Pink Floyd: Sight, Sound, and Structure Conference
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
In this article, we wrap up our full coverage of what turned out to be a fascinating, and unique event at a respected seat of learning in New Jersey, USA. Following the Thursday, April 10th open jam session launch of the "Pink Floyd: Sight, Sound, and Structure" conference at Princeton University, which we reported on separately, things began to focus on all things James Guthrie the following evening (Friday, April 11th) with a screening of "The Wall". Guthrie, who produced and won a Grammy award for his engineering work on the music that carried the project, was scheduled to deliver the keynote speech on Sunday evening (April 13th). He was also preparing to premiere his just-finished 5.1 surround sound version of Roger Waters' "Amused to Death" during the conference on Saturday (April 12th). "The Wall" screening was a great way to whet people's appetite for the rest of the weekend – and to re-introduce Guthrie to those in attendance. This article covers all these events, plus others that took place over the weekend...
"The Wall" on the Big Screen
Hosted by Princeton University's Film Society, the event offered conference attendees and the public an opportunity to see "The Wall" on the big screen. Watching the film at this scale may be a more visceral experience today for four important reasons: (1) at this point, most of us are used to seeing it on a small screen, which has subtly purloined the cinematographic intent; (2) as the film, and Pink Floyd, attract new and younger fans the issues tackled in the story begin to bifurcate into (a) timeless themes as well as (b) subjects requiring an ever-increasing depth in the study of history, stretching farther back as budding minds are exposed to an ever-growing set of unfolding events (current affairs); also (3) Roger Waters' recent "The Wall Live" tour has hit the proverbial refresh button on this project, and (4) Waters himself chose to adapt, elaborate on, and expand the meaning of the symbolic instruments employed in "The Wall" during his recent tour in order to address (aforementioned) current affairs - giving "The Wall" a space to inhabit in our historical milieu and bridging "present" and "past" in a compelling way. It is the perfect cocktail to take "The Wall" in again on a large screen and to appreciate the original vision of this work more fully.
As the audience walked out of the screening there was a great deal of discussion – and a sense (as well as comments) that a panel or question and answer session should have followed. Yet, this was not off-putting: it beckoned the potential for a future conference and gave substance to the idea that Pink Floyd fans are not passive listeners but denizens of parallel universes: one where Rock n' Roll offers protracted youth and one where its sages can ponder song meanings (and structures) in greater depth than most ordinary music fans do. Pink Floyd holds a unique place in music history that lends itself to this balance – a case could be made for other bands that can fit this academic approach (e.g., Rush). Pink Floyd offers, more uniquely, a convergence of imagery art and music, as well as theater and film that is only common to the biggest bands in rock history. And this is not the first time Pink Floyd has been given the academic treatment: among those who have pioneered this approach is Dr. Shaugn O'Donnell (City University of New York), who was scheduled to speak and moderate a panel during the conference.
Given the many ways we are now afforded to approach "The Wall" (and many more to come, e.g., a "The Wall Live" DVD – and most likely a live album too – as well as a potential Broadway play), it seems vital to help preserve the integrity of the original work, which is what a screening like the one held at Princeton University contributes to.
The Surround Sound Playback Session: The 5.1 Surround Sound Mix Premiere of "Amused to Death"
The premiere of James Guthrie's 5.1 surround sound mix of "Amused to Death" can be fully described as follows: un-fu****g-believable; the end.
But there is a great deal to say about this effort and about the unique opportunity Princeton University offered music and high fidelity enthusiasts. The hard-work that went into this – from the remix, to the actual playback sessions – deserves a fuller narrative, particularly for those who could not be there.
Let us work through the chronology (somewhat) in reverse:
Two sessions were held, back-to-back, as part of the "Pink Floyd: Sight, Sound, and Structure" conference: each session featured a premiere of Roger Waters' "Amused to Death" in 5.1 surround sound, followed by a spin of each "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" in the same format.
The conference organizers, Gilad Cohen and Dave Molk (both PhD candidates in composition at the University) introduced James Guthrie, who discussed the technical aspects of the presentation and the history of the remix effort, including anecdotes about the album's original development.
