A Brief History of Western Music – How Technology Has Changed The Industry – An Analysis

Considering the recent advances in technology surrounding music, it’s no surprise that the methods today are far different from those used even fifty years ago, and although we may not recognise it in this day and age, music has not always been so accessible and mainstream as it is today. With a particular focus on these technological elements of music, I will be analyzing, comparing and contrasting the songs Echoes by Pink Floyd, released on their album Meddle in 1971 and the 1997 track Battle by Blur. These two tracks have been chosen due to the similarities in style across decades, but also to highlight the specific instances in which technology played a part in their recording, production and release.

Echoes is a 23:31 minute track released on Pink Floyd’s 6th studio album Meddle, and is one of the bands defining tracks in their progression from psychedelic to progressive rock following the departure of Syd Barrett from the group. Written mostly in the key of C# Minor, the song starts with a repeated single piano note being played. This is the songs first example of technology being used to produce the sound required. The grand piano was amplified and the signal sent to a Leslie rotating speaker to produce the sharp, sustained and electric sonar like sound heard. This introduces the style of the song as minimalistic and with a distinctly fantastical feel. The Piano plays a quiet melody below this note as the song builds, before a slide guitar plays a melody based upon the progression of C#m – B – F#m – G#. The bass guitar then enters and mimics the guitar part, before a drum fill crescendos into a continued section, the bass plays a line based upon the aforementioned progression and the slide guitar continues. Two male vocals then enter, harmonising, Waters singing the higher parts and Gilmour the lower, the stanzas repeating the  C#m – B – F#m – G# progression twice then changes to C# – G# – F#m – G# – A. This progression is repeated throughout all of the verses. After the first verse it breaks into the first coda, recognised by the switch from slide to electric guitar, which repeats throughout the song. The verse repeats and after the second repeat of coda 1 the guitar solos based upon the coda, then continues as the coda is played underneath it. This is an example of the multitracking used by the band, consisting of four members, but having many more tracks used. In live performances of the song the many of the multi-tracked guitar is replaced by a saxophone, and in later performances with the advances of technology, the amplified piano sound being played on a keyboard rather than the original setup used when recording.

At 7 minutes, the tone changes to a funk inspired sound, made possible by use of funk techniques such as a syncopated bass line using the same note played in different octaves, and a focus more predominantly in the rhythm section, which is played in the tonic minor. Bass, Piano and Drums are the only instruments heard before the guitar enters, being played on electric guitar with a glass slide.

At around 11 minutes, the instrumentation enters a decrescendo, and fades into a more atmospheric sound. The wind like sound heard was produced by a glass slide being rubbed on the bass guitar while being amplified through a Bison Echorec echo machine. Then enters a distorted, seagull-call like sound that the guitar plays which was produced when Gilmour accidentally plugged in his wah-wah pedal back to front, another example again of having to manually produce sounds that may be easy to replicate now due to the restrictions in technology in 1970-71. This sound adds to the eerie and distant qualities of the lyrics and the song in general, and is one of the most distinct uses of technology on the track.

During the 15th minute, the track reverts to the introductory piano note with added synthesised piano and drums in the background with guitar soon following. Adding to the distinct phrase already heard builds the song into what is the musical climax of the song, where an arpeggiated riff in 12/8, which uses a hint of overdrive or boost to enhance the feel of the guitar. This section contrasts the previous sections quite sensationally, the addition of the riff makes the song feel complete and adds a sense of completion to a discordant and eerie track. This follows by another section of verses, to close out the song. These verses have the texture of the track boosted, and provide a more hearty conclusion to the song after the climactic 12/8 section. This fades into an extended outro, where the same progression is followed, and the guitar and piano trade melodies as the dreamy tone of the song continues until the end. The wind effect is then added, another example of the use of multi-tracking by the band, and it continues as the other instruments fade out until the end of the song.

