Saturday, 15 June 2013

Undergraduate Degree Dissertation

Comparison of Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree

By means of Psychedelia and advancements in Audio Technology

Paper Code: OEN642a


1.     Introduction

2.     Objectives

3.  Synesthesia

4.     Analysis

5.     Conclusion

6.     Bibliography


A deep understanding of Psychedelic Rock evokes similarities that are hidden beneath layers of sound. Comparisons between artistes in this genre cannot be done by the basis of sound alone as the genre of Psychedelic rock is varied and scattered; incorporating a lot of other genres into it too. It is more of a notional concept rather than a unified music that truly categorises these bands into such a style of playing. This paper will focus on the tools used to analyse such music.

Music is a form of sound that is organised and structured, but at the same time has the essence of life which relates to even the middle of a crowded noisy mall. Arranging notes into identifiable patterns, emanating from different instruments in cohesion automatically sets the soul into a groove. Music is so therapeutic that we as people can merely admire the timeless qualities of emotive passion that it carries.

Songs change in feel and type of sound depending on geography, age, sex, social and political status, time-period etc. Like anything else, music has a deeply ingrained culture. The artists responsible for creating the music are influenced by their lifestyles and cultures. What they create is based on many psychosocial factors- the instruments available to play on, the lyrics they write, the way they choose to play together and the final sound they decide to bring out. Another large part is audience feedback. Any band inherently responds to ideals set out by a music listening audience, whether positive or negative response.

The evolution of music as a commercial venture requires it to be viewed by artists as an independent financial entity responsible for their income. This is a very hard thing to do, especially if a lot of you life and passion goes into making the music. It demands a detachment of the musical mindset from the artist. Historically, music always had deep societal roots, and thus was always at some level the cause of financial income, whether it be the town-criers announcing the legendary Tansen’s music show at Akbar’s palace, the bass-drone of Shamanic healing music, or simply the multi-crore advertised rock concert in Bangalore.
The evolution of the i-pod, web downloads and record companies have greatly aided the distribution of music, as well as its commercial income. These advances have been looked at by many musicians as unnecessary and divergent from the true aspects of good music. However it is undeniable that newer, better instruments have been made only due to its commercial aspect. Thus, technology, and its effect on new music has a great deal of duality in nature.

As Steven Wilson, composer of Porcupine Tree writes, “an entertainer is someone who caters to the demands of an audience, while a true artiste creates his own audience.”


My personal interest in music started from the very basic sound of Classic Rock in America and England in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Blues originated as a black man’s response to slavery, and eventually grew to accommodate electric instruments and loud percussion. It is evident to see how many international bands have been influenced by the simple feel of blues, which follow mellow, easy-to-follow time structures, not entirely unlike old Bollywood songs. One band in particular, Pink Floyd, revolutionised the perception of Classic Rock with their unorthodox, psychedelic sound. The introduction of alternate noises into rock changed the landscape of that particular genre to become more accommodating to a more diverse variety of sound. Pink Floyd stuck to the standard rock/blues roots, but at the same time had an open mind to allow a whole range of other sounds into their music, using the very limited musical equipment that they had.

            Similarly, Porcupine Tree, a more recent band which has been going strong for the past 2 decades comprises of a similar mindset, but with changes brought about in the time. Long songs and complex structures inside a simple backing track increase the intricacy of the music, but at the same time retain the common man’s impression of a first-time listen. Advancements in audio technology allow them to produce more naturally synthetic sounds, however the concept behind these sounds runs parallel to Pink Floyd’s ideaology.

This is the base objective of this research paper- a comparative analysis of the bands Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree.
            Music encompasses all aspects of life into the sound-whether consciously or not, thus key motifs like violence and identity can be easily observed in Ghetto Rap for example. Similarly, it is not difficult to see how modern concepts like cyberspace, metropolitan life and blind intelligence can be applied to the success of recent pop artists like Britney Spears. Another more related example would be the effect of psychedelia on Classic Progressive rock. This comparative paper will be looking at key aspects behind the music, such as Politics, Sociology, Semiotics, Cyberculture, Urban Transformations, Screen Culture, Media Piracy and how they emerge in the relative contextual backgrounds of each band.

