How Pink Floyd constructed their music


Today I found an interesting article How Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” Was Born From an Argument Between Roger Waters & David Gilmour at the Open Culture website, describing how members of the Pink Floyd band worked together, when literally ‘constructing’ one of their most famous songs. It is really an impressive reading, even more a listening to explanations and musical results, which are all included in the article.

These are memories of events from almost forty years ago! A lot has changed in the world of music since that time. A lot of music nowadays is being produced by teams, so that “construction” process is nothing unique anymore. I wrote about in my previous posts about the Fourth Industrial Revolution in music and also about the ubiquity of music. But I see and hear a clear difference between then and now. And the Pink Floyd’s process documents this nicely.

It is not my intention here to disparage the creative process of current musicians and music producers. I have been just amazed by differences in the approach and especially in the outcomes of producing successful music recordings then and now.

A lot of current ‘popular’ music that now streams from all possible sources including the radio, Spotify, YouTube and many others, is literally manufactured by specialized teams of producers, technicians, DJs … and sometimes even — musicians(!). As most of the popular music has become a commodity, it is treated like that from the very first moment of its birth. The current business model is to mass-produce recordings in the fastest speed, to be monetized as much as possible. Music industry clearly wants to make profit, not art.

What a difference from the process Roger Waters and David Gilmour described! Each one had his own opinion and was willing to fight for it so much, that their differences made any further cooperation impossible. But their fights were also a fertile soil of the supreme artistic creativity, which resulted in such timeless music.

If the current music industry constructs something, metaphorically, those are the bricks to pave a road to profit. Everyone listens/walks on them without giving them too much thought and with each step further, the previous ones get almost immediately forgotten. The most important is to be constantly in the people’s eyes and possibly minds — and valets.

On the other hand what the band Pink Floyd built, was a piece of grand musical architecture, based on the solid foundation of musical artistry and creativity.
To some this may sound like an exaggeration. Especially to those who don’t like the progressive rock music, or to the younger audience raised on hip hop, rap or other more drums/rhythm-heavy genres. But if you belong to those groups, can you imagine yourself in forty years, listening with pleasure to the music you consume now? (Maybe you could, because it would be a part of your adulthood nostalgia, if there would still be a space for something like that in the future world.)

If you have time, or if you are curious to learn a bit more about the creative process and the Pink Floyd’s way in particular, read the article and click on videos included in the text.

First, Roger Waters explains the arguments about the Comfortably Numb song. The main point of contention was how the rhythm track sounded. The big disagreement ended up in a compromise, when a part of the song has one rhythm track and other part has the different one. And as Waters acknowledged, today they would have a hard time to find out which is which.

The next video brings the original demo recording of the song, that David Gilmour made, inspired by the sound of his own invention of the “high strung guitar”. If you know the final version of the song, you may be amazed to listen to its proto-version. The beauty and the energy is already there, only in a very rough form. As there is no lyrics yet, Gilmour sings only doo-doo. Many songwriters work in a similar manner, when they use only simple syllables, or their own made-up “language”.

In the following video, it is David Gilmour who explains the song’s genesis. He talks about how he changed strings on his guitar, not being clear about what the actual high strung guitar was about. Then he grabs a guitar and plays a few notes from the song’s famous solo, explaining how they arrived at the final sound of the instrument.

Afterwards, while listening to “the work in progress” variation of the song called The Doctor, you can appreciate the work done after the recording sessions. This work has been performed mainly by the co-producer Bob Ezrin and the orchestra arranger Michael Kamen, but included many other participating musicians and technicians.

The final version comes at the end and you can enjoy, again, the real masterpiece. It shows how a collaboration of two (often) opposing minds can give life to such a great music. The article will walk you from a rough demo on a strange sounding guitar, to one of the greatest song of the rock music history.

You may be asking, why am I writing about such a highly produced song here on the blog dedicated to the mindful music making. It is because, in my opinion, these are two opposing points on the music-making spectrum. And it is always great to learn and understand the whole ‘thing’. Pink Floyd took many months to prepare, write, record and produce their recordings. Their creative process is unique, as are the outcomes.

But this is the extreme! There is just one Pink Floyd. You can enjoy listening to their music. You can also learn from them, or to copy their way of playing (watch out for a potential copyright issues! …)

On the other hand, you can also decide to do your own music ‘thing’. You can accept inspiration from every possible source and then translate it into your own music. And you can learn to do it without comparing yourself with others. Do it non-judgementally. Enjoying the moment. Being present. And thus you will be making music mindfully.

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If you are interested, below is a video of Comfortably Numb, when original members of Pink Floyd reunited after 24 years and played it one last time together, for the Live 8 concert on July 2nd, 2005 in London’s Hyde Park.


photo: concert screenshot

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