Dune, a masterpiece in sonic experiences
Updated: Nov 22
Why I consider Dune to be a masterpiece
It's the year 1995, I'm a strapping 12-year-old who was a massive introvert. So much so that friends were hard to come by, not because I didn't want any, but because my family travelled about a lot. So friends to me were a luxury, books were my solace. My mother being an English teacher would bring a bunch of books home, so that I would brush up and be eloquent in communicating through the medium of the English language.
In February 1995, my mom brings this hardcover book, which showed this weird creature that you see in the image above, the sandworm. A couple of chapters in, I was hooked, and then went on the spiral into Marvel Comics, Star Wars, Star Trek and Sci-Fi universes that I so passionately adored and admired. But Dune was the first one, and as they say, you always remember your first.
When it was announced that renowned director Denis Villeneuve was hitched to bring the Dune Universe to life, I was over the moon. Like Denis, this was a book that I got hooked on during my teenage years, and for decades I have consumed every single piece of the extensive books that are associated with the Dune Universe. I watched the first film by Daniel Lynch (1984) in 1999, and the three-part mini-series in 2000. For a Sci-Fi fan who has loved comics all of his life, I always wondered, why no one bothered to readapt the Dune books for the large screen.
Enter Hans Zimmer
One of the most respected and prolific music composers of our time, Hans Zimmer was also a fan of Dune. Shocking I know, I honestly never expected it.
“We both read it as teenagers, but we didn’t make the movie with hindsight of age and wisdom,” Zimmer said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “As soon as we started, we were transported back in time … and I did music with the recklessness and craziness that only a teenager has. Just whatever came to me. And one of the other things was that it’s hard to explain musical concepts, but we’d finish each other’s sentences, because we have both been making this movie in our heads for 40 years.”
The sonic landscape of Dune is a masterpiece, from the house Atreides that has a familiar yet comforting signature of the bagpipes from the Scottish Highlands to the House Harkonnen which is ominous and threatening, to the Sardukar who mimicked the throat singing signatures of the tribes of Mongolia and finally the 'Song of the Sisters', that signified the entrance of the witches of the Bene Gesserit. Each had a familiar tone, that was attributed so cleverly and so powerfully to familiar/unfamiliar overtones of our current human history.
Sounds that bridged the familiar while yet being ethereal
In fact, most of the sounds were created through some of the first experiments by working with musician and sculptor and welder Chas Smith, whose studio is a resonating chamber, so a lot of the sounds originated from there. The sounds were all-encompassing, it enveloped you so subtly, that it took me a second time watching the film to truly appreciate it. But the beauty of that experience is that its core DNA was the sonic signatures that you automatically associated with the houses, with the political dalliances and its associated counterparts.
"The sound of 'Dune' wraps itself around you in a way that I haven’t ever experienced before, and now you finally get to hear it," Zimmer said.
Along with synthesizers, the Dune score consists of disparate elements like scraping metal, Indian bamboo flutes, Irish whistles, Scottish Bagpipes, Mongolian throat singing, a juddering drum phrase, seismic rumbles of distorted guitar, and a war horn that is actually a cello, and finally singing that defies Western musical notation. It is both unorthodox and provocative, as you would expect from an imaginary world that defies the natural conventions of what we associate as normal.
In fact, Zimmer turned down an offer to work on Nolan’s last film Tenet to focus his energies on Dune. In a way, Zimmer said, he has been working on this soundtrack ever since he first read the novel as a teen.
“I’ve been thinking about ‘Dune’ for nearly 50 years," he said. "So I took it very seriously.”
The score is so ambitious and so comprehensive that it is truly one of the most powerful and profound pieces of Hans Zimmer's entire career.
People watch a plethora of content today, from movies to television shows and not only that, we tend to binge watch things. Sonic and music have always been known as powerful drivers of content—an expressive enabler that makes this artificial, imaginary world come to life. Now you as a brand, or as its brand manager look only at the visuals, the branding language, the designs, the advertising campaigns, but truly, have you considered how powerful and impactful would layering a sonic signature be to your brand?
An all-encompassing signature from visuals, branding, motion identity and most importantly sonic identity can propel your brand forward, and truly make it a living brand. Because after all, if you are touched and affected by every sense through which you experience the world, wouldn't that impact your lives so much more, make that brand all the more meaningful to you? We in advertising, talk about changing the game through experiences, memorable stories and so much more.
And this is not only for brands, this is for TV shows, events, and definitely movies. Affect the totality of the senses of your consumers, you are now offering them an experience, a memory and a connection that they never thought they needed in their lives.