “mad” King of Bavaria?

“He was an interesting and complex person,” muses Schulze. “A myth in life and death, a fan of Wagner and a great sponsor of the arts – in a nutshell, someone worth thinking about.”

The ‘Frank Herbert’ track on ‘X’ only served to whet Schulze’s appetite. He’d been reading Herbert since the late 1960s after picking up an English copy of ‘Dune’, and subsequently devoured the author’s galactic fictional universe many times over. The music he started to make captured the space, the shifting sands and the allusions to Sufism five years before the release of the first ‘Dune’ film.

The 1984 movie, directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle MacLachlan and Sting, was notoriously beset with problems (as was Chilean-French filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cancelled attempt in the mid-1970s). Yacht rock supremos Toto were drafted in for the soundtrack, although they never got the call from Zimmer.

“When I did the ‘Dune’ album, I had no pictures in front of me other than those in my mind,” says Schulze. “I was unexpectedly drawn in by the vastness of the ‘Dune’ universe, the beauty of the barren and silent deserts in particular. I could see, feel and even hear that world.”

Schulze also heard the voice of Arthur Brown, of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown fame, and promptly sent a telegram asking to work with him. Having just returned from Africa, where he’d inadvertently become director of the Burundi National Orchestra, Brown jumped at the chance to collaborate with the forward-thinking German musician. His glossolalia can be heard on ‘Shadows Of Ignorance’, which takes up side two of ‘Dune’, and he even accompanied Schulze on tour.

“To be honest, I was surprised when he came over to my studio and did the concerts,” says Schulze. “Working with him was not only great fun, it was also a good musical fit – which was something we both could not have predicted, but we were curious and adventurous guys.”

Touring across Europe, Brown improvised out front as Schulze hid astride his synthesisers in a hall of mirrors. Apparently, Schulze wasn’t a great communicator on that tour. Did he get into character before a performance, rather like a method actor?

“I have fond memories of the tour,” he says, indicating laughter. “And yes, I was not only focused but also very nervous – if not nearly panicking – before live concerts. So maybe I didn’t talk too much all the time, but I have never been a method actor. I never could prepare myself for a concert. It has always been just a performance of the moment.

“I must say, touring with Arthur sometimes was a true challenge for my nerves. One day he nearly missed his performance because he had ‘this incredibly delicious chicken’ in a restaurant! But I loved to tour and work with him, and it was a pleasure to record ‘Dune’ together.”

Schulze performed with Brown again, and with The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown keyboard player Vincent Crane, on 1979’s ‘Time Actor’ album, under the alias Richard Wahnfried (the surname being a reference to the dedicated Bayreuth villa – financed by one King Ludwig II – where Wagner’s compositions were exclusively performed). He would bring other artists into the Wahnfried fold later and work alone under the alias, too.

“Richard Wahnfried – ah yes, somehow it’s Wagner again – was just a pseudonym or an alter ego to make it easier for me and my fans to try different things,” explains Schulze. “With time, Wahnfried became more and more of a project name. Later, it was the wish of the record label to add Klaus Schulze on the Wahnfried covers.”

So does Schulze prefer working alone?

“You got me there,” he says. “Yes, I prefer to work on my own initiative. Sometimes I pause for weeks or even months, then I may have a feverous phase of playing day and night. Who would want to adjust to that? Since I left Tangerine Dream, that has been my favourite way of working. I have musicians come over and record, and an assistant is OK for the studio, but I do it all in my own time.”

Two artists Schulze partnered with for more than a decade were Pete Namlook and Bill Laswell, on the amusingly titled ‘The Dark Side Of The Moog’ series. Made between 1994 and 2008, it ran to 11 volumes. What kept bringing him back?

“That series was pure fun to do,” he says. “We were exchanging recordings, sending tapes to and fro, wondering what will arrive next, listening without prejudice, adding more things to it and sending it back. That was the first time I learned to love that decentralised way of working.”

And then there was Hans Zimmer. Schulze was introduced to the film composer by Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard, who performed with Schulze extensively in the late 2000s.

“It was a big surprise that Hans wanted to work with me,” he says. “And I was even more surprised when I heard his friendly German greeting on the phone. He is a very nice and respectful guy, and we introduced ourselves as mutual fans.”

Schulze had already been re-reading the ‘Dune’ book series and had watched David Lynch’s 1984 movie again. Collectively, they reignited a passion that had subsided some four decades earlier.

“They triggered something in me,” Schulze says. “I felt in that mood again. I was curious what another musical ‘Dune’ journey would look like. I had no plans. I just listened to the chords fly by… the way I always work. One thing leads to another. I took my time – I don’t rush things anymore – but in the end it became clear with ‘Deus Arrakis’ that I had done my own continuation of ‘Dune’ without having seen anything from Denis Villeneuve at that time. But the Frank Herbert novels were the key trigger – again. So yes, I hadn’t planned it, but it became a kind of sequel, at least for me.”

Schulze says he was delighted to hear ‘Grains Of Sand’ over the film credits for ‘Dune’, and while director Denis Villeneuve’s take doesn’t exactly correspond with the version in his own mind’s-eye, he was suitably impressed with the movie overall.

Of course, it’s academic now, but when I sent my questions to Schulze I asked him if he might consider bringing out yet more ‘Dune’ soundtracks, perhaps inspired by other books in the series.

“That would surprise even me,” he says. “It’s not my plan to do that. But life has a way of surprising us all. Maybe I’ll get another crazy call. Who knows? If you had told me the story of ‘Deus Arrakis’ before, I would have laughed and certainly not taken it seriously. So one thing is for sure – nothing is for sure.”

‘Deus Arrakis’ is released by SPV

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