lunedì 15 dicembre 2014

Investigating the myths around the '2001'-Pink Floyd connection

Pink Floyd and Stanley Kubrick in 1966-67 (source 1 and 2)

The recent release of a new Pink Floyd album (The Endless river) prompted me to complete an article that was in the making for almost a year: an investigation on the links between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Pink Floyd, particularly about the purported request (by Stanley Kubrick) to have the band write the soundtrack for the movie, and the coincidences between the 1971 song Echoes and the "stargate" sequence. Credits for the original source and inspiration for my further investigations to Mikhail Vadalà, author of the fine blog Rashōmon, and his 2013 article.

Did Kubrick ask Pink Floyd to score 2001?

The most unlikely rumor regarding 2001 and Pink Floyd regards the purported request made by Kubrick to the band to write the soundtrack for the movie; according to other versions of the myth, the Floyds themselves asked to score the movie, but the director refused. How likely is such a thing to have ever happened?

First of all, in all the major works (articles, essays, books) written in the last two decades about Kubrick's musical choices for 2001, there is no mention of any contact whatsoever between Pink Floyd and the director; also, the Floyd do not appear in any of the papers held in The Kubrick Archive in London.

Jan Harlan, Kubrick's brother-in-law and music expert, started working with him when the director was choosing the soundtrack for 2001, in mid-1967. Here's a recent interview:
Interviewer: I heard a rumor that Kubrick was originally thinking of putting Pink Floyd as the soundtrack?
Jan Harlan: Before my time. I don't think it is true. I've never heard about it. It may have been true later, or no. I don't remember, if I ever knew, I would have forgot.
Kubrick's eldest daughter, Katharina, does not rule out altogether the possibility, as her answer during a recent Q&A session on Reddit suggests:
Reddit user: Is there any truth to the rumor that your dad approached The Floyd to possibly do some of the sound scapes for this film and they declined due to schedule conflicts? 
Katharina Kubrick: I was aware that Stanley listened to anything and everything that might be useful in his movie. It is entirely within the realms of possibility that he considered Pink Floyd at some point.
This remark about Kubrick's attitude toward soundtracks fits perfectly with this excerpt from a Kubrick 1966 interview with Jeremy Bernstein, made when principal photography of 2001 was well underway:
[...] Kubrick told me that he thought he had listened to almost every modern composition available on records in an effort to decide what style of music would fit the film. Here, again, the problem was to find something that sounded unusual and distinctive but not so unusual as to be distracting.
In the office collection were records by the practitioners of musique concrete and electronic music in general, and records of works by the contemporary German composer Carl Orff. In most cases, Kubrick said, film music tends to lack originality, and a film about the future might be the ideal place for a really striking score by a major composer.
While shooting the 'centrifuge' scenes for 2001 (spring 1966) Kubrick played Chopin to set the mood for Gary Lockwood shadow-boxing sequence.

Pink Floyd, circa 1967 (source)

Were the 1967-Pink Floyd 'major composers', sounding 'not so unusual to be distracting'?

Surely they were not as famous as the post-1970 Pink Floyd, a band with a number one album in the UK (Atom Heart Mother) and a soundtrack for Michelangelo Antonioni's counter-culture classic Zabriskie Point. By December 1967, Pink Floyd's catalogue consisted only of two singles (Arnold Layne and See Emily Play, released in March and June) and one album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, released in August). With the album later peaking at number 6 in the UK charts, it's impossible to prove that Kubrick was unaware of Floyd's existence: considering that, for example, it was Kubrick's wife Christiane who casually discovered György Ligeti's music (later used to a great lenght in 2001) while listening to the radio in that very same August of 1967.

One might point out that, after all, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn did include two 'space rock' songs like Astronomy Domine and Interstellar Overdrive; especially the first, with astronaut-sounding voices and lyrics mentioning planets, could - theoretically - have aroused Kubrick's curiosity and interest. These songs (the first songs that sounded somewhat like the future Pink Floyd would) caused a thematic association to sci-fi that the members of the band denied or rejected in later years.

This does not mean that Kubrick and the Floyds did not get in touch, ever: there are at least two documented contacts between Kubrick and the Pink Floyd (and in particular with their leader until 1983, Roger Waters).

Atom Heart Mother vs. A Clockwork Orange

While working on his next project after 2001A Clockwork Orange (1971), Stanley Kubrick got in contact with Pink Floyd for the possible use of the 24-minute suite Atom Heart Mother (from the namesake 1970 album). Here's Roger Waters recollection of the affair:
He just phoned up and said that he wanted it. [...] we said "Well, what do you want to do? and he didn't know. He [said he] wanted to use it 'how I want, when I want'." [...] and we said right away "Right, you can't use it".
Despite the refusal, Atom Heart Mother ended up featuring twice in A Clockwork Orange - even if only in form of an album cover in the record shop of the Chelsea Drug Store, as shown in this great article by John Coulthart that kindly agreed to let me use the following pictures from his original investigation.

look carefully under the number '2' ...