A series of ATC speakers were flown in from the United Kingdom for this event, to replicate the sonic environment of Guthrie's Lake Tahoe studio and to give the audience the fullest auditory experience possible. While many ordinary household audiovisual arrangements include 5.1 surround sound capability, the equipment we are talking about here is unique on a pretty epic scale: this is not your better-than-average equipment from Best Buy or Currys (depending on your side of the pond) but the same stuff that Guthrie's clients are listening to their own work through when they are recording at his Lake Tahoe studio.
The event was held in a rehearsal space at the University's music department that had to be especially tailored for this. If you have visited the Royal Albert Hall in London and noticed the mushroom-shaped ornaments that hang from its ceiling, or you are familiar with the banners that hung from the ceilings at Earl's Court during the "Division Bell Tour", you may have a reasonable idea of how spaces are filled to deliver the highest sound quality experience possible – these tools are employed to better manage acoustics. Accordingly, quilt material hung from the ceiling in the rehearsal room directly above one quarter of the room and the space directly above a row of three speakers. Three large speakers were placed directly in front of a carefully arranged set of seats, with two equally large speakers at each side of the arrangement, on the back – a standard distribution for 5.1 surround systems but in this case one that had to fill a fairly large space. Off to the right side of the front speakers James Guthrie and his assistant, Joel Plante, worked from a small mixing board surrounded by computer and stereo equipment.
One important thing to note is that, this evening, what the audience heard was as close to a CD product as you could get before the actual, published work. What was played was a "pre-manufacturing" or "pre-production" version that was emancipated from any compression limits that may affect, even if very minimally, what will be made available in stores sometime down the road – this is one reason the event offered a truly unique opportunity for fans, in addition to Guthrie's ushering the audience through the effort's history, into playback.
Guthrie stated an official release for this version of "Amused to Death" would take place at an 'as-of-yet undetermined time' – but not far off; that it is ready to come out, but that he was unable to offer any details on a release date. He went on to explain that "Amused to Death" is an album that took about four-to-five years to put together – overlapping a great deal of change in recording technology, which meant that (given the recording period) Waters worked his way from analog to digital sources in the process: going from 24 to 48 tracks, and eventually to a Sony 3348 multi-track recording system.
As a result, Guthrie knew he faced an unusually complicated project – stating that he warned Waters that, in fact, they would not know if they really had a project until they were deep into the endeavor.
Having to gather sources from all these scattered tapes in the United Kingdom was part of the challenge – and one that Waters and Guthrie agreed to pursue largely as a result of fan interest. In fact, the reason a 5.1 surround sound version of "Amused to Death" is now complete is that, following an announcement that an SACD version of the album would be released, Guthrie was flooded with requests for the 5.1 surround sound product. As Guthrie told the audience, "I told Roger this had to be done with the art alone in mind; we couldn't count on it being profitable."
And so with that background, Guthrie played "Amused to Death" like it has not been heard before.
The music and the effects breathe. The distribution of vocals, relative to the instruments and the effects, deliver an immersive experience that is much more emotive and engaging – lifting each track from "song" status to a more substantive piece within a larger, dramatic structure. If you purchased this album in 1992 and have played it on occasion since, you will be blown away by how different the 5.1 surround sound experience is… and how NEW it really sounds.
The album has aged well… you could make a case the album HASN'T aged. It sounds fresh. The melodies, the structure, the sound effects, the composition – and the production quality – have always been great. The 5.1 surround version unleashes its full potential and gives you a sense of novelty that is rarely matched in re-mixes, re-releases, and re-masters. This accomplishment can be attributed to two people and the teams they surround themselves with: Roger Waters and the caliber of musicians on the album, as well as Guthrie and his production team. This synergy sustains the Pink Floyd brand and is the reason Guthrie has become such a prominent player in his production role for the band. In a sense, what Storm Thorgerson delivered in terms of imagery, Guthrie delivers in terms of production quality, improvements (that will continue evolving as technology advances), and overall audio-visual gate-keeping.
As the album began to play, the absence of hiss (which was never pronounced or palpable on "Amused to Death") was impressive given the volume and range capability of the system being used at the playback event. If the clarity of the crescendo at the album's onset was absorbing, it was Jeff Beck's screeching yet bluesy and deep guitar melody, kicking in aggressively, that really smacked the audience hard about a minute and a few seconds into "What God Wants, Part I", bringing home the point that this was the resurrection of a real (and under-recognized) masterpiece.
