Dark Side Of The Moon – 40 Years Later and A Cappella!
The year is 1972. Abbey Road Studios, London. The “concept album” Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd is recorded. This is the eighth album by this progressive rock band. Nearly 40 years later it’s still the third best selling album of all time. Timeless music with current themes such as greed, conflict, the passage of time, consumer behaviour and mental illness. The original name of this album was “Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece For Assorted Lunatics”. The songs which originated during jam sessions with the musicians were used two years earlier in live tours as improvisational exercises and they became more and more refined as time went on. Pink Floyd used the newest technologies which were experimental at the time like multitrack recording and a looping machine to bring more depth to the music. The sound engineer on this project was no one less than Alan Parsons who later received a Grammy for Best Engineered Album Non-Classical. The album was number one on the Billboard Top 100 list for 741 weeks between 1973 and 1988. This is the longest number one run for any album in history.
The original album has two sides of course, each with five tracks that together form one continuous theme that represents human life. The album begins and ends with a heartbeat. Speak To Me and Breathe (tracks 1 and 2) accentuate the mundane and senseless elements of life that are a constant threat to mental health and the importance of living one’s own life. Then the band switches over to an airport with the synthesizer driven, instrumental “On The Run” that represents the stress and fear of modern air travel. “Time” investigates the manner in which the passage of time can control a person’s life and the band lets us relax in an oasis of rest with a reprise of “Breathe”. The first side of the LP ends with Clare Torry’s epic metamorphism in “The Great Gig In The Sky” that represents death.
The second side of the album starts with the sounds of a cash register and coins. “Money” parodies greed and consumerism and becomes the best-selling single of the album. “Us and Them” addresses the isolation of depression and uses symbolic conflict to represent personal relationships. “Brain Damage” talks about mental illness that can occur as a result of fame and success. This is most present in the line “and if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes”. Former band member Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd in 1968 because of mental illness. The last song on the album is “Eclipse” which includes the concepts of uniting common characteristics of being human.
May 2012. 40 years later. The Netherlands. 28 singers take their positions on three stages linked together with catwalks. The audience sits, stands, lays around these stages. Not in predetermined places or rows or chairs. There is no order. It is dark and quiet in the theater. All of the sudden you hear the heartbeat. Dub dub. Dub dub. The show begins and the entire theater is transformed by projection on walls and floors. You have arrived on the Dark Side of the Moon. The first notes of Speak To Me bounce off the walls and we are on our way.
Stichting EduVox (Netherlands) is producing a complete a cappella theatre experience in June 2012 to celebrate 40 years of Dark Side Of The Moon. This production is LIVE on stage and embodies the entire album without pause and with the addition of an overture and improvisational transitions.
Stichting EduVox was established in the winter of 2010 for the promotion of vocal music education. The founders are all people who have earned their positions and reputations in the vocal music world of the Netherlands and Europe. Three of the founders are presently conductors and singers in the light music genre. One of the accents for EduVox is producing innovative projects to promote vocal music and especially a cappella music. They also function as a network organisation for matching choirs and vocal groups with coaches and workshops to promote and increase the quality of vocal music in the Netherlands.
The birth of a concept:
In 2005 an American studio group “Vocomotion” translated the songs into an a cappella version. Freddy Feldman produced this album with 8 singers and a vocal percussionist. The concept remained very close to the originals (transcriptions). The songs were recorded without pause in high definition and the album became a big success.
But the founders of EduVox thought “that could even be better”!
A few things were clear to us. It had to be an a cappella production because, just like Pink Floyd experimented with the most advanced technology and diverse sound concepts while making Dark Side, we wanted to search for the boundaries of the human voice and experiment with it. The music of Dark Side lends itself beautifully for multivoiced a cappella singing through its many facets, layers and nuances.
First of all, Stichting EduVox is working with 28 singers and vocal percussionists so that the songs can be sung 7 – 12 voiced. This gives the songs more depth and means that all of the songs can be performed live and not only in a studio. The singers will be individually amplified and the sound concept will evolve around the ear level of the audience so that they sit in the middle of the sound. We will be using octavisers, looping machines, vocoders and other technical equipment to give the sound more depth and possibilities. Beatboxers and vocal percussionists will be added to modern multimedia aspects to be as innovative as possible.
EduVox gave three different composers/arrangers the task to each arrange three songs from the album. The arrangers were selected for their genre, innovation and experience. EduVox wanted the arrangers to have as much artistic freedom as possible so that they could explore their own creativity.
The only rules were:
- the arrangement had to be 7 – 12 voiced;
- it has to be arranged in the original key;
- it has to preserve the essence and intention of the original;
- there has to be room for improvisation.
The arrangers have since returned with the most fantastic arrangements! These arrangements exceed every expectation and wish we had originally. It is proving to be an amazing journey! The arrangers are: Dr. Matthias Becker (Germany) who is one of the foremost experts in vocal jazz in Europe; Rogier IJmker (Netherlands) who is a young, up-and- coming composer/arranger and brings a lot of R & B and funk to the arrangements and last but not least Jetse Bremer (Netherlands), one of the Netherlands most prolific and often performed arrangers of light and classical music. They all bring their specialties and “flavors” to the table.
In order to bring the theoretical concept into practice, we put the musical direction in the hands of Don Henken (NL). Don is a well-respected conductor, composer and arranger. He conducted the pop choir “Kolok” for years and won the Dutch pop choir championship two times in a row with Kolok. We wanted to have a production concept whereby the Dark Side Of The Moon was created three-dimensionally in the space. For this we contracted Bart van Bokhoven. Bart is co-owner of Pronorm in Helmond. Pronorm is the exclusive provider of Pani-projection in the Benelux. Pani is worldwide known for the large image projection. The projections can create the illusion of the Dark Side Of The Moon in the theatre. This will only increase the viewer/listener’s experience. Last but not least, we have one of the best choreographers and producers for vocal music groups in the Netherlands, Meta Stevens, on board. She will make sure that the visual aspects support the music and form and integral part of the artistry.
The auditions took place in June and in August. We now have 28 singers and will be starting rehearsals on September 3rd. We have 20 rehearsals that will last an entire day and two rehearsal weekends (in total approximately 140 rehearsal hours) to prepare the 9 songs and transitions (mostly improvised) of the album. The show will be 70 continuous minutes of music (the original album is 42 minutes).
These singers are high level amateurs and professionals and will do all of the studying of notes at home so that we can get to work immediately making music. There will be a lot of coaching which is educational for the singers and increases the quality: coaching of the vocal percussionists and basses; coaching of improvisation; call and response circle songs; coaching in English pronunciation and diction; blending and team building. This group of 28 singers has to perform in 9 months as though they have been together for years. We will invest heavily in the group process in order to achieve this sound.
We will make a recording, both DVD and CD, of the performance and a “making of” for the DVD in the form of a video blog. You will be able to follow some of this video blogging when we start rehearsals via our website www.eduvox.nl and via Facebook.
The amazing sound engineer Bill Hare (California) who was also involved in the original Vocomotion project (listen to his laughing on Brain Damage!) will be producing and mixing the CD.
But seeing the performance LIVE will be the best way to see it. We hope to attract audiences from all over Europe for our 5 days of performance. Keep watching our site and Vocal Blog for information about online ticket sales which will begin sometime in September.
Thanks, Annalisa for this fantastic article – hope to hear more from this amazing musical multimedia live project.