Guitar World, February 1993



By B. Tolinski

Alan Parsons -AP

"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 performances 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: 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 liked 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 special.

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."

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 studio?

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 experimented 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 quadraphonic 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 quadraphonic 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. 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 bounce.

GW: Do you think 'DSOTM' could have been recorded using today's colder-sounding digital equipment?

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, because 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 went down.

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.