Syd Barrett´s Techiques

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Syd Barrett´s Techiques

Post by zag »

I dare to post this from another society (with many thanks to Phil Salathé, Tim Ellison, Sarah Stars, Josh Shamash and Daniel Nass and Julian Palacios) just to see how this will fit in here. Happy holidays, Syd lovers ! :lol:

Syd Barrett’s Techniques

Syd’s Gear

By the end of 1966, Barrett used a 50-watt Selmer Truvoice Treble n’ Bass 50 Mk II with matching ‘All-Purpose 50’ Speaker Cabinet with 2X12 speakers. Onstage, the Pink Floyd used Selmer Goliath cabinets and Stereomaster guitar amplifier heads, with four Selmer TV/100 PA amplifier heads, for a tremendous roar.

A perfect gig amp with clean tone, Syd’s Selmer combo excelled at two things – treble and bass. Channels had clean tone to about four on the volume dial. Turning volume up, bass channel had vigorous crunch, with blues and jazz overtones. A bit higher and Syd’s dark expansive proto-metal sound rumbled through. Even with treble control down, treble channel had knife’s edge sharpness. As Syd turned treble higher and pushed the amplifier hard, he got into extreme noise and feedback. His Selmer amp had an effects loop wired to pre-amp valve, an echo send return on the back Syd utilised with Binson and a Selmer Buzz-Tone fuzz pedal.

An early solid-state distortion unit Selmer introduced in September 1966, a three-stage transistor circuit gave Buzz-Tone much smoother distortion than other fuzz pedals. Barrett was an expert manipulator of effects, used with restraint. Barrett’s Buzz-Tone fuzz had stinging bite at high volume, with great sustain. (‘buzz a while...sting!’)

Syd put Buzz-Tone on maximum setting then rolled guitar volume knob down for overdriven parts and back for distortion. Like Gilmour or Hendrix, Syd set fuzz and volume at maximum level and used guitar volume to control gain and fuzz. Fuzz pedal boosted and clipped sine wave input from guitar into square waveform. Buzz-Tone’s germanium transistors were notorious for wonky tone in hot clubs, an interstellar overdose of flat sine waves. As Buzz-Tone clipped, intermodulation caused signal heavy with extra harmonics, often distorted.

Syd’s Esquire proved versatile for every gig. With all 21 frets clear of the cutaway, Syd howled right up the neck with superb sustain. The single coil bridge pickup was heavy, with strong mid-range, and much power at high volume. Playing live, Syd flicked the three-tone selector switch, with resistors and capacitors altering frequency response.

In position one, or bridge-setting, tone control was disconnected and wired direct to output jack. Here, Syd got crisp treble lead tones, setting Selmer at four or five gain, for leads more scalding than Telecaster. In position two, standard volume and tone control arrangement allowed Syd to darken and brighten passages. Turning tone knob to the centre gave Syd good Telecaster-like mid-range to vamp while Rick soloed. Syd could mellow tone a bit by strumming past where neck pickup would be, or diving to the bridge with Zippo flashing across the bottom E string for his signature sustain violin-like tone. In position three, tone control was again disengaged.

A unique Fender tone capacitor rolled off treble and some bass, producing muted dark tone the rhythm player in Syd thrived on. Here he could drop into Waters’ bass range and thicken rhythm.

Esquire enthusiasts rave about so-called ‘cocked wah’ in the third position, where signal highs and lows swooped and dipped for pronounced hard-hitting tone. Barrett relied on barré chords to reduce dissonance, damping with his thumb over E string. Applying effects to amplified signal after distortion by preamp, echo and fuzz sounded better. Syd tweaked Binson volume input for overdrive and ran the loop in parallel with dry amp signal, boosting Binson’s maelstrom undertow as signal waned. Syd would raise volume on fading echoes, capturing decay, decentring rhythm. Using different pedals in effects chain, plugging ends into the amplifier, Syd got repetitive feedback signal he modulated with effects; filtering with Binson, adding gain with Buzz-Tone; modulating wave forms with swell.

By the Games For May concert, Syd was experimenting with a Fender Stratocaster and Vox Tone-Bender pedal, also using a foot switch to tap in and out of Binson echoes. By the end of the summer, Syd was further using a Selmer wah pedal, one of the very first British guitarists to do so.

Syd and Chromatics

The key in early Pink Floyd is Syd Barrett’s chromatics itching against Wright’s diatonic modal lines. In simplest terms, diatonic refers to white keys alone, while chromatics are black and white keys on piano. As Wright floated along seven white keys on major and minor scales, Syd darted around like a king bee, buzzing with five extra pentatonic semi-tones. It cannot be overemphasized how unusual this was in rock, especially in 1967. In The Foundations of Rock, Walter Everett states, ‘These styles are often called atonal and are exceedingly rare in rock music, although Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, and others occasionally have produced passages which qualify.’

