This month we look at the understated synth work of Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright, an integral player on some of the most iconic albums of the late ‘60s and throughout the ‘70s.
Wright was never a flashy player and was not particularly known for his technique. It is his economical and perfect-for-the-song parts that were crucial to the Pink Floyd sound. We can all learn a lesson from this, and subjugate the ego to serve the song better.
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Ode to a friend
Long hailed by fans as his peak synth solo outing, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-IX)” from 1975’s Wish You Were Here, has many great Minimoog-driven solo sections. Figure 1 shows the basic patch, which is a single oscillator sawtooth horn patch. Note the filter ADSR settings, which gives it the horn-like quality. Example 1 is the first solo to occur, and it is more of a melody than a traditional “solo.” This is the beauty of Wright’s work: It’s all about crafting a memorable, hummable line. Given that the tune was written to honour their ex-bandmate Syd Barrett, the part sets a sombre mood. I love how in bars 9-12 he uses different passing tones going down than coming back up.
A classic Minimoog moment
When you have an instrument as great-sounding as a Minimoog, you’ve got to let it rip from time to time. That’s exactly what Richard Wright does in “Welcome To The Machine,” also from Wish You Were Here. But for Wright, rip means come up with a huge, rich sound and let it sing, while you revel in the sound. Figure 2 shows the sound, as crafted using Gforce’s stellar MiniMonsta virtual instrument. Notice the tuning range of the two oscillators; they are set two octaves apart to get a huge sound. The timbre is pretty bright and resonant, and check out how the Filter Envelope is driving open the cutoff. Be sure to set the Decay switch to On so the note has a little “tail’ when you release the key; that is when the filter will sweep closed slightly. The sound requires a single repetition of delay (set it to an eighth-note against the tempo) and use ample amounts of portamento!
Example 2 is the solo Wright plays. Starting off with a nice portamento glide, the opening figure sets the mood, resolving on the ninth (or second) of the chord. After leaving some space Wright’s second phrase hews closely to the chord, with a nice classical flavour to it. More space (take the hint!) follows, and then his third phrase again uses the ninth (or second) for some unusual colour. After a short breath, the final phrase comes in, and it traverses a fuller range of the Minimoog, showcasing the portamento, the resonant filter tone, and more colourful notes. No other player of his era sounded like this: Wright was a true original.
Less is more
My last selection comes from Pink Floyd’s landmark album, The Wall, released in 1979. By this time, Wright was not contributing much to the band as a writer or player, and this solo on “Run Like Hell” is one of his only appearances on the recording. Played on a Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, Wright sounds like he’s using the iconic sync oscillator preset #32. Figure 3 shows the preset recreated in Arturia’s Prophet V softsynth. Notice in the upper left that the Poly-Mod section is routing the Filter Envelope to the pitch of oscillator A, creating that distinctive swept sync sound. Example 3 is the solo, which to my mind is less of a solo and more of an ensemble part, used to help drive the chords. But it certainly is a synthesizer feature for a brief interlude. In later years, Wright used a Roland Super JX (JX-10) to re-create the part, which he varied somewhat each night.