Saturday, May 07, 2011

True-to-Life Sound

It was at this time 35 years ago that Pink Floyd was in a London recording studio working on the tracks for an album that would be released in January 1977.

The album was called "Animals," and I still remember buying it and bringing it home a few months after it was released. It was the first Pink Floyd album I ever owned — although I had heard others (notably "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here") — but it was hardly the last.

I suppose I was originally attracted to the album because it had been inspired by George Orwell's "Animal Farm," and I had just read that book in school before the album was released (although the record was a critique of capitalism whereas Orwell's book was about Stalinism).

But later, after I had listened to the album many times, I fell in love with the unique style of the music and lyrics and the creative use of the synthesizers, which were supposed to duplicate the sounds that animals made with uncanny precision.

I didn't realize how precise they actually were until several years later.

1976 was something of a transitional year in popular music, I suppose. I mean, albums were being released by the veterans of the music scene, like Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and others, but they were also being released by the lesser lights, the disco stars and the one–hit wonders.

In those days, when one switched on the radio, one was as likely to hear K.C. and the Sunshine Band or Blondie as the Who.

And you never heard Pink Floyd — except for the more commercially appealing songs, like "Money" and "Time."

I began my switch to CD technology around 1990 or 1991, I think — and the first CD I purchased was "Animals."

The first time I listened to that CD was truly memorable for me. It was spring, as I recall, and I had my living room window open to permit the gentle breeze of a spring evening to blow through my apartment.

In those days, I had a dog that was part black Lab — and part something else. He was a stray, about 10 weeks old when I took him in. Our vet never could tell me what the other part was. All we knew for certain was that my dog was not a full–blooded black Lab.

Anyway, I had had him for a couple of years when I brought home my first CD player. It seems to me that, in those first two years, I played my LP of "Animals" on a few occasions, and the dog had paid no visible attention to the sounds in it.

But when I played the CD — with its digital re–creation of those synthesizer sounds — the reaction was entirely different.

In the song "Dogs," you hear synthesizer–generated sounds that mimic the sounds of barking dogs, starting around the five–minute mark. When the CD reached that point, my dog jumped up from where he had been dozing and went over to the living room window. It was from that vantage point that he always looked for dogs that he heard (or thought he heard) outside.

But this time, there were no dogs to be seen. He seemed disappointed. A kind of muffled "Woof!" sprang from his mouth, almost involuntarily, and he slowly made his way back to where he had been sleeping.

A few minutes later, though — around the 10–minute mark of the song — the synthesizer mimicked the sound of a dog owner whistling for his dog, and my dog sprang to his feet. He looked at me expectantly, apparently certain that I had been the one who had been whistling.

But I hadn't — a fact that was soon confirmed for him when the whistling sound could be heard again. Even a dog could tell the sound wasn't coming from me.

My dog has been deceased now for more than 17 years. He got loose from me one evening and ran into a street, where he was struck by a vehicle.

I listened to that CD a few more times before he died, and his response was always the same.

He never did figure out where that barking and whistling were coming from.