Surging chromaticism in music most always parallels culture in rapid transition. Wright’s modal scales allowed Barrett great freedom when soloing, as he could zip along guitar neck with Zippo and still hit right notes using intuition. Musician Josh Shamash states, ‘Stock open and barré chord shapes, first ones you learn, account for the largest portion of Syd’s recorded guitar work (with occasional C7 shape transposed and added 9th here and there).’

Barrett relied on crude barré chords, and modified open-G tuning, abandoning standard chord figures to ease chromatic pandemonium. Chromatic colours in Syd’s glissandi worked much the same as in painting - brightening, darkening and saturating. Lessons extrapolated from Camberwell and the Tech on bending perspective, and creating depth distortions were fresh in his mind. Darting between foreground and shadow, Barrett created a sound picture made of sparring contrasts, in melody pitched through chromatic shifts. At Camberwell, art students had chromatic colour wheels drilled into them by tutors. Barrett was keenly aware of synaesthetic colour-sound shifts onstage at UFO.
Chromatics smudged tonality, by escaping tonal centre and gravity, a musical rebellion.

Composer Daniel Nass comments, ‘chromaticism forms Barrett’s 'dark' sound. Chromatics takes away pre-conceived expectations of what comes next. Isn’t it interesting his chromatic phrases tend to descend more often than ascend? So many instances of descending phrases (chromatic and otherwise) in his songs.’ This pointed directly to childhood nursery rhymes. Almost all nursery rhymes contain semitone intervals - difficult for novice singers, except children, who grasp them unconsciously and immediately. Diatonic tonalities of Syd’s childlike folk-inspired songs itched against chromatic improvisations; what one writer called ‘getting childlike folk song diatonic and unpredictability of heavy chromaticism from one progression.’

Syd’s Semitone Drops

From nursery rhymes, Barrett adopted his curious phrasing, rhyming and metre, cadence and intonation. Interplay between words and melody in nursery rhymes made a profound impression at a tender age. ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’, with its falling cadence and diatonic notes, was one. ‘Oranges and Lemons’ and ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ also possess a certain melodic touch that later slotted into Barrett’s material, rife with the falling chromatic melodies that run through all his songs. All have a falling semitone interval, difficult to sing for adults, simple for children.

Russell Reising, in Speak to Me: The Legacy of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, noted a three-semitone drop as a Pink Floyd favourite during Syd’s time and after, his most obvious legacy, a signature touch allowing wavering between tonics of adjoining chords. Harmonic ambiguity heightened lyrical ambiguity.

Barrett was further influenced here by the Beatles, whose three-semitone drop in ‘If I Fell’ was echoed in his own ‘Late Night’.

Salathé notes, ‘switching between G-natural and G-sharp throughout the vocal melody of ‘Arnold Layne’ is another Barrett trademark. The three- semitone drop maintains common
tone between chords; if they're both major, the third of chord one becomes fifth of chord two (as in ‘Arnold Layne’s C# vocal note (‘caught’) and second syllable of (‘person’) over A and F#).’ On ‘Pow R. Toc H.’ the classic Syd three-semitone reappears here in the drop from G minor to E minor.

Syd’s Structural Tritones

When Barrett and Wright first plugged into Binson Echorec and experimented, they chanced on audio illusion ‘the tritone paradox’, finite tones continually rising or falling in pitch. Using glissando in league with modal riffs, they created an approximation of this audio illusion such that ‘space’ sections should have disorienting perpetual rising and falling action through scales. A discovery they soon put to work onstage. (Wright again used this tritone paradox at the end of ‘Echoes’.)

Futurist Luigi Russolo wrote, ‘Every noise has a note - sometimes even a chord - that predominates in the ensemble of its irregular vibrations Thus certain noises produced by rotary motion may offer a complete ascending and descending chromatic scale by merely increasing or decreasing speed of motion.’

Barrett liked to voice dominant seventh chords, typical of psychedelia, on guitar in a manner that emphasized dissonance. A dominant seventh chord on C, made from notes C, E, G, and B-flat, had characteristic 'flavour' generated from the tritone between E and B-flat.
The tritone, or flatted-fifth interval, is two notes six steps apart, spanning three whole tones. An extreme dissonant sound, a ‘perfect discord’, tritones promise resolution but never deliver. Known as Diabolus in Musica, ‘the devil in music’, as late as the 18th century musicians were reprimanded for using this ‘inharmonious transverse’. The blues scale draws much power from the tritone at its core, and chromatic turnarounds using tritones as pivot point.

