Breathe, breathe in the air…

Posted: March 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

This week, 40 years ago, Dark Side of the Moon was released.  There is so much that could be written (and will be written, and has been written) about this album that the thought of adding to the cacophony of prose regarding the meaning, importance, influence, and amount of drugs consumed while listening to this album is daunting.  Not to minimize all of that (this was the first album I ever owned; my brother gave it to me for my 11th birthday), but I figured I’d focus on one groundbreaking aspect of the album.

The cleanliness of the music.

One of the things that defined progressive rock music was attention to detail, and the fervent desire to get everything “right”, almost to the point of “the audience be damned”, and certainly to the point of “the record company be damned”.  The bands were going to do things the way THEY thought were correct.  Period.  And enough of an audience was there that appreciated that approach to make it worthwhile.

Listening to music, and certainly a lot of rock music, there will be some blending of sounds from different instruments.  Often, we’ll not be able to pick out the bass from the bass drum in a song.  Or the guitar will be in the same  frequency as the synthesizer.  There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it can be frustrating to those of us that like to “micro-listen”.

On DSOTM, Pink Floyd wanted the audience to be able to hear each sound on its own.  Any blending of instruments was intentional.  Every note and every sound had a point and a purpose, and they wanted to make sure nothing got lost.

They used separation of frequency keeping the notes themselves apart, and when that was unavoidable, they used the speakers to separate the sounds.  That’s why it was so mind-blowing the first time I listened to it on headphones.  I got the full effect of what they were trying to do.

The best example of this on the album was the famous opening of the song Time.  There are 8 sets of sounds being played — I’ll point them out and where they separated by speaker (where in your head you hear it, for lack of a better term).  They made sure that similar notes on the scale weren’t coming from the same place.

  1. The bass drum “heartbeat” —  middle
  2. The snare drum “ticking clock” — middle
  3. Guitar — left
  4. Bass — right
  5. Synth — middle
  6. Keyboard — right
  7. Organ — middle
  8. The drum solo, which is all over the place, a separation in itself.

Now, what they did with the drums is excellent as far as the imagery of the song and the album are concerned.  Two of them are surface-level, the “ticking clock” for the song, and the “heartbeat” is a theme throughout the album, which is conceptually about life and our failures and madness within it (Roger Waters was SUCH a ray of sunshine).

But the drum solo captured the essence of the song so beautifully.  The song is about how we’re all chasing Time, in quiet desperation.  And when you listen on headphones, the drum solo is like that — like time is a fly buzzing around your head that you can’t quite catch.  I also love how, at about 1:15 of the opening snippet above, the heartbeat picks up, as we are getting more desperate to catch the damn fly.

Here’s the whole song, if you’d like:


40 years on, it still works, doesn’t it?

  1. Sophie says:

    What a lovely blog post, I couldn’t agree more. I really wonder what these guys were envisaging when they created this masterpiece of an album in their London studios. It didn’t follow the generic rules of songwriting that’s for sure.

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