A brief introduction to Psychedelia:

The term “psychedelic” originated in correspondence during the early 1950s between two pioneers in the study of psychoactive drugs: Humphry Osmond, a British psychiatrist who studied the effects of mescaline and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide; “acid”) on alcoholics in Canada, and Aldous Huxley, the English author of Brave New World (1932) and The Doors of Perception (1954). These men needed a word to describe the effects of the drugs they themselves were taking, and Osmond suggested “psychedelic” from the Greek words psyche (soul or mind) and delein (to make manifest) or deloun (to show or reveal). He illustrated its use in a rhyme: “To fathom hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.” From the beginning, scientists studying the effects of psychedelic drugs remarked on the way they enhanced the experience of listening to music, sometimes causing “synesthesia,” or the illusion of seeing sounds as colours. Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who first synthesized LSD, noted that under its influence, “every sound generated a vividly changing image with its own consistent form and colour.”

On a psychedelic “trip”, the notion of “identity in a network society” starts to disappear. As you meld slowly into the cosmos, your consciousness disintegrates into the tiny pieces that made you. Every part of your body is aware, receptive, and not willing to conform to any norm or social protocol that is of a historically oppressive nature. Basically musicians derived the basis for their sound from Blues, but the heart and soul of the sound comes undoubtedly with the near-death experiences that psychedelics inherently bring with it.

 Listening to such admittedly beguiling albums as Sixteen Tambourines (1982) by the Three O’Clock and Emergency Third Rail Power Trip (1983) by the Rain Parade (both members of the “paisley underground” scene of mid-1980s Los Angeles), as well as Wonder Wonderful Wonderland (1985) by Plasticland of Milwaukee, Auntie Winnie Album (1989) by England’s Bevis Frond, and the work of British cult heroes Porcupine Tree, you’d be hard-pressed to prove they weren’t recorded during the Summer of Love(hippie era). During the middle of the second set of a Grateful Dead concert throughout the late 1970’s to 1990’s, the band would go into a drum solo to a space rock section. David Bowie's "Space Oddity" (1969) is probably the best example of a space rock song achieving mainstream recognition
By transcending the ordinary, psychedelic musicians and their listeners attempt to connect with something deeper, more profound, and more beautiful. As Jerry Garcia, guru of the Grateful Dead, once said, “Rock ‘n’ roll provides what the church provided for in other generations.” And no form of rock music attempts to nourish more souls than psychedelia.


A simple deconstruction of the sound of psychedelic rock reveals that it is characterised by slow, lengthy instrumental passages dominated by synthesizers, experimental guitar work and science fiction lyrical themes. A heavy bass and drum line are usually running parallel to this, producing an epic, complete sound. As a listener picks up a reference point in the music, the point will slowly change and shift, as is the nature of a progressive sound. We are not meant to fix a tight leash on the rhythms, but instead slide in its indeterminacy.

The first example is based on historical context, and involves the song “Voyage 34” by Porcupine Tree, and “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. The Wall refers to the Iron Curtain, which was a prominent oppressive tool during the Cold War between USA and Russia. Written in 1979 before the actual collapse of the Berlin Wall, the lyrics focus on narrow-minded school teachers propagating needless information during a time of world crisis. The song can literally be looked at as a wall, engraved with the history and failure of the 70’s. Essentially, Pink Floyd’s music has always depicted the unrest with society, for example, the main line of the chorus from The Wall is-“Hey, Teacher! Leave them kids alone!!”, then moving on to-“all in all you’re just another brick in The Wall”.
            Similarly, Voyage 34, Porcupine Tree’s first commercialised attempt at an album(1993) focuses on a similar musical scale to The Wall and has an almost identical bass and drum line.

 The lyrics emphasise heavily on the use of psychoactive drugs and its possible influence on a “bad trip”, and the introductory commentary to the song states just that.
 The single consists of just one song divided in two phases, clocking in at 30 minutes, where a narrator's voice describes the LSD trip of a young man called Brian in real time. It also features testimonies provided by other people supposed to be LSD habituĂ© consumers. This was the first song of the band to explore the ground of trance music. As an instrumental song, it lashes out at mainstream society and the addiction to prescription pills that Americans clearly need to sort out. This evolutionary motif is an important one as Wilson keeps coming back to it on almost every album since.

We can see how the audience’s notion of “violence” can so easily be brought out contextually, through their music. Thus the relation between the two bands can be seen by this example of comparison.