Salathé says, ‘Syd often ended phrases on a strong dissonant note. Sometimes a dissonant chord he was already using, though just as often Barrett chose a pitch thoroughly at odds with the harmony. He pulled off deft musical alchemy, sustaining dissonance through to another chord that included the note in question. In effect, reinterpreting foreign pitch as normative sonority. This technique, known as anticipation, dates as far as Bach. In Syd's hands, anticipation is often deployed with magical effect.’

Beyond words Syd sang, his subtlety lies where he placed emphasis. Rhyme schemes changed from song to song. In ‘Lucifer Sam’, inside the song, with rhymes in two middle bars parried with one rhyme in the second, and ending with two in the middle of the last verse.

Tim Ellison states, ‘‘Lucifer Sam,’ noted for Gothic connotations in lyrics, features a minor key guitar riff with both raised fourth tritone and raised seventh tones’. Barrett deliberately uses the Diabolus in Musica discordant interval to evoke Luciferian overtones. Phil Salathé concurs, ‘the tritone prominent in ‘Lucifer Sam’ is unmistakable, all the way from F# minor to C major in the space of five chords. C major almost takes place of the dominant on C-sharp, though E is the dominant 'trope'. There’s no C-sharp chord, which justifies the tritone as structural.’

Musicologist Dave Lewis says, ‘When playing such a chord, Syd might either leave the G out or move it elsewhere on the fingerboard, so the tritone between E and B-flat sounded louder than the rest of the chord’. Phil Salathé says, ‘Another property of dominant seventh chords is the tritone giving them flavour is shared between dominant sevenths, whose roots are also a tritone apart. Many composers have taken advantage of this, especially early moderns like Syd’s hero Igor Stravinsky.’

On ‘Jugband Blues’, Salathé notes, ‘Salathé says, ‘On the structural level, the song's introductory verse starts with a C major chord and ends with an F# major chord. That's critical. B minor, F# minor, B minor, F# major - a structural tritone 'Jugband Blues' is bounded by.’

On ‘Baby Lemonade’, Salathé adds, ‘’Baby Lemonade’ is a slippery devil, and a favourite for that very reason. The song is intriguing harmonically, suspended between Bb and D in the strangest way. Syd's guitar intro is clearly in E, but ends on the note Bb. The first chord of the song is Bb. It's a super-fore grounded tritone event, as it were. Arpeggios toward the end of the intro involve a single, fixed chord shape moved down one fret at a time, with one open string (B) droning throughout. Again, a highly characteristic gesture in that Syd's hand shape stays the same throughout. The first part of the intro is straight-up blues in E, but an unexpected G# at the end (a major third, rather than G-natural, the blues minor third) starts to send us in a new direction. Then we get the descending blues riff, then arpeggios, which are classic Syd transitional chromaticism, then descending blues riff again, but this time elaborated, expanded, and used as a bridge to B-flat to start the song. The intro to ‘Baby Lemonade’ makes far more formal sense than one would think.’

When Pink Floyd recorded ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, David Gilmour noted of the distinctive riff, ‘I don’t know where it came from. I was just playing an A-minor chord and moved my fingers to the wrong position. It could be just an accident - a haunting, calling sound.’ Salathé states, ‘Which would be the Bb-E tritone, which bounds it (temporally, i.e. horizontally). Plausible also to hear an echo of the prominent tritone in ‘Lucifer Sam’.’
Chords for ‘Octopus’ are singularly intriguing, festooned with suspended notes and unusual progressions, a sinuous emphatic Ab weaving like an octopus tentacle all the way down to the fade.

Salathé writes, ‘The basic chord progression of ‘Octopus’ is highly unusual. A chromatically descending set of three chords with lengthy sojourn until return to the first progression. Then first dominant-tonic at ‘please leave us here’, which sidesteps onto Eb at the end, as if Bb were the dominant of Eb all along. Unexpectedly, then Gb for the ‘lost in the woods' section, followed by another chromatic sequence, ascending this time to Ab, which bobs and weaves with oscillation. ‘Octopus’ is a weird song, not from any single chord sequence, but because tonal centre is so unclear: Ab is a primary key centre, though one of several.’

