Sunday, February 28, 2010

Echoes

Echoes 23:31
     (written by Waters, Wright, Mason, Gilmour)

Lyrics:
Overhead the albatross hangs motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves in labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant time
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine
And no one showed us to the land
And no one knows the wheres or whys
But something stirs, and something tries
It starts to climb towards the light
 

Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
And do I take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand the best I can
And no one calls us to move on
And no one forces down our eyes
No one speaks, and no one tries
No one flies around the sun


Cloudless every day you fall upon my waking eyes
Inviting and inciting me to rise
And through the window in the wall
Come streaming in on sunlight wings
A million bright ambassadors of morning
And no one sings me lullabies
And no one makes me close my eyes
So I throw the windows wide
And call to you across the sky


Lead vocals, fretless bass: Dave Gilmour
Backing (harmony) vocals: Richard Wright

The first piece to be recorded for the album and by far the most important, Echoes is today considered one of the great Pink Floyd classics. Many groups of Pink Floyd fans today still vote this as one of their favorite tracks of all time. Its complex multi-layered melodies led critic Karl Dallas to comment that the band had mastered the ability of ‘playing the mixing board like a fifth instrument,’ an ability which would serve them well in years to come. New technology which was available allowed many more overdubs then were previously possible, creating layers of sound effects, melodies and harmonies. It was definitely a musical turning point for the group. Dave Gilmour has commented that it was around this time that he began to be proud of his playing.

Dave Gilmour: “At the end of Echoes is this kind of guitar orchestra going on, about four different parts all joining together to create a sound. I still think that is wonderful."

The lyrics are not Roger’s best, though they do make oblique references to deep-rooted issues in every human being. The first verse evokes the undersea setting of the song, which may be an allegory for the subconscious. In the latter part of the first verse, and straight through the song, there are lyrics which may be interpreted to refer to each individual’s struggle to break free of dependencies (especially on authority figures, those who purport to know the ‘wheres and whys’), and establish their own independent identity. (And indeed, it was at this time in his life that Roger was beginning to realize that one has to take hold of one's own destiny and steer it in the desired direction — see Time under The Dark Side of the Moon.) The second verse blurs the perceived distinctions between individuals, referring to the true unity of people, each seeking both a sense of individuality and a sense of oneness with their fellow man. There is a sense of freedom here, as ‘no one calls us to move on,’ i.e. no one is enforcing a code of behavior any longer. The final verse reveals the feeling of a new dawn which comes with true independence; and yet the singer, feeling alone, calls to a companion, ending with the feeling that he wants someone to sing him lullabies and close his eyes after all.

The story of how Echoes came about is detailed. After an extended period of boredom with the music that was being composed in ‘69 and ‘70, the band finally became excited with their direction when they sat down in January of 1971 to begin work on what they felt would be their best piece to date. Work began by allowing a very open atmosphere for creativity, putting down any and all ideas that anyone had. First, 24 concrete musical ideas were recorded, which was later expanded to 36.

Dave Gilmour: "We did the whole lot in the studio in January and we've got 24 things down in all — under the working title of 'Nothing — Parts One to Twenty-four,' but then we never know what an album will be called or what it will sound like right up until the finish."

Nick Mason: "We booked the studio for January, and throughout January we went in and played, anytime that anyone had any sort of rough idea for something we would put it down. It was a specific attempt to sort of do something by a slightly different method. By the end of January we listened back and we'd got 36 different bits and pieces that sometimes cross-related and sometimes didn't. Echoes was made up from them that."

One of the experimental ideas that was used for creating this piece was that the group would decide on a key, and while the rest of the band left the room, one of them would play something, each person adding bits and pieces. Dave considered this experiment unsuccessful: "It was absolute rubbish..." However, it was successful in at least one respect. While playing around with his keyboards, Rick decided to amplify them through a Leslie rotating speaker. One particular note stood out very clearly. Dave called it "a strange resonance... kind of a feedback thing... Ping! A complete accident. We said 'That's great!' and we used it as the start of the piece."

And so the sound was used at the beginning and other points throughout the song, whose title was also inspired by its echoing sound. The rough ideas laid down in January were developed during March, April, and early May at Abbey Road. Some of the 36 ideas were jettisoned and some were combined, until seven or eight major musical themes remained, forming a cohesive piece which was ready to be officially performed live for the first time at the Crystal Palace Garden Party in London on 15 May 1971 (the unofficial premiere was 22 April). At this time it went under the title of The Return of the Son of Nothing. The group were certainly taking their time in their meticulous development of the piece. Three and a half months had already been used up fiddling about in the studio, without much formal recording.

Dave Gilmour commented: "Basically we're the laziest group ever. Other groups would be quite horrified if they saw how we really waste our recording time."

Midway through May the band moved its operations to Morgan Sound Studios to finish the recording of Echoes, partially because those were the only studios around with the new 16 track tape machines. This equipment was put to good use, and allowed the segues and sound effects to blend more smoothly. Recording for the song probably wrapped at the end of May, though some additional overdubs may have been added at the next studio session in July. For guitar fans, Dave used his Fender Stratocaster and Lewis with fuzz, wah-wah, and vibrato effects for the recording.

Nick Mason talks about the structure of the piece and its similarity to past work.
Nick: "The constructing of Echoes is rather similar to Atom Heart Mother [Suite] in terms of it running through various movements. But the movements are so different that I don't feel we've had to milk Atom Heart Mother [Suite] to produce Echoes. There are similarities between Atom Heart Mother and Meddle. I don't think we could have done Meddle without doing Atom Heart Mother. There are various things in the construction that have a Pink Floyd flavor, but are also very dangerous Pink Floyd clichés. One is the possible tendency to get stuck into a sort of slow four tempo. And the other thing is to take a melody line and flog it to death. Maybe we'll play it once slow and quiet, the next time a bit harder and the third time really heavy, which tends to come a little bit into Meddle and in Atom Heart Mother, but it's slightly more forgivable with the choir and orchestra 'cause it's nice building on an orchestra and bringing in extra brass and playing more complex lines."

Working titles: Nothing Parts 1-24, Nothing Parts 1-36, Nothing to the Sun and Back, The Son of Nothing, The Return of the Son of Nothing, We Won the Double (inspired by the fact that in 1971 Arsenal won the league title and the FA Cup).

Alternate titles live in concert: Echoes was at various times introduced as The Return of the Son of Nothing (April through October 1971), Looking Through the Knotholes in Granny's Wooden Leg (late '72), Nothing to the Sun and Back, and The March of the Dambusters (late ‘72).



TRACK LISTING
One of These Days
Pillow of Winds, A
Fearless
San Tropez
Seamus
Echoes

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