Being 23 minutes long in 1971, Echoes takes up the entirety of side 2 on the LP, which contrasts heavily with the ability to use CD and MP3 formats to have near unlimited reign on the length of a track today, and was a significant decision technologically for a track which embraces the technology that was available for use at the time.

Battle by blur was released on their 1999 effort 13, and is one of the longest, and most progressive of their tracks to that point. In the key of A Major , at 7:43 long, it’s the longest track on the album, however it’s among three seven-minute plus tracks, and one of six exceeding five minutes. On a 13 track album, the quantity of “long” songs is the first example that technology had allowed bands greater freedom in regards to the lengths of both songs and albums. Battle starts with a heavily distorted guitar playing a tension building quickfire staccato, before the keyboard adds the melody repeated throughout the song. This melody is a melancholy one, making use of the tone set by the guitar. There is distorted and discordant bass that is added in pieces, before a hard hitting and memorable drum beat adds another layer to the song. There are small hints of sound effect-like bites in the background, a sign that blur are making use of the multi-tracking and digital sound technology available to them.

The chorus, of lyric “Battle”, follows a progression of A – Bm – D – F – E, with the keyboard melody using the root notes to form itself, while the verses follow a A – G – F – E progression. There is a significant use of multi-tracking in the song, with multiple vocal, keyboard and guitar tracks all present to create a heavy and muddy texture while retaining the progressive and melancholy tone provided by the key, melody and lyricism. The timbre of the song stays the same from the introductory chorus and the first verse, but in the second chorus another layer of heavily distorted electric guitar is added in the foreground, providing even more of a heavy edge to the dark tone of the song. Into the third verse, the texture changes, with the majority of the sound coming from the heavy drums, and also the guitar which continues playing the chord progression, but then plays palm muted chords with heavy delay on them, making the sound quasi-futuristic and adding another layer of space-age vibes to the already techno influenced song. The addition of slight feedback, and a science fiction sounding warped and digitalised keyboard adds even more of a futuristic and experimental sound to the song, and showcases sounds that have only been made possible through the advances in digital sound technology. The next chorus is thinner in texture, with no drums and focus on the vocals, digital keyboard (as mentioned before) and bass guitar. This section is the first instance in which the bass can be clearly heard, and the stripped sound of this verse reintroduces the emotional quality that the lyrics bring to the song. In the next section the bass takes the forefront in playing a boomy and echoing line, while the drums are slowly brought back in playing a soft beat, and the digital keyboard adds some more futuristic and electronic tones. It then very suddenly increased in texture and dynamic and returns to the fully fledged sound heard earlier in the song. It then breaks into a heavily distorted and delayed vocal phrase, which makes use of a large number of digital effects, again cementing the track as one with a high use of modern technology. The outro of the song contains another distinct sounding, wobbly and electronic guitar or keyboard, heavily modified and a screeching guitar lick, very reminiscent of the “seagull” squeals in Echoes, however the increased availability of pedals, pre-amps and post production software makes same sound easier to digitally recreate, and is a perfect contrast between the technological capabilities of 1971 and 1999. At around the 6:30 mark, there is a hidden track at the end of Battle, one of five on four of 13’s tracks. This inclusion of a variety of hidden tracks is also a showing that recording and releasing technology has become more proficient, given the inclusion of hidden tracks is generally scarce, and usually following the final track of a side.

Both Echoes and Battle use a large variety of technology, be it multi-tracking, unique amplification and distortion, or even decisions made when releasing such as the length, sides and hidden tracks. However where the examples in Echoes are all done manually, experimenting with the equipment available to the band and taking strange and unique steps to achieve the sound, Battle makes use of the digital age to produce a futuristic and electronic rock song with a plethora of different sounds during the 7:43. These two tracks show the extremes that classic and modern technologies can but put through in the music industry, and demonstrates how far it’s come, and how it’s changed music forever.

-AJ Lienert

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A Brief History of Western Music – How Technology Has Changed The Industry – An Analysis

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