Dali: The Endless Enigma

Various Artists

Tracks: 1 — Tuna Fishing (Michael Stearns); 2 — The Great Masturbator (Michel Huygen); 3 — Shades of Night Descending (Walter Holland); 4 — Inventions of the Monsters (Djam Karet); 5 — Impressions of Africa (Loren Nerell); 6 — Face of Mae West (Klaus Schulze); 7 — Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina (Bo Tomlyn); 8 — Birth of Liquid Desires (Steve Roach and Robert Rich); 9 — The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (Steve Roach); 10 — Rhinocerotic Figure of Phidas’ “Illisos” (Steve Roach and Robert Rich)

Tags: Electronica, New Age, Meditative

Release Date: 1990

Rating: ★★★★☆

I found this recording a few years after its 1990 release. It’s a tribute to the life and works of surrealist artist Salvador Dali; the composers turned to Dali’s paintings for their inspiration, and these tracks are the result of that labor of love. Like Dali’s own work, this album is not for everyone. There will be times when you will have to suspend your prejudices about music in order to hear what the composer was working to achieve  —  and that goes for everyone from lovers of classical music to aficionados of grunge metal. There are sounds and musical experiences in the collection to challenge anyone of any taste, and if you’re lucky, you’ll come away with appreciation if not pleasure in the experience. (Happily, none of it is as grotesque and inaccessible as Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, which I’m loathe to inflict upon anyone.)

Dali’s imagination and vision was, to say the least, unique. I can think of no other artist who so freely used language and art exactly as he wished, and damn-all with convention, opinion, or taste. One may not much like the picture associated with the title, “Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano,” but you must agree that someone who came up with that image and title is a force to be reckoned with. This picture is, in fact, the cover for this compilation. If there is such a thing as “getting” this image, I can’t say that I do; however, it’s not something that you can really turn your gaze from without at least wondering just what the fur it’s “about.”

I was attracted to this compilation because I knew earlier works by contributors Michael Stearns, Klaus Schulze, and Steve Roach. All three men have created some of the most fascinating electronica available, then and now. Schulze was a pioneer in the field from back in the early 1970s, with albums like Blackdance and Timewind. Stearns has been responsible for some of my deepest, most lush musical journeys, including the soundtrack to the film Chronos and a brilliant sonic dreamscape entitled Planetary Unfolding. (I’m also partial to his Ancient Leaves album.) Steve Roach has produced some of the most ethereal and gentle electronic tapestries ever conceived, including Structures from Silence and his Quiet Music series; at one point, I used to enjoy falling asleep to the sounds of “Seeking Safety,” a cut from his double-CD Dreamtime Return, inspired by Australian aboriginal magic and ritual. He teams with Robert Rich on this album, as he has for many others; my introduction to the collaboration was Strata.

The music in this collection is atypical of the works of these artists, compared to the quieter strains that they usually produce. Their style and essence are retained, but the music itself is more strange, more surreal  —  and why not, considering the source? The inspiration seems to have pressed each composer into new territories based upon his own style. The departure from what we’re used to makes these works all the more interesting.

Of the artists with whom I was unfamiliar, Djam Karet (whose name means “the hour that stretches”) has created one of the most interesting sound environments. In the liner notes, the band says that they “read” Dali’s painting “Inventions of the Monsters” from left to right as if it were sheet music. Intermixed with the softly-changing tones and chords of synthesizer and electric guitars, voices of cats, dogs, horses, and other, less familiar, animals chorus into a tapestry that describes Dali’s picture with eerie precision.

Bo Tomlyn’s “Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina” combines music, ambient sound, and repeated whisperings of the title of Dali’s work into a haunting mixture that defies a precise description. In the liner notes, Tomlyn observes that simply being able to pronounce the words correctly is only the first challenge. “Initially,” he writes, “I saw [in the painting] a meditative figure with bones exploding outward from the body. I heard the somber drone of tranquil meditation with the sound of arpeggiated, harmonically brittle bones moving throughout.” Tomlyn is true to this musical vision; the effect is not easily forgotten.

I must confess that, when I first heard this CD, I wasn’t entirely sure that I liked it. It requires at least two auditions to be able to appreciate the various subtleties that lie beneath the surface, and it became one of my favorite compilations, one that I still enjoy over 25 years later. I’ve not yet performed the experiment of viewing Dali’s paintings online while listening to each selection through high-quality headphones. If the purpose of art is to communicate, then the paintings and music might act as translators to each other. Such an experience will be about as close as I’ll get to speaking in tongues.

Originally produced by Coriolis Records, this CD may not be available after all these years, except for used or import copies. Worth the hunt.


One Reply to “Dali: The Endless Enigma”

  1. I was able to find and listen to the first track “Tuna Fishing” – definitely surreal in every sense of the word. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for this the next time I’m at my local Book Off.

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