The mix makes the fuller-band-experience the star: it is much easier to recognize and appreciate the contributions made by a diverse set of artists that included Graham Broad, Denny Fongheiser, Jeff Porcaro and Luis Conte on drums and percussion (check out Fongheiser's punch on "The Bravery of Being Out of Range"); it also included Beck, Steve Lukather, Geoff Whitehorn, Andy Fairweather Low, Tim Pierce, B.J. Cole, Rick DiFonso, and Bruce Gaitsch on guitars. Each deserves to be mentioned – the remix really allows the guitar parts to drive the album's peaks and valleys. If you are a guitar player and/or fan, the surround sound remix will be spot-on. There are many other musicians that deserve praise and who can be given proper recognition following the new surround mix, such as Don Henley, whose vocals are far more noticeable on "Watching TV."
Another important aspect of the remix (and one that those in the audience with keen ears noticed) is that a number of elements were added to some tracks, e.g., in "The Bravery of Being Out of Range". If the listener has an ambitious imagination, these elements and many others that now stand out with greater clarity give hints of what Pink Floyd may have sounded like with Roger Waters in 1992. This may be a very personal observation – but the remix seems to flesh out bits that sound a great deal like what the classic Pink Floyd line-up may have sounded like in that period, playing on an album between "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" and "The Division Bell", with Waters contributing the weight of his vision and musical prowess in the hypothetical, reunited band. Any appreciable measure of this is the result of the potential ‘stretch-of-the-imagination' Waters' gigantic presence on the two pre-Gilmour era albums ("The Wall" and "The Final Cut") and the technology of the time (1992) combined can compel, i.e., had Pink Floyd, as a quartet in the "Amused to Death" era, approached an album (this album?) together, at least some minor parts that this remix highlights may reflect what they may have sounded like – and it has to do a great deal with the texture it enriches.
The details that have been given new life in the remix frame the elements Waters brought to Pink Floyd most vividly. The additional elements, including samples of ‘HAL 9000' from "2001: A Space Odyssey", (which director Stanley Kubrick had infamously declined to yield any rights for but have now managed their way onto the new remix), cement Waters' vision for this work more clearly.
The experience was goosebump-inducing. And if you are not keen on reality TV and the general direction entertainment has taken – not to mention the escalating convergence of entertainment and news – then you will find Waters' disdain for visual illiteracy in the early 1990s a great fit today.
This is a remix that should be approached as you would a new album – the quality Guthrie delivers deserves that. Since this is Water's last studio (rock) album, it still is, in many ways, his "new one". But with another one reportedly in the pipeline, it may be time to re-familiarize with "Amused to Death" and to embrace the stronger sense of continuity between the twain, which Guthrie facilitates by closing all the gaps one anticipates on account of evolving recording technology between 1992 and 2014, or whenever Waters delivers his next album (which is apparently not that far off either).
The Surround Playback Session: "The Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here"
Hearing "Amused to Death" in 5.1 surround sound crystallizes the sense that "The Dark Side of the Moon's" strongest and most permanent quality is, clearly, the uniqueness that has made it one of the best-selling albums of all time.
The surround mix, which has been commercially available (along with "Wish You Were Here") for some time now, is a real treat – "The Dark Side of the Moon" is such an iconic album that the remixed version's strength is in spreading out and highlighting familiar qualities. The vocal harmonies are stronger and the guitars melodies spread more evenly and richly over the texture of the aforementioned vocals, as well as Richard Wright's iconic keyboard parts.
Some will bicker over this thought: it is quite possible that what carries "The Dark Side of the Moon" is Nick Mason's drumming – something that becomes quite evident on the band's live album "Pulse" (specifically, it's corresponding, full-length rendition of "The Dark Side of the Moon"). This does not diminish any other contributions that made "The Dark Side of the Moon" what it is – but it does highlight the fact that even if an element could manifest more strongly in a remix (because it is so flattering to the overall piece) it does not automatically justify it taking precedence over the rest of those parts that, together, make it so memorable (special effects included). Some albums lend themselves better to that pliability than others do and "The Dark Side of the Moon's" iconic status limits that threshold because it's SO iconic. What seems to carry the most weight in the "The Dark Side of the Moon" remix is the desire to leave all the elements in the balance that made the album iconic but to spread them throughout the surround effort in a way that makes the listening experience more absorbing.
