Quadraphany comes to Oxford

Music and Art

In May 1972, Pink Floyd began recording at Abbey Road Studios. They were assigned a sound engineer who’s task it would be to record this project using techniques at the forefront of modern recording: quadraphonic sound.

The technique involved recording the sound and splitting the playback into four individual speakers, creating a surround-sound effect. However, this was long before the days of Dolby Digital, and the sound would be played from eight-track player.  An album would be played using tape, rather than the traditional vinyl, allowing sound engineers to split recording more clearly between four channels.

The sound engineer, Alan Parsons, drew diagrams for individual songs detailing the location of each instrument and sound effect in the four-speaker playback. For many, this signifies a golden age in sound engineering: predating digital recording, while standing at the forefront of advanced analogue recording techniques.

The product of the collaboration between Pink Floyd and Parsons was Dark Side of the Moon. In the album’s opening moments, sound effects swirl as a heartbeat reaches a crescendo and a series of sound effects pile on top of one another. It becomes clear very quickly that this is an album crafted with an immersive sound interface in mind.

However quadraphonic sound did not meet a happy end. Expensive production made it a commercial failure, and consumers were unwilling to buy the necessary two additional speakers.

Despite all this, on Thursday 30th April, Blackwell’s will install a quadraphonic sound system in its Norrington Room as it hosts a unique event. DJ and former controller at Jazz FM, David Freeman, will play his personal eight-track, quadraphonic version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon “as it was meant to be heard.”

“This is the definitive four-channel, quadraphonic Dark Side of the Moon. The sound will be sensational and you can’t hear this anywhere else.” Freeman’s quadraphonic version of the album is particularly special because he received it straight from the factory as part of a press release from Abbey Road Studios. He considers it the definitive version because, unlike later American quadraphonic reproductions of the album, it was not transposed from vinyl but produced specifically for the tape of quadraphonic sound.

Most challenging for a modern listener is that this event will ask the audience to sit and listen to the album from start to finish. “The technology has destroyed the vision for the album.” Freeman asserts that as it has become easier to listen to individual tracks, the record as a complete work becomes increasingly inaccessible. “The albums that were made at that time were made as cohesive wholes. Just listening to one little bit is like going to see the Mona Lisa and looking at one of the eyes.”

The Jazz FM DJ admits that he is “a geek, a purist” but insists that the technical and musical nuance of Dark Side of the Moon is unparalleled. “It has a building of atmosphere. If you watch a programme like X-Factor, the only feeling it wants to engender is a sense of awe and wonder. This is much more considered, you can hear them thinking.”

“It will be loud. It will be dramatic. It’s made like movie. It makes sense as a cohesive whole. For a generation that doesn’t necessarily understand music in this format, it might be very interesting.”