Characteristics of the Pink Floyd Sound
    The items listed on this page are specific qualities of the music of Pink Floyd that become very recognizable, after a time, to the dedicated listener.  I will guarantee you, as of this moment, that if you read only this page of the website, and later hear a piece of music that contains all these qualities, it's a piece of Pink Floyd music (or an extremely clever imitation).  There are links throughout this website with the symbol {CPFS} beside them, showing examples from the albums of these characteristics.

AMBIENT SOUND ~ It is one of the basic principles of Pink Floyd, that every sound has a musical quality, and their mission was to find ways to incorporate those sounds into their recordings in such a way that the audience could feel the rhythm, tempo, and tone of the sound.  Ambients help set a very special mood for each song or album.  It is a technique that leads to some pretty interesting and original recordings, and one which no other group has attempted half so well.  (Even though the effects of their experimentation are heard everywhere.)
    There are actually two definable types of ambients.  The first is when the band records "everyday" sounds (people's voices, a bell, machinery, a heartbeat, or money clinking) and incorporates it directly into a song's melody or rhythm.  The second is when an instrument or voice is altered or even synthesized to the point where it becomes something very different than we usually hear.
    I find it admirable that a group was so adept at hearing the musical quality in what many of us would consider to be noises or insignificant everyday sounds.  It seems that many of us take our hearing for granted, and become annoyed at or ignorant of the interesting variety of sounds we are exposed to each day, which these guys turned into music.

CONCEPTUALIZATION ~ Even early in their career, Pink Floyd tried to put an idea behind every song.  As time went on, the ideas got bigger and bigger, becoming too great for one song to deal with effectively.  The final step was to create an entire album that used each song as a way of advancing the overall concept.  In many cases, the songs became indistinguishable from one another, which helped to enhance the feeling that you were following a path from beginning to end (or maybe even to the beginning again).
    Some would argue that every song has a concept, since the lyrics usually tell a story or attempt to communicate a feeling.  I would contend that, to be truly conceptual, the artist must use both words and music to promote a certain thought or feeling process in the listener.  In the case of Pink Floyd, they not only do that, they also incorporate ambient sounds that will help advance the concept.  The result is a level of music that most modern musicians cannot attain.
    DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, WISH YOU WERE HERE, ANIMALS, and THE WALL are pure concept albums, the ultimate evidence of which is the movie that was eventually made of THE WALLEchoes and Atom Heart Mother are conceptual pieces in what may or may not be concept albums.  Even SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS may be a conceptual album, which shows that the band was working hard at this method for many years.

DREAMSCAPES ~ Nearly every Pink Floyd piece of any appreciable length has an "interlude" during which the melody and harmony disappear, and the time signature becomes irrelevant.  Though chord patterns are almost always still somewhat evident, the effect becomes that the listener is transported to a place where the usual rules of composition do not apply.  Sometimes these dreamscapes attempt to create a very particular mood or image in the mind, while at other times they seem to exist only to deprive the listener of a foothold on the slippery landscape of the music.  Just when one has become thoroughly disoriented, the band will return to a familiar theme, usually in a way that one would not have imagined possible, yet which is totally satisfying and logical.

EXPERIMENTATION ~ The band is very fond of trying new things, and you will hear the results in their recordings.  Sometimes these experiments make a single appearance (like the sitar), and others will occur again and again.  The boys were never afraid to attempt something new, and frequently spent stage time in their early days getting audience reaction to their experiments.  One cannot likely imagine the music stars of today doing so, but Pink Floyd often spent hours after their performances discussing the techniques they had tried with any fans, musicians, or technicians who would hang around.

FADE-IN AND FADE-OUT ~ Almost every Pink Floyd album begins with a song that takes at least 30 seconds to "sneak up" on you.  Most albums start with a nearly inaudible sound that builds slowly, forcing the listener to focus on a specific musical point. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON is the archetypal example, since the album itself begins and ends with the same sound, a heartbeat, exemplifying not only this technique, but the Loop technique as well.  Often, pieces end in the same way, slowly moving off into oblivion, leaving you to wonder where they might go later.  Probably the most-used sound is the "wind storm" effect, which begins One of These Days, among others.