In fact, when listening to "Amused to Death", "Dark Side of the Moon", and "Wish You Were Here" in 5.1 surround sound back-to-back one gets the sense that "Wish You Were Here" sounds much closer (in terms of quality and how the instrumentation is projected) to "Amused to Death" – even despite the fact that "Wish You Were Here" and "Amused to Death" were recorded more years apart than "The Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here" were.
The point being: this auditory anachronism may be the result of how rapidly recording technology changed from "The Dark Side of the Moon" to "Wish You Were Here" as well as how much creative and artistic license Guthrie and his team took in remixing each of those albums. They manage to get the balance right which is why "The Dark Side of the Moon's" surround sound sibling highlights a completely different substance. If "Wish You Were Here" really highlights a particular element (unlike "The Dark Side of the Moon", which seems more focused on balance), it may actually be details like Dick Parry's saxophone work, which sounded amazing in the context of the presentation and relative to "Amused to Death" and "The Dark Side of the Moon".
Days two and three of the conference at Princeton University were a great success and offered truly unique experiences. Understandably, if the conference were to take place again it would consist of different events – but what was delivered over these first two days is a historical accomplishment that will leave many wishing for a replay.
Day Four: The Performances, Presentations, Talks, Keynote Speech, and Panel
The final day of the conference consisted of a set of presentations, each with an academic angle, followed by Guthrie's keynote speech and a panel. The day-long effort kicked off with an incredible rendition of "Pigs on the Wing (Part 1)" by Wally Gunn (vocals) and Gilad Cohen (one of the conference producers, on guitars). Not only was the performance exquisite, it really set the tone for the day, giving the audience "a book-end" sense – a feeling that this was the prelude to something great, as the piece itself does on the "Animals" album.
Troy Herion, a candidate in composition at the University made the first presentation: "The Visual Music of Pink Floyd".
Herion's presentation spanned some critical points about the imagery associated with the band: from the minimal presence of the band's likeness on any of its album covers to the impact of Hipgnosis on their art-work. He emphasized the depth of the visual impact the band imparts through its music alone and, citing a variety of studies on how sounds impact the way we think, made a strong and articulate case for the visualizations that the band's music can trigger for fans – and particularly for the range of ideas it can inspire, stressing the band's ability to articulate these sounds in a broad enough range of ambiguity without necessarily departing from or abandoning a core concept.
Herion's presentation was followed by one of the most peculiar interpretations of "Don't Leave Me Now", from "The Wall". This time Cohen (on piano) joined Brian Adamczyk (on saxophone). The vocal melody part was interpreted through the saxophone. The result was a jazzy but very loyal version of the track that gave the listener a sense of the musical threshold Pink Floyd music can inhabit (a moment reminiscent of the London Philharmonic Orchestra's performance, through Jaz Coleman's arrangements, of Pink Floyd's music – which added a Middle Eastern character to the band's music and also dispatched a broader sense of range for it… though this is something many fans of that album may have missed).
This ushered Dave Molk's (one of the conference producers) presentation, titled "Space and Repetition in David Gilmour's Guitar Solos".
A definite strength in Molk's presentation was the breadth of his analysis, which went from the early era of Pink Floyd all the way through "The Division Bell" – a degree of inclusivity of the overall band catalog that conveyed something to each audience member. Frankly, even for the most knowledgeable fans, Molk's discussion of the evolution of Gilmour's guitar-playing (from basic blues scales as a large foundation in his sound, to elaborate slide guitar work and, eventually, to the art the guitarist has made of the whammy bar, note-bends, etc.) really gave a perspective that would take years for many fans to weave together through repeated listening and articles on Gilmour's playing. Molk made wise use of his training in music theory and composition, as did the other speakers, which is one reason this conference really delivered something unique.
Molk paved the way for another performance. This time PUBLIQuartet (a string quartet from New York City) joined Cohen (on piano again) for "A Medley Full of Hits" – performing Molk's own composition of Pink Floyd classics, re-constructed in dynamic and elegant form on violin and cello as well as on Cohen's keys.