... it's the cover of Atom Heart Mother....

... that appears also in the upper shelf of the store, above the clerk.

It is unclear whether the cover featured in the store had anything to do with Floyd's refusal, as the director probably approached the band during post-production (principal photography ended in February 1971 and the movie was released in the U.S.A. in December). Also, being the Chelsea Drug Store an actual music store at the time, and not a scenic design full of props, some of the albums might have been there in display already; but the special place given to two 2001 soundtracks makes me think that Kubrick had the last word.

HAL vs. Roger Waters

Almost twenty years after Clockwork Orange, it was Roger Waters' turn to contact Kubrick, asking him to use HAL's voice for his track Perfect Sense – Part I that had to appear in his third solo album Amused to Death. In a 1991 interview given before the release of the record, Waters explains that the inclusion of HAL's snippet had a clear thematic reason, as Amused to Death was a sort of concept-album inspired by the very same 2001; but Waters had not actually requested  permission to use the snippet from the movie.
Jim: Uh, the song Perfect Sense, the song begins with the HAL computer from (the movie) "2001 (A Space Odyssey)"...
Waters: Shhhh, (Roger laughs) don't tell Stanley Kubrick!
Jim:'s having it's breakdown, and then it flashes back from that to the monkey discovering weaponry.
Waters: Ya.
Jim: Explain that. Explain that, how that happens in there?
Waters: Well, that was the starting point for that song, was the image from the beginning of "2001". [...] Which I thought was really powerful. I remember everybody rushed out and bought "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (by Richard Strauss) immediately after the movie came out cause it's such a great piece of music and um, it's stayed with me in the intervening..., how old is that movie? Twenty years, twenty five years? It's a..., it's a long time ago anyway.  Um... so the HAL scene, ...actually when I came to..., I - I started putting..., putting monkey noises over the beginning of it, and it didn't sound right, and then [...] I got the - the laser disc out of "2001". And remember "Daisey", you know, where the..., the..., where he breaks down and he starts to sing "Daisey, Daisey", and gets slower and slower, I was watching the beginning of that scene and I thought "this is great, we'll try this". Hope they don't sue me, they probably will, you know what they're like [those Hollywood types]?
Here's another interview from 1992 where Waters explains his connection with 2OO1:
Interviewer: I remember Pink and 'The Wall', always watching TV, sitting there and zapping. Um, so was it Roger Waters, not so very many years ago, always watching TV?
Roger Waters: Um, no, I've never watched an enormous amount of television. But however, a number of the songs on this record are based on my response to specific bits of news or... or documentaries that I've seen. Um, but the beginning of the idea of the album came from the song Perfect Sense Part 1, uh, where ... so, so the image of the monkey comes from the opening shots of '2001: A Space Odyssey', the Stanley Kubrick, uh, movie, uh, where the chimpanzee, or it's not a chimpanzee, but an early man, if you like, discovers the bone and he can use this bone as a weapon. And that song precedes through a brief history of, eh, the human race until we find ourselves returning to the Garden of Eden at the end of the song ... to have another war.
It's no surprise that basically all the cover art for Amused to Death and the related singles featured monkeys or simians of some sorts:

In a 1993 interview Waters explains that he eventually did ask Kubrick for the permission, only to receive a refusal:
I was wondering what was before that, and what the guy was yelling at the beginning of that. I'm trying to figure out exactly what that was.
[...] A number of people know that I often put messages on records that I make. There’s one on The Wall and a few other bits and over that particular piece of “Perfect Sense Part I”, we had a bit from 2001. You know the Kubrick movie. The bit where Dave is turning off the HAL 9000 computer and the computer is saying “Stop Dave”, I don’t know if you remember it and there’s all this breathing in the background. It’s a great scene and it’s been sampled and used on a million different rap records. 
Anyway, I stupidly asked Stanley Kubrick for permission to use it as background on that particular track. He hummed and hawed for ages and ages and eventually refused me permission to use it on the grounds that it would open the floodgates and lots of other people would use it. And my presumption is that he was closing the stable door to those who bolted and fell on deaf ears. 
So, I made my own which is why you’ve got me breathing on there which is a bit like that thing and that is a backwards message for Stanley Kubric. So,“Yelnats” backwards we all now know is Stanley. [...] And the shouting at the beginning, I wouldn't like to tell you what that is but it's the "Mad Scotsman" having a quiet word with Stanley Kubric about not giving me permission to use that Kubric stuff on the record.
Roger Waters during a 2012 concert (source)

It is generally assumed, although never stated by the singer, that Waters considered Kubrick's refusal as a sort of vengeance for the Atom Heart Mother incident; anyway, this is the backwards message Waters is referring to in the interview - you can hear it in this version of Perfect Sense – Part I (Apparently it seems that in live renditions of the song made in the years after Kubrick passed away, Waters did use a HAL sample from the actual movie.)
Julia, however, in the light and visions of the issues of Stanley, we changed our minds. We have decided to include a backward message. Stanley, for you, and for all the other book burners.

