Monday, September 22, 2008

Incursive Recursion

Another day of pretty damn busy - although I am getting pretty close to catching up on the work work. I also did manage to do the drawing that I mentioned last night, which in this case, was a new Vomit Comic over at Walrus Comix. So go there for content, including my final word on Richard Wright, which I'd originally considered posting here - but, what the heck, I will post it here. Still, there's another few paragraphs explaining the strip (the Wright eulogy just talks about the dedication) and the strip itself.

Meantime, I'm trying to wrestle Excel into giving me a graph on the period of a pendulum swing, and - perhaps more importantly, having gotten that done - calculate the slope for me.

Here's the Wright eulogy - slightly clarified and amended - and don't forget to check the strip.

I guess I've been thinking a lot about music in the last week or so - well, a lot more than usual, which is usually quite a bit in the first place. This is because of the passing last week of Richard Wright, who has been reduced by obituaries to the credit of 'keyboardist and founding member of Pink Floyd.' He was so, so much more, a truly gifted musician whose harmonic language (ha!) was an irreducible part of what made the music of Pink Floyd hum. Roger Waters wrote primarily in a blues or folk song context; David Gilmour excelled at superhuman feats of melodic guitar soloing but had a simple and straightforward approach to composition. It was Rick Wright who brought something larger to the band - big, arching gothic chord structures with one leg in half-remembered jazz and the other in ambient before it even had a name. There's so much to Pink Floyd, a band more than any other that was greater than the sum of their parts, but I can guarantee you that anytime you heard their music and something surprising or unexpected - yet so, so perfect - caught your ear, it was Rick Wright who had written or played it.

He also wrote a handful of lyrics early in the transitional period of the band that literally make me ache for what might have been had he been able to develop his gift further. While Roger Waters was still writing ambling, trippy lyrics - largely cribbed from Tang Dynasty poetry and William Burroughs about setting the controls for the heart of the sun, Wright was the first Floyd lyricist to write convincingly about alienation and loss, two themes that were taken up by Waters only in the coming decade. In fact, Wright wrote specifically about the alienation he felt in the empty groupie experience of a touring rock musician, something that Waters used ten years on as a hinge upon which to frame much of his portrait of Pink's fraught mental state.

I've written on my own blog about Wright's unique approach to the age of electronic keyboards, but it bears repeating: among all of the keyboard players in prog, or in rock in general, Wright was the only one who grasped that each keyboard was an entirely different instrument, and where other keyboardists attempted to dominate each new machine by imposing their own (usually byzantine) style on it, Wright allowed his playing to change organically with each new addition to his arsenal, all while somehow retaining something at the core that was identifiably and uniquely him. The change in keyboard sounds and style really distinguish each album the early seventies Floyd catalogue. To name an example: Dark Side of the Moon is suffused by Wurlitzer and Hammond comping, adding a further rhythmic element that drives the album and keeps the harmonic structure clearly stated - their timbre also adding much to the overall warmth and fullness of the sound. Then on Wish You Were here, the Wurlitzer and Rhodes are largely gone, replaced by polyphonic and monophonic synthesizers, moving from stately grace and mournful remembrance to the sounds of an insect dystopia, pulsing with menace.

It's with this - and so much more - in mind that I dedicated this strip to him. Maybe music isn't a language, per se, but something about what Wright did and his approach to the keyboards at his disposal spoke to me, and became foundational to my love of and approach to playing and writing music, myself. There is not a note that I have ever played on keys that he wasn't in some way responsible for.

Goodbye, Mr. Wright.


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