Following Molk and the "Medley", Princeton University English Professor Nigel Smith delivered a rich blend of personal experiences with the early Floyd as well as his literary appreciation of the band's work.
Smith focused on a very specific period of Pink Floyd and was able to convey things from a first-hand perspective: Smith actually saw Pink Floyd live in its earliest stages, in the early 1970s. Overall, his presentation focused on the "idyllic, pastoral, and deeply moving" qualities of the band's song-writing in that period, but by peppering his discussion with these personal experiences he was able to transport those in the audience to a completely different place: one typically reserved for documentaries (echoing the experience of the conference kick-off jam session event) or other historical accounts. In many respects, Smith's experience discovering the band and recalling places where Pink Floyd's music left an imprint on him shared a commonality with many of the sojourns the band has described through its songs or that have been documented in so many articles and books.
Some important points Smith highlighted included the impact of "Atom Heart Mother". He recognized that even the band members feel conflicted over it, particularly in hindsight, but reminded us that the album reached number one on the United Kingdom albums chart, observing how unthinkable that would be today if we contrast the level of experimentation taking place on that record and the state of modern popular music.
Smith was followed by Ryan Sarno's "Two Separate Glances", a "re-imagining" of "Echoes" for two singers and guitar. Sarno played the guitar while Megan Conlon and Yanie Fecu provided vocals in an impeccable performance.
Ryan Sarno, from Ananalog Records followed Smith as a speaker, with a presentation titled "Past as Material Object in Pink Floyd's Work".
Sarno's presentation focused on the way the band hoisted their experience with Syd Barrett and other elements of its own past as a group of musicians (and as individuals) throughout their career, using those experiences to project larger social commentaries. Sarno's observations on these lyrical qualities were superimposed on the "architecture" of the band's music, including how effects and song structures underscored their message for effect, leading up to the focus on Roger Waters' personal experiences and how the vision projected through the band's work would eventually, in some respects, prove 'ironic' given the band's success.
Sarno's presentation could flesh out into a much larger study. He had a great deal of territory to cover and it would be interesting to hear his observations on the use of contemporary political messages during Waters' recent "The Wall Live" tour: at one point Sarno discussed how Waters' message in the period leading up to "The Wall" fit a left-right paradigm (in the context of the United Kingdom's political climate at the time). This coincided with a period in which Waters' creative weight was strongest on the band's canvas. Given the subjects tackled through "The Wall" on Waters' recent tour, touching on themes of ‘Big Brother' (in the form of ‘Big Mother'), surveillance, the police state, etc. – it would be interesting to expand this discussion and better assess whether Waters' message fits that paradigm as neatly now; whether it fits a left-right context the same way today… or whether it's a third way or even a manifestation of something on the right. This is a sensitive subject, of course, and one that many fans would wrestle to negotiate if an academic analysis (in this case political and historical) could indeed demonstrate that Waters' views fit a different school of thought now. This may, in fact, prove a controversial point with Waters himself, given his publicly expressed sympathies (which tend to align with the left even if that seems to contradict some of the messages imparted during "The Wall Live").
Regardless, the subject Sarno tackled could be expanded into this territory in a future conference and it may have been one of the most difficult ones to deliver in the time and space he was limited to. Sarno did a great job covering a broad range of issues in that short time-span.
Sarno's presentation lead to a performance by PUBLIQuartet, in a 're-imagined' version of "Interstellar Overdrive", re-christened "NTRSTLR OVRDRV", and featuring the arrangements of Quinn Collins, an arranger and performer in a doctoral fellowship at Princeton University.
Conference producer Gilad Cohen closed the academic presentations for the conference, sharing a beautifully analyzed application of the five stages of grief over the span of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond's" 26 minutes. The presentation was quite engrossing given his audio-visual tools, as well as the guitar and piano performances he incorporated throughout the presentation. Gilad fundamentally made the case that the five stages of grief are clearly reflected in this piece of work – and his case was persuasive and emotive.
Gilad summarized the five stages as numbness, yearning, anger, mourning, and acceptance, and explained how the music fits each of these categories – how the cadence, the overlap of structural elements, and the way they all weave and flow together, reflect the five parts of the grieving process. Particularly as we bear in mind the sense of loss the band was wrestling with as it, once again, negotiated Syd Barrett's presence during this period (a reference to Barrett's delusional attempts to participate in the band again, approaching the band and confounding them as they struggled to recognize him).
