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Live at Pompeii

January 29th, 2008 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

EMI Records recently released yet another box set on Pink Floyd’s behalf. It’s at least the second of which I’m aware, the first having been released during my tenure at that fine, albeit troubled, concern. Its quixotic descent into the market place stimulated me to think about the greatest Pink Floyd record that never was released, which is “Live at Pompeii.”

The history of Pink Floyd can be divided into three parts. First, the twee Syd Barrett phase, which is delightful in its naïve, pop psychedelia. Second, the serious, extra-psychedelic, experimental music phase. Third, “Dark Side of the Moon,” and thereafter.

I definitely enjoy the first one+ records with Syd, God Bless Him. While I used to enjoy “Dark Side of the Moon” and its progeny, I now have come to think of them as somewhat lumbering and ponderous – in a way, crushed under their own, majestic weight. The middle phase is the one I like best. In this, I would include “More,” “Atom Heart Mother,” and “Obscured by Clouds.” However, the paradigm is “Meddle,” and in particular the song “Echoes,” which is at the core of “Live at Pompeii.” “Echoes” is without a doubt the best Pink Floyd song, ever.

“Live at Pompeii” actually was a movie, filmed in 1972 at (guess where) the amphitheater at Pompeii. In addition to performances of key numbers from the Pink Floyd oeuvre, it has a lengthy version of “Echoes.” The band previously had released “Ummagumma,” which has some of the same material, though from a sonic standpoint it is poorly recorded. The songs also evolved over time. Throughout “Live at Pompeii,” the band’s musical dexterity and boundary-stretching experimentalism are astonishing.

I do not believe in theories of music that require one to hypothesize imaginary objects or project oneself into imaginary worlds, such as those espoused by Peter Kivy, see, e.g., Sound Sentiment (1989); New Essays on Musical Understanding (2001); An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music (2002); and Music, Language and Cognition (2007). With all due respect to Prof. Kivy, his hypotheses emanate from misguided, faux-Cartesian notions about an opposition between “mind” and “world.”

Recent theorists such as Robert Jourdain, Music, the Brain and Ecstasy (1997); Daniel J. Levitin, This Is Your Brain on Music; and Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia (2007) modestly intrigue me. Essentially, they adopt a “cognitive science” approach. They believe, in principle, it’s possible to localize musical emotion to specific sites in the brain. This notion is inherently dubious, however, because no amount of localization to specific brain sites ever will account for the intensity of musical emotion, which depends on a variety of non-quantifiable personal and cultural factors.

Finally, I wholly disbelieve a book like that by Alex Ross, The Rest Is Noise (2007), who fulsomely attempts to describe a range of emotions specifically attributable to various musical works. He can think whatever he wants. His speculative conjectures about what “he” “feels” or what the composer “intended,” however, can’t possibly be generalized. In many instances, for me, the emotions or feelings conjured by many of the works he cites, are completely opposed to his.

Having thus disclosed my biases and proclivities, there are few works as evocative for me as “Echoes.” The reprise, right before they segue into the final verse, makes me want to laugh, and cry.

Shortly after it came out, I took my camera and went to Torrey Pines Beach, near Del Mar, California. The sun was setting. Every 10 steps or so, I took a picture, looking down the beach. At the large rock at the end of the beach, I turned and faced the sun, just as it was setting, taking a dozen or so more.

These all were “colored slides.” For those of you unaware of this medium, in our era of jpeg’s, tiff’s and mp3’s, “colored slides” are thin strips of 35mm celluloid. One of their main annoyances is that, when you project them, there’s an “interval” or “dark spot” as one unloads from, and the other loads into, the projector. You can solve this pesky problem with something called a “dissolve,” which fades or “laps” one slide into the other. I had two (actually, four) Kodak Ectographic projectors, with dissolves. So, by fading one slide into the other, I was able to create an illusion of movement down the beach. I timed this so it exactly matched the length of the recorded version of “Echoes.” And, in 1971 or thereabouts, this was the height of psychedelia. We later used this same technique, only projecting from the rear, in a band I was in, which made for an entertaining backdrop. Images of clouds, nebula, stained-class windows, burned-out buildings, ruined cathedrals, etc.

Although I paid hundreds of dollars for them in the early 1970s, Ectographic slide projectors now can be had cheaply on eBay. Before I sold mine, or gave them away, or threw them out, I projected some slides. It was surprising, and disheartening, to see how dim they were. A company I was associated with had an incredibly luminescent Sony projector. Among other things, you could project, lap and dissolve whatever images you could rustle up from your computer, including amazing blob-like constructions, courtesy of iTunes. The intensity of these images was so strong that it put the ole’ Ectographics to shame.

The slides were faded, but not my memory – which had caught me in its languorous embrace. It’s my intention to scan the slides, at some point. Since the dyes will have changed, they’ll need to be color-balanced in Photo Shop. Hopefully, I will be able to attempt to replicate this magical effect from so long ago. Even then, it will be but a wistful Echo.

When I explained all of this to a colleague of mine, he told me of a program he had acquired, which enabled one to strip off or “capture” the audio, from a DVD. I said, “let’s experiment with ‘Live at Pompeii.’” Courtesy of the usual ultra-fast service from NetFlix, it arrived two days later. After an hour or two, the entire audio track from the DVD had been converted to CD-quality audio-only.

From there, it was a simple matter to snap it into Logic. The first thing we did was edit out all of the band’s annoying chatter about how much they’re in love with themselves, their equipment, rock music, etc. Next, we ditched all of the rehearsal material for “Dark Side of the Moon,” which is of little interest. We retained a few interesting guitar solos from David Gilmour, and synth foolery from Roger Waters.

Having isolated this material, we cross-faded all of it and thereby constructed the greatest Pink Floyd album that never was – “Live at Pompeii.” Unfortunately, not available for commercial release or even private duplication, apart from the private experiments set forth here.

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The Pink Floyd