 Another comparison would be the innate sound produced by Porcupine Tree despite advancements in technology. As the 60’s moved into the new millennium, instruments became far more advanced, with the scope of writing a full-scale rock song merely on the computer. Steven Wilson was a prodigy at unravelling the deepest sounds possible to be created by this new technology, yet however; his music still reflects the ideals and pychedelia of the hippie era. Pink Floyd, with their limited technology never sought to cater to a crowd appeal, but instead used their primitive computers to create a SPACE effect, into which anything could literally be added. This is characteristic of an “Oppositional Public Sphere” as stated by Henry Giroux.
In musical terms it represents the distribution of a mind altering, unconventional sound through the use of mind altering drugs.

As far as “visual culture” goes, both bands were the propagators of the concept of visuals, each in their own time. The ambivalence of their music, along with the continuous psychedelic association necessitated the influence of moving pictures corresponding to the music. Both bands have several long concerts, and a few movies each to their credit.
            In the 70’s, Pink Floyd journeyed to Pompeii, Rome, the city ruined centuries ago by the volcano Vesuvius. In an isolated, massive amphitheatre, among blocks of lava, they recorded live video footage of the song “Echoes”. The acoustics of the amphitheatre provided astounding acoustics and the direction of the whole documentary is seamless. With faulty equipment, travelling across the continent, other songs include primitive graphics to enhance the psychedelic spirit of the moment. Right from the influence of founder Syd Barrett, visual mediums have always been associated with Floyd, right up to their 1994 epic concert “Pulse”.
            “Fear of a Blank Planet”, Porcupine Tree’s 2005 release focused heavily on the flaws and imperfections in today’s culture- prescription pills, marauding cyberspace and gaming, aggressive teenagers, American commercialism, globalisation, and the inevitable FEAR that it provokes. The music video release shows Wilson’s admirable mentality. The video is highly edited, parts of the song cut out, reemphasising the droning, monotonous feel that the song is intended to convey to the “new commercial man”. This album was one of the most socially important context albums by them(the others focused on psychedelic experiences). This album has deeper motifs that reflect the composer’s experiences in today’s world. His hatred to unnecessary technological advancement is clearly visible, although he does use it too, in his music production. He detests i-pods, the concept of “social cyberspace”, and the constant “surveillance” that the common man endures.
Another example is the song “Every Home is Wired”, in which Wilson clearly portrays the ever watchful eye of government and society. Similarly, Floyd has a song called “Welcome to the Machine”.
Lyrically too, both bands venture into futuristic motifs, which in duality also represent the down-side to technological advancement.
Pink Floyd
Porcupine Tree
Overhead the albatross hangs
 motionless upon the air
And deep beneath the rolling waves
In labyrinths of coral caves
The echo of a distant tide
Comes willowing across the sand
And everything is green and submarine.
Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what I see is me
And do I take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand the best I can
Cloudless everyday you fall upon my waking eyes
inviting and inciting me to rise
And through the window in the wall
Come streaming in on sunlight wings
A million bright ambassadors of morning
And no-one sings me lullabies
And no-one makes me close my eyes
And so I throw the windows wide
And call to you across the sky
Sunlight coming through the haze
No gaps in the blinds
To let it inside
The bed is unmade,
Some music still plays
TV, yeah it's always on
The flicker on the screen
A movie actress screams
I'm basking the shit flowing out of it
I'm stoned in the mall again
Terminally bored
Shuffling round the stores
And shoplifting is getting so last year's thing
X-Box is a god to me
A finger on the switch
My mother is a bitch
My father gave up ever trying to talk to me

How can I be sure I'm here?
The pills that I've been taking confuse me
I need to know that someone sees that
There's nothing left, I simply am not here


 The parallels run deep between the two bands, not intentionally, but subliminally. It was not Steven Wilson’s intention for Porcupine Tree to sound like Pink Floyd as he constantly states, even though they were undoubtedly one of his early influences. However, the similarities are obvious to the deep music listener. A follower of either of the two bands has at least some knowledge of the other too. Thus we can see the strength of resistance that these individuals like Wilson and Gilmour(guitarist-Floyd) have to the normative patterns of life. We can also see the effect of these “abnormal” patterns on the prospective listener, who indulges in not-so-normal behaviour as a by-product of grooving to the music. This sort of “blind intelligence” is mutually beneficial both to artiste and audience as a sort of symbiosis and transmission of ideas and pychedelia in rock music.

            Thus, we can deduce that Porcupine Tree somewhat represents a “repeating of history” with relation to Pink Floyd, but in complete different contextual terms; in such a way that Porcupine Tree not only seem like a modern version of Floyd, but have also incorporated the values and lifestyles we live with today into their sound. Thus both bands stand out clearly and individually under the sub-category of Space Rock.



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