Having made a compelling case throughout his presentation, Cohen managed to raise it yet another notch when he mentioned recent research demonstrating that a part of "accepting" in the grief process is to assimilate or internalize something from the person we grieve for: to assimilate and internalize some part of them… and he found it curious that the end of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" seems to echo this when Richard Wright incorporates a small melody from "See Emily Play", as if to acknowledge his continued influence and presence in the band.
Once Cohen completed his presentation he sat down to play his own arrangement of the Pink Floyd classic with the 'most famous four notes in rock history'. Joining him were PUBLIQuartet, Hilary Jones (on flute) and Brian Adamczyk (on clarinet) for an incredible rendition of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond".
James Guthrie Keynote Speech
One thing became clear during the keynote speech: Guthrie is an extraordinary speaker. While it is true that he has plenty of interesting stories and anecdotes to fill any speech with, and that any audience will be keenly interested in stories from the time he has spent in the trenches – particularly when we consider the good relationship he has kept with all factions of Pink Floyd, whether in the midst of their most heated disagreements or as they have reconciled over time – Guthrie really gave a powerful and evocative speech that was informed by but transcended all of that.
Guthrie shared anecdotes to demonstrate how times have changed in the recording industry and to convey the impact Pink Floyd had on those changes (reminding us that at one point Abbey Road Studios discouraged 'experimentation', such as using equipment in extraordinary ways and pursuing effects through unusual means).
Guthrie also fleshed his presentation out with stories of his efforts to get the most out of the band, stories about his experiences recording with the band, as well as a narrative about how he became a producer and engineer and his work with other artists.
Guthrie stressed the important role that producers play in making sure a band feels 'safe': helping establish an environment where band members can be 'themselves'. He mentioned the "Red Light Fever" dilemma, describing how the studio's red lights, employed to alert musicians when tape was rolling, nurtured a certain degree of anxiety. Guthrie would find creative ways to shut the light off while recording – emancipating the unalerted band from that anxiety and allowing their natural performance to make the record. Guthrie feels this resulted in some of the best and most spontaneous work he has ever recorded.
Guthrie discussed the similarities between producing and engineering "The Wall" and the process – the evolution – of a movie: 'write, shoot, edit'. He described how "The Wall" really came together in the mixing process, explaining that the process was not a linear thread but a set of ideas he helped pull together in his role as producer and engineer.
Guthrie commented on the need for producers to really get a sense of "groove" – getting the band's innate feel and vibe recorded, promising that any subsequent overdubbing will fall into place once you capture that.
Guthrie, who was incredibly friendly, open, and approachable with everyone in attendance throughout the conference, discussed the need for producers to be ruthless with the material… not with the band, but with the material. Having said that, Guthrie talked about how over his career he felt he was quite ruthless… until he got to work with Roger Waters! Though partly in jest, Guthrie was pointing out how much of a perfectionist Waters is.
As he discussed the challenges and the difficult aspects of producing he also shared the importance of humor, sharing a number of funny stories that unfolded with each of the folks that worked with him, including Pink Floyd: from Michael Kamen's to Nick Mason's use of humor – and how these moments really helped break tension and kept things flowing in the right direction despite all the challenges.
After walking us through his journey as a producer, his experience with Pink Floyd and other bands, as well as the challenges that he faced in having to enforce discipline among these incredibly creative but strong-willed personalities – not to mention, the need to balance that off with humor – Guthrie ended on a very serious, at times esoteric and at times ethereal, note:
Guthrie stressed the need to allow oneself to pursue what one is passionate about, describing how that passion is contagious and moving the audience into a mental and emotional space in which they could appreciate how this opened doors for him. While it may sound cliché, there was something quite moving about what he was articulating – a sense that may be indebted to the bond nurtured by the depth of common interest in Pink Floyd's music among those in attendance.
Guthrie made an artful case that when we set aside a passion in order to conform to a more conventional path we disconnect from something important – not just from ourselves but something more profound. As Guthrie spoke, it was difficult to decide what that was: did he mean this in a religious sense, or in some other way? It did not matter, and perhaps he was specifically articulating this as he did so the audience members could each embrace their own interpretation.
