Non-Musical Elements in Song Production

The Word of the Day is “Ambience” 🙂

Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was perhaps the seventh or eighth album I’d ever gotten in my young life (long ago, yes) and had a huge impact on the way I listened to music and my understanding of what popular music could be in terms of content and production. An element of this that I’d long ago internalized was the use of spoken voices and ambient sounds to enhance the message of the music whether this noise is beneath the music, almost subliminal, or if it is prominent enough to obscure the music itself. There are other albums in the Pink Floyd discography that I could use as a reference here – as well as numerous other artists that also have used these techniques to great effect – but I refer here specifically to Pink Floyd primarily because Dark Side of the Moon laid the conceptual foundation in my head and also because I imagine that the music of Pink Floyd is familiar to most people and the best possible touchstone for this blog entry.  I once saw a snippet of video documentary in which Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour said something about how his band mate Roger Waters would not hesitate bury a musical moment underneath factory noises and the like if he thought it served the song.  It has stuck with me ever since.

I’d be a fool to try and deny the Pink Floyd influences across my catalog as Quicksilver Night because it’s self-evident throughout much of it but I think it’s doubly apparent when it comes to the song “Homecoming” from the Presque Vu mini EP. If you listen you’ll likely be struck by an overall gospel-like quality to its main themes – and I hope this is the case because it was intentional – but there comes a point when the tonality shifts to B minor (around 2:39) and the song assumes a deeper melancholy as the plaintive piano sounds while the pastor intones gentle words of hope and comfort. These words and the solo piano are soon overtaken by powerful chording and an insistent solo guitar that fairly drowns out everything else. As composer and producer I meant for a guitar solo – as it is wonderfully played here by Jason Cale – to evoke the sense of mental cacophony that obliterates all the sympathies and words of condolence that are heaped upon us at such times. The first verse lyrically touches upon that same thought; if you’ve ever sat numbly at a memorial service while well-intentioned people offered you half-heard words of consolation then you know exactly what I mean.

Rain whispers softly graveside, mute and yet unrelenting
(Echoes in your head, meaningless and so confused)
And you hear the words spoken from a page (makes no sense at all…)
Lines from an actor on the stage, curtains fall…

Stand in the open doorway; breathe of the dust and shadow
(And then say good bye to the ghosts that fill this room)
With your hand on the lines that marked you grow (turn and walk away…)
Mind on a child you used to know, yesterday…

Paint spatters on the carpet, free by a careless brushstroke
(Searching for a sign of what lies hidden here)
Like new skin covering those old dead scars (layered, buried deep…)
Thin, and you know just where they are, underneath…

As an aside I’d like to add that an acquaintance of mine experienced the loss of a loved one contemporaneously to his hearing this song and it resonated with him enough so that he played it on his podcast and quoted the lyrics with a catch in his throat. I’m still not quite sure how to feel about that; I was unaware of the timing and feel somewhat badly about it in spite of his assurances that no harm was done. Still, admittedly, it seems to me that there’s universality to the experience that I hope I’ve tapped into as a songwriter.

If you’re interested in perhaps checking out other such instances throughout the Quicksilver Night catalog then here’s a list of most (I likely missed something, TBH):

Symmetry (2018)
“The Symmetry Overture” (track 1): children at play
“Quicksilver Night” (track 3): a Sudanese camel market
“The Ship of Theseus” (track 4): waves and wheeling gulls
“Child of Spring” (track 8): ticking clocks

“Exeunt” (single, 2016): traffic

Reliquary (2015)
“Ultima Forsan” (track 1): ticking clocks
“Sojourner” (track 3): footsteps
“Exegesis” (track 4):  rain, distant thunder, church bell, sheep, & birds

Lucent (mini EP, 2012)
“Again the Cusp” (track 3): desolate winds

Some are more original than others, admittedly, while some are almost de rigueur in progressive rock (e.g. a ticking clock to evoke the passage of time, etc.)

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