Syd’s ‘Moods’

Interviewer Steve Turner noted, ‘His songs, like paintings, were used essentially to convey a mood. Throughout the interview he spoke of ‘relating to a mood’ when referring to his work.’ Barrett stressed the sense of his songs as ‘moods’, much as Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys composed short piano segments, or ‘feels’, as he dubbed them, to construct compositions. Moods, to Barrett, stemmed from words. These contemporaries infused songs with emotional resonance, mirroring state of mind during composition. Each watched mood pieces become more fragmented, unable to be fitted together.

Singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses said, ‘Words are an instrument played by syllables. Those syllables are words and sentences.’ Hersh heard sounds, wrote them phonetically, and they became songs. At the piano, Brian Wilson played ‘feels’, what he termed ‘...specific rhythm patterns, fragments of ideas. Once they’re out of my head and into the open air, I can see them and touch them firmly. Then the song starts to blossom and become a real thing.’

Where Wilson’s rhythmic patterns generated songs Syd Barrett collated ‘moods’ through words. Rhythm of Syd’s words dictated harmonic construction, with melodic rhythmic riffs and chromatic descending melodic lines serving as handmaidens. Princeton music professor Robert Wegman states another trait Wilson shared with Barrett, ‘the descending melodic line by which Brian organized his right-hand chords was more usually chromatic than diatonic, more adventurous and downright jazzy.’

If Wegman felt Wilson’s ‘countermelodies tend to leap rather than descend—to counteract the downward chromatic slide’, then in Barrett’s works chromatic descents act as connective glue between intervallic leaps. Like Wilson, Barrett shared taste for wide harmonic leaps. Wegman states, ‘Brian neither begins nor ends descending progressions, these ‘feels,’ on the tonic, and keeps songs perpetually floating in mid-air.’ This calls to mind Barrett’s slide guitar in ‘Remember a Day’, ascending and descending around a floating key centre.

Syd’s Compound Glance

When writing lyrics, Syd Barrett often reached for the nearest book at hand, flipped it open, and scanned down whatever page he happened to land on. Spurred on by experiments in Cambridge writing poetry, reading about Tristan Tzara’s Dada techniques, delving into Brion Gysin and William Burroughs’ cut-up method, listening to John Cage explain his chance operations, Barrett was very keen to use accidents, chance and instinct in tandem when writing. An early example would be his instant collage in Fart Enjoy, where Syd flipped open his illustrated Kate Greenaway 1881 Mother Goose, or the Old Nursery Rhymes, scanned the title page and picked out ‘sprat locket patch’ from the table of contents.

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
Lucy Locket, lost her pocket
Cross Patch, lift the latch

Fitting for a son of East Anglia, Syd’s eyes almost always tended to fall on hard Anglo-Saxon words, rather than Romanesque melodic words. Fond of end rhymes in Carroll and Lear, Syd’s lyrics expertly weave between ethereal imagery bracketed with hard rhyming words heavy on consonance.

Concrete poetry, where the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as words, was another inspiration. In Fart Enjoy, Barrett clipped a page out of a nearby Universal Critical and Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language, and cut and typed a concrete poem, allowing the shape of the words on the page to create form.

Elsewhere, Barrett makes ample use of internal rhyme, rhyming sounds in the same line for effect, where at least one word does not fall at the end of a line, is used time and again to amplify his compound glances across secondary sources.

Barrett was inspired by Old English poetry and British Islands traditional ballads, where each line is broken into half-lines by strategic break or pauses. Accented syllables trigger specific emphasis, cementing tone. In Anglo-Saxon poetry, structural emphasis comes in accentual meter (or alliterative-stress meter). In A Study of English Rhyme, Francis Child wrote, ‘There are (usually) two alliterations in the first line and one at the beginning of the second line. Alliteration is the domestic artifice of Teutonic poetry, as rhyme and assonance are of the Romanesque.’ Barrett, always the man on the border, straddles the two.
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Re: Syd Barrett´s Techiques

Post by sonsofthedesert »

Good article,worth a read!
I still think the likes of Barrett,Beck(Jeff that is),Page,Hendrix etc defy anylitical description.
They had and in some cases still have that, dare i say Genius that makes them identifiable and unique as musicians when you hear them.
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Re: Syd Barrett´s Techiques

Post by 30yrsydfan »

good article, thanks for posting.
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Re: Syd Barrett´s Techiques

Post by indica »

Thank you Zag for cross-posting, which should be encouraged!

That article is from 'Syd Barrrett & Pink Floyd: Lost in the Woods' #2 by Julian Palacios, due in March 2010 from Plexus Books
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Re: Syd Barrett´s Techiques

Post by moom »

Post of the month!
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Re: Syd Barrett´s Techiques

Post by Vlad The Impaler »

Nice analysis.