As Guthrie talked about this, you could sense his sincere and committed belief to this principle – something that really pulled the conference together by giving everyone the sense that we can all become a part of something large enough to compel this type of fandom and enthusiasm.
In many ways, Guthrie both humanized and magnified the audience's understanding of him as a person and his role in the gigantic force that Pink Floyd and its many artistic contributors have been (and are). He successfully made everyone feel a part of what they were there for but also gave everyone a strong sense of motivation to find individual paths, based on our individual passions, in whatever spheres that may be.
As Guthrie spoke you could sense a profound gratitude for those who have rewarded his hard work and commitment to his own passion, recognizing the quality and ampleness of his work over time. He gave the audience a sense they have been a part of that but that they can each reach this type of success in their own path. Even though at times he specifically addressed musicians, producers, and engineers – which must have accounted for a large part of the audience – he truly delivered a more universal idea.
Guthrie concluded by stating that whatever that passion is, we must pursue it and that eventually, if we keep that commitment, we will all reach a point where we will know we have arrived… when we make that profound connection to "it" and are blown away by the creativity, inventiveness, and success that will flow from that.
With that, the audience gave Guthrie a standing ovation; Cohen and Molk joined him on stage to thank everyone and to prepare for the last and final part of the successful conference, asking all the speakers to join them on stage.
Even though this may have been the first conference of its kind, Pink Floyd has been tackled from an academic perspective a number of times and David Molk and Gilad Cohen, both producers of and presenters in the conference, made sure to acknowledge those who have pioneered this endeavor. For this reason, they reserved a special guest to moderate the final panel and question and answer session which included each Guthrie, Cohen and Molk, as well as presenters Troy Herion, Richard Sarno, and Nigel Smith. The guest was Shaugn O'Donnell, a professor at City University of New York whose publications include "On the Path: Tracing Tonal Coherence in The Dark Side of the Moon" (in "Speak to Me: The Legacy of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon") and "Sailing to the Sun: Revolver's Influence on Pink Floyd" (in "Every Sound There Is: The Beatles' Revolver and the Transformation of Rock and Roll").
O'Donnell kicked the panel and question and answer session off with a fascinating review of the criticisms leveled against Pink Floyd when they started their recording and performance career: the perception that they were the anti-Beatles, lacking in melody, and, overall, an act to be avoided. O'Donnell recognized the simplicity of the band's talent when they got started and also mentioned the band's own sense that they were approaching their creativity with very basic skills. But O'Donnell also explained the journey this put the band on, opening doors to a great deal of creativity and – though not addressed specifically – he alluded to the band's sojourn toward a place where that talent may have laid the foundation for the more complex and substantial work it delivered in its latter years (a case that is sustained by many of the presentations that preceded the panel).
This led to a question and answer session. Among the things the audience was able to take away: It is likely that the entire Pink Floyd catalog will be given the 5.1 surround sound treatment, but Guthrie explained that this is a very 'political' process, that sometimes it has less to do with wanting to do it than other factors. As far as Guthrie's role in that, he explained that at the moment the next project he was expending focus on was a Blu-ray release of "The Wall". Guthrie also discussed recorded audio formats: questions about the Neil Young-backed Pono music system (PonoMusic) came up more than once – fundamentally, whether this format might present a better opportunity for the delivery of these types of releases. Given the type of audience the conference attracted, including many high-fidelity enthusiasts, and given the opportunity everyone had to hear a pre-manufacturing version of "Amused to Death", it made a great deal of sense that this subject would come up a number of times: audio compression, the quality of MP3, and other similar formats were debated to a degree – with a universal agreement that MP3 has been a detriment to the experience and has helped relegate music from a true art-form to a background sound status in many instances. It was interesting to hear that Guthrie is not even keen on Compact Disc format.
After taking a few more questions, the conference had to come to an end, and Cohen and Molk thanked everyone again… Cohen picked up the guitar and invited Wally Gunn (again on vocals) for a rendition of "Pigs on the Wing (Part 2)". And with that book-end, four days of performances, substantive discourse on Pink Floyd and Guthrie's work, and a vibe that seemed to envelope all of Princeton, New Jersey, came to a nostalgic end.
Our thanks to the organisers for their invaluable help across the entire weekend, and to Marie Lopez for the photographs here.
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