LOOPS ~ Pink Floyd simply loves the Circle.  (As architects, their buildings would have, no doubt, included many of them.)  In nearly every album (and sometimes the entire album itself) will be a loop in which a certain musical idea is introduced, disappears for awhile, then returns just in time to conclude the piece in a very logical way.  Sometimes several pieces, or even an entire album (i.e. DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, THE WALL) are linked together by melodic or ambient segues, and return to a musical theme we thought had gotten lost.  It provides a very satisfying sense of completeness, and a feeling that, even if we do not, the band knew all along just where they were going.

LYRICISM ~ Like most really exceptional bands, the lyrics to Pink Floyd songs are designed to be philosophical and literate, rather than rhyming in a simple "Roses are red..." pattern.  But, for Pink Floyd, this term applies as well to their musical quality, which has a flow and poetry all its own.  Many rock bands are content to simply plow along from chord to chord, following a time-honored formula (like ABABCAB) for 3-and-one/half minutes, but not these guys.
    Webster's 2nd definition suits our purpose best, "expressing direct, usually intense, personal emotion".  Though the word "lyric" refers specifically to the words of the songs, it also relates to a style that Pink Floyd exemplifies.  Regardless of the specific words, when the singer expresses them in an intense, emotional way, there is a different flow than most popular music creates.  When the instrumentalists play using direct personal emotion, there is a very compelling flow to the piece.  Often times, I am unwilling to let a Pink Floyd piece end in my head, so I just keep the music going.  It is a characteristic of lyrical music that most pieces do not come to a traditional, big-chord ending, but just sort of fade off into the distance.

NUANCE & SUBTLETY ~ As my friend Dan Ondrusek has noted, "It is simply amazing how David Gilmour can make every tiny bend, slide, pick, and strum of his guitar mean something."  This is a quality that the discerning listener will find throughout the Pink Floyd collection.  No other band can make the simple twist of a balance dial, blend of two sounds, or tea towel on a cymbal have so much meaning in the context of a song.  I'll admit that it sometimes becomes a bit tedious trying to hang in with a band that is so subtle, but the effort is always worth it.  This is what I refer to as being an "active listener" - becoming an active participant in hearing why a band chose to construct their music in a very particular way.  I'll be the first to admit that most of today's music does not require such attention, but that does not mean that we should give up on the idea.

REPETITIVENESS ~ Another quality that we would likely find tedious in any other band is Pink Floyd's tendency to repeat an interesting musical phrase several times.  On the surface, the idea of reiterating a bar of music 24 (Eclipse) or 11 (Dogs) consecutive times seems like something that is only done at the end of a song, while we fade out.  Pink Floyd, however, uses this technique to drive home an idea that they feel is vital to fully understanding their message.  They also repeat verse phrases at times, but true to their subtle nature, they may change one word slightly, so as to completely alter the meaning.  Often, they just repeat one word in an unusual place, and only the active listener will really appreciate its full meaning.  [See how many times the word "stone" pops up in various Pink Floyd pieces 20 years apart, yet with a definite connection to a continuing idea.  Awesome.]

SLIDE GUITAR ~  Dave Gilmour is the master of an instrument that few people fully appreciate.  With its roots in the Blues, the slide guitar is intended to have a more voice-like sound than we usually hear from electric instruments.  The player uses a metal or glass tube or bar to slide along the strings, creating a wide variety of subtle tone variations that is impossible with "normal" guitar playing.  It owes some of its style and tone to the flat top steel guitars favored by Southern bands.  Gilmour has a very distinctive style, that is lyrical and melodic, and rings out clearly in a very powerful way.
    There are a wide variety of slide guitar styles, and you may be familiar with names like Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, and Duane Allman, though most of the great slide guitarists are little-known Blues players whose recordings are rare.  If you are interested in learning more about slide guitars (or the Blues), go to Brian Robertson's fabulous site at Big Road Blues - he even offers lessons!
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