I'm currently in the middle of a debate with my roommate. For now, he wishes to remain anonymous, but let's just refer to him as Brett. You remember, Brett, right? The guy with me in the picture above. Not Sam. The guy who is about to be set on fire. Yeah, that guy. We're not arguing; we're debating. The debate has to do with progressive rock, and what it actually is. I have not written a post in a while, so I feel like this is a great way for me to express my opinion on progressive rock. Here we go!
Before we get into what I think progressive rock, AKA Prog Rock, actually is, let's talk about what the debate my roommate known as Brett are in.
Pink Floyd: Prog Rock or Nah?
Now, you might be asking yourself: what is progressive rock? Well, I'm glad you asked. Last.fm has a really good definition and explanation of progressive rock. They state that progressive rock "is a form of rock music that evolved in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a "mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility.
Progressive rock bands pushed "rock's technical and compositional boundaries" by going beyond the standard rock or popular verse-chorus based song structures. Additionally, the arrangements often incorporate elements drawn from classical, jazz, and avant-garde music. Instrumental songs are more common, and songs with lyrics are sometimes conceptual, abstract, or based in fantasy. Progressive rock bands sometimes used "concept albums that made unified statements, usually telling an epic story or tackling a grand overarching theme."
This is a massive giant we're about to take down, so let's get started with the first point in their definition: pushing rock's form and compositional boundaries. To explore these concepts, I will be referencing Techniques of the Contemporary Composer by David Cope. Cope has a chapter on Musique Concrète, and he states that musique concrète results from manipulation--usually by editing--of tape-recorded natural sounds. These natural sounds can literally be anything, as long as it follows three basic stages: locating, recording, and manipulation. Composers like Varèse and Stockhausen have used musique concrète with human voices, jet planes, gunfire, radio static, etc. Pink Floyd also uses this technique of musique concrète in their album in songs like Time (alarm clocks) and Money (cash registers).
There are two pieces advanced compositional techniques that Pink Floyd uses in On The Run. These two concepts are known as Electronic Music and Post-Minimalism. Let's talk about the aspect of electronic music first. I know that this guy is probably the first person to come to your head when you hear the term "electronic music", right? Well, let's talk about when electronic music was first becoming a thing instead.
Cope states that electronic music is defined as sounds created by either analog or digital synthesizers; the latter is sometimes referred to as computer music. Listen to On The Run by Pink Floyd. The song is entirely consisting of musique concrète, along with being performed using an EMS synthesizer (Synthi AKS). On top of being a piece constructed around electronic music, it has heavy elements of postminimalistic composing in it. (Tangent: postminimalism is music with a few key structural elements -- steady pulse continuing throughout, diatonic pitch language, general evenness of dynamics, and an avoidance of obvious linear/formal design). If I picked out the synthesizer line of On The Run properly, this is what the synth plays the entire time. (Forgive me, David Gilmour & Roger Waters if I butchered this).
So, if we're looking at Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon from a compositional standpoint, they used so many different advanced composition techniques in their music. Is the music virtuoso in nature? It depends on what your definition of virtuoso is. If we ask our good friends Merriam and Webster, we can see that the definition of a virtuoso person is one who excels in the technique of an art; especially a highly skilled musical performer, but IT IS ALSO DEFINED AS one skilled in or having a taste for the fine arts. All that being said, I feel like you could slightly make an argument about Dark Side of the Moon being somewhat virtuosic in nature. I'm not going to, just because I feel like that would be a little bit of a stretch, but I could see your side of the argument if you did.
All of that being said, and I could have said a whole lot more, because of how subjective the interpretation of music is, the answer to the question "Is Pink Floyd progressive or not?" could be yes or no! It's entirely up to the interpretation you have on what progressive rock is. There is no right or wrong answer. Rather, there are several answers that are all correct. (Mine is just better than yours)
Until next time, keep rocking, my friends. Because prog or not, we all still salute under the same fist.