About eleven minutes into ‘Echoes’, the epic 23-minute album closing track to Meddle that took up the record’s entire second side, there are some high piercing sounds that uncannily recall the sound of seagulls. With a similar tambour and tone to the animals that patrol seasides and shores around the world, Pink Floyd were taking you from the depths of the sea up to the surface for the first time in the extended composition.
It all seemed to fit within the songs nautical theme. Aggrieved by their constant classification as a ‘space rock’ band, the members of the Floyd decided to no longer set the controls for the heart of the sun and instead turned their attention to another unexplored region closer to home: the deep sea.
The band were in a constant state of experimental recording, trying desperately (and largely fruitlessly) to discover a new musical identity. Upon the departure of original singer and songwriter Syd Barrett, the remaining members embraced longer, less explicitly psychedelic sounds and gravitated ever closer to progressive rock. Part of that meant embracing space themes, which along with their walls of sound and penchant for wide open jams, led them to become associated with the ‘space rock’ tag.
A few albums of listless direction followed, and when the band reassembled for Meddle, it looked to be much of the same. There was an epic hard rock number (‘One of These Days’), a couple of gentle acoustic tracks (‘San Tropez’ and ‘A Pillow of Winds’), a song that blended in a football chant (‘Fearless’), and even a song sung by a dog (‘Seamus’). No through lines, no shared themes, and no bursts of major inspiration. That was the case until Richard Wright happened upon a certain pinging noise.
From there, the band built an epic multi-part suite that blended underwater settings with philosophical lyrics regarding evolution and human connection. As the band were searching for transitions between sections, David Gilmour went to plug in his wah wah pedal to try and crank out some funk. What he didn’t realise was that he plugged it in backwards, creating high pitched quacks and caws that were reminiscent of seagull calls.
Delighted with his happy accident, the band recorded the effect and dropped it into the composition’s middle section. Drummer Nick Mason credits avant-garde musician Ron Geesin for inspiring the band to experiment so frequently. “The guitar sound in the middle section of ‘Echoes’ was created inadvertently by David plugging in a wah-wah pedal back to front,” Mason explained. “Sometimes great effects are the results of this kind of pure serendipity, and we were always prepared to see if something might work on a track. The grounding we’d received from Ron Geesin in going beyond the manual had left its mark.”
To replicate the sound live, Gilmour would repeat the backwards plug-in set up and take a metal guitar slide to the string to create feedback. The feedback, going through the wah wah pedal, produced the familiar nautical sounds that colour the track. Eventually, the sounds were simply put to tape and played alongside the ambient middle section instead of labouring over the reconstruction of the noises.
The band weren’t done experimenting, but Rogers found an epiphany within writing the lyrics and the extended format of ‘Echoes’. For the band’s next project, he wanted to retain the experimental nature of the track but bring a greater focus to structure, meaning, and intent. The result would be The Dark Side of the Moon, and constituted Waters era of leadership within the group.