Conclusion: So, where did it all come from? 

I guess that, by now, even the most ardent fan might have seriously wondered why, in those interviews where he goes a great lenght about 2001, Waters never mentioned Kubrick asking Pink Floyd to score it; but I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to know how the connection happened.

My investigation led me to the most probable first mention of the Pink Floyd-2001 connection: the year 1991, when Nicholas Schaffner wrote in A Saucerful Of Secrets, one of the first respectable biography of Pink Floyd, the following paragraph:
Roger Waters, yet to balk at the sci-fi association, went so far as to say his 'greatest regret' was that they didn't do the score for 2001: A Space Odyssey -- parts of which, particularly in the long, mind-blowing hallucinatory sequence near the end, nonetheless sound remarkably Floydian...
Schaffner does not include the source of the interview; a strange mishap, considering that the book is full of properly traced sources. It's no surprise: in the bulk of Pink Floyd interviews available on the web and in the most authoritative books I've read about the band there is no mention of such statement.

Despite this, magazines (even authoritative ones) and later websites perpetuated the legend again and again, mixing it with the truth from the Atom Heart Mother incident, and later with Waters' Amused To Death, and therefore giving some credibly to the claim.

Schaffner's remark about the 'hallucinatory sequence sounding remarkably Floydian' hit the web in the the late 90's and remained alive ever since, creating another urban legend, that states that after Kubrick's purported refusal to let them score 2001 (or after their refusal to do it, depending on which version you prefer), Pink Floyd wrote the 1971 song Echoes (from the album Meddle) synching it on purpose to "Jupiter and beyond the infinite", the final sequence of 2001.

There are many fan-made videos on the internet showing the (somewhat eerie) coincidence, and this is one of the best; if you want to do the syncronization by yourself, with your own Echoes record and a copy of the 2001 DVD/Blu-ray, follow the instructions here.

The link between Echoes and 2001 received a semi-official sanctioning when director Adrian Maben re-created the marriage of music and image, using CGI, for its 2003 Director's cut DVD of the movie Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, a 1972 concert film featuring Pink Floyd playing at the ancient Roman amphitheatre in Pompeii, Italy (a place that, by the way, it's very close to the town I spend my summer holidays in.)

Here's two frames, one from 2001, and the second from the 2003 DVD of the concert, from the blog Rashōmon:

The fact that, by 1971, the band had already scored two movies (the aforementioned 1970 Zabriskie Point was preceded by french art film More in 1969), again gave some credibility to the claim; Pink Floyd also provided an instrumental piece called Moonhead to the BBC coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing (July 1969). According to Wikipedia, (unfortunately there are no sources for this)
...the members of the band always denied that the synchronization was intentional. Furthermore, the technology necessary to the synchronization in a recording studio circa 1971 would have been expensive and difficult for the band to acquire.
Luckily, the creation and origins of Echoes are extremely well documented, as we learn from this Cinefantastique article:
The story behind the creation of this lengthy effort is detailed in ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL: The Stories Behind Every Pink Floyd Song by Cliff Jones.
The band gathered in the recording studio [Ed.note: late 1970-early 1971] with the goal of creating a song that would fill an entire side of a record. Playing to a metronome, they recorded thirty-six discrete pieces of music. These thirty-six pieces were then edited together, re-recorded and re-edited and redubbed until eight major sections remained.
At no point in Jones’ account is 2001 or Stanley Kubrick mentioned, and in fact the recording did not take its final shape until after the song had been played live on at least a few occasions, on the basis of which the group went back to further refine the album track. In other words, the final version was based on what worked best as a live concert performance, not on whether it synched up with a movie.
Also, Wikipedia is helpful in giving us more hints about the composition of 'Echoes':
  1. The high-pitched electronic 'screams', resembling a distorted seagull song, were discovered by Gilmour when the cables were accidentally reversed to his wah pedal;
  2. The second half of the song where Gilmour plays muted notes on the guitar over Wright's slowly building organ solo was inspired by The Beach Boys song "Good Vibrations" ;
  3. In an interview in 2008 with Mojo, when asked who had composed Echoes, Wright stated he had composed the long piano intro and the main chord progression of the song, in the same interview he confirmed that Waters wrote the lyrics. Gilmour has also stated in interviews that musically the song came mainly from him and Wright.
All this basically rules out the conspiracy hypothesis: Pink Floyd did not synch Echoes to 2OO1.

Summing it up

Stanley Kubrick got in contact with Pink Floyd to request permission to use Atom Heart Mother in A Clockwork Orange, but the band refused. Later, it was Kubrick's turn to refuse permission to Roger Waters to use a sample from 2001. Although Waters was definitely fascinated by the movie, the lack of any hard proofs and the amount of circumstantial evidence goes against the claim that Pink Floyd have ever had anything to do with 2001, either for its soundtrack or, later, in syncronizing their tracks to the film.

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