Guitar World interview with Alan Parsons, Feb. 1993
"Guitar World", February 1993, Vol.14,No.2, pp 79,121-3
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 1993 17:30:03 EST
From: Nicholas Monitto
Pink Floyd- WALL OF SOUND
-'The Wall' producer BOB EZRIN and 'Dark Side of the Moon' engineer ALAN
PARSONS reveal a saucer-full of studio secrets-
by Brad Tolinski
"Working with Pink Floyd is an engineer's dream, so I tried to take advantage
of the situation," explains studio-wizard Alan Parsons, with a touch of
modesty. "'Dark Side of the Moon' came at a crucial stage in my career, so I
was highly motivated. It was important to me, and I wanted to be sure that the
job was done right."
Parsons' attention to detail obviously paid off: He won a Grammy award for
the best engineered album of 1973, and 'Dark Side of the Moon' went on to ride
the charts for a record-breaking 14 years.
More than just an engineer, Parsons functioned as Pink Floyd's chief sonic
architect. In addition to capturing the band's inspired preformances on tape
and crafting 'Dark Side's celebrated three-dimensional mix, Parsons was also
responsible for creating the album's twisted array of heartbeats, footsteps,
clocks, airplanes and cash registers.
Understandably, Parsons admits that it's "difficult to remember all the
details of something that happened 20 years ago." Nonetheless, he gamely tried
to field all questions related this musical milestone.
[GW-denotes a question, AP-denotes his response]
GW- How did you become Pink Floyd's engineer?
AP- It was simply through my staff position at Abbey Road studios. I mixed
Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother', and they like my work, so they recruited me to
work on the sessions for 'Dark Side of the Moon'.
GW- Did 'Dark Side's three-dimensional sound evolve over a period of time, or
was it planned from the beginning of the project?
AP- Nothing specific was said, but Pink Floyd had a reputation for creating
records that were in a class of their own. They obviously wanted something
GW- Do you have any particularly vivid memories of those sessions?
AP- There are a couple. I have some fond memories of being left alone every
once in a while to do rough mixes. Those were in the days when the comedy
group Monty Python was popular, and the band would often leave the studio to
watch them on television. I would stay behind and work, and it was during those
times that I would get my best ideas.
One of my contributions was to add the footsteps to the "On the Run" sequence.
There were no band members present- it was just me with my assistant engineer,
Peter James. Poor Peter had the job of running back and forth while I recorded
him. I remember instructing him to do things like "breath harder." [laughs]
I was also responsible for the clocks in "Time". I originally recorded them at
an antique store for a sound-effects record. Each clock was recorded
separately, and we just blended them together.
GW- Did the band compose much of the album's material in the studio?
AP- Not really. They already performed a version of 'Dark Side' in concert
before they went into the studio. It was originally called "Eclipse".
GW- What about "On the Run"? I always assumed that it was created in the
AP- You're right. "On the Run" is an exception. That was pretty much Dave's
studio creation. He programmed a random sequence into an early VCS3 synthesizer
and expermented until he found something he liked. All the basic sounds-
including the bass and percussion sounds- came as a mono feed from that one
synth. It's funny, because most people assume that "On the Run" is composed of
several overdubs, it's actually a one-off performance.
GW-Were there any specific technological factors that contributed to the
album's space-age sound?
AP-'Dark Side' was recorded at a time when quadrophonic systems [systems using
four channels to record and reproduce sound] seemed to be on the horizon. For
example, a lot of the effects on the album were designed with quad reproduction
in mind- most notably, the introduction to "Money". The idea was that each part
of the cash register would emanate from a different speaker. As a result, lots
of time was spent recording each segment of the sound effect on discrete
channels. Obviously, no one knew that quad systems would eventually fizzle, but
I would say that thinking in quadrophonic terms probably made us more careful
about how we recorded the effects.
GW- David Gilmour's guitar sound on 'Dark Side' is massive. Do you recall how
it was recorded?
AP- David was very much in control of his sound system [see the DG interview
for further information (which will come eventually...)]. We rarely added
effects to his guitar in the control room. Generally speaking, the sound on the
album is pretty much what came out of his amp. As I recall, he used a Hiwatt
stack and a Binson Echorec for delays.
GW- What kind of board were you using?
AP- A custom-built, late-generation, 16-track, EMI board. It's been reported
that we used a 24-track board, but that's not true. Believe it or not, almost
all the tracks are second generation. We often ran out of tracks and had to
GW- Do you think 'DSOTM' could have been recorded using today's colder-sounding
AP- I don't see why not. The album is just the combination of four talented
people with some good songs and good ideas. These days, the only difference is
that it's difficult to be original with sound. Those Japanese black boxes just
make it too easy to dial up good sounds, but not necessarily original ones.
Back then we really had to work at it.
It was literally a fight to get the delay effect on "Us and Them". We spent a
tremendous amount of time hooking up Dolby units and realigning machines at the
wrong tape speed to accomplish that effect. "Us and Them" was all done with
tape delays, becuase digital delays didn't exist then. All these things took
hours to set up.
GW- I understand that you helped remaster the CD edition of 'Dark Side of the
Moon' for the 'Shine On' Pink Floyd box.
AP- That is correct. I received a call from James Guthrie, who became the
band's engineer after I left. He was supervising the remastering of the Pink
Floyd box, and he needed some technical information regarding those sessions. I
happened to be in the vicinity of the studio where he was remastering, so I
Basically, we discovered that the master tapes were in pretty good shape, and
all we had to do was add a little brightness to the end of the tracks. I felt
very pleased with what we did, and feel that the version of 'DSOTM' on 'Shine
On' is the definitive version.