Even in the early years of Pink Floyd’s career, the band was experimenting with the possibilities of the live experience. Already dazzling audiences with booming sound, colorful light shows, and bubbling translucent oil projections, the group called in Abbey Road engineers to design a quadrophonic sound system in 1967 to send Rick Wright’s keyboards around the concert hall, along with nature sounds, footsteps, or maniacal laughter.
By the time of Dark Side of the Moon, the band had even more of a budget, and began to screen short films, some animated, during their world tour concerts. Not really promotional videos, these films haven’t been seen outside their live context since. But the Internet has a way of finding these things.
Earlier this month, several YouTube users uploaded the film reels used on Pink Floyd’s 1974 North American Tour, with music from Dark Side of the Moon added back in to give an indication of how it was used in the show. (The mixes are also quite different from the album--maybe a fan can tell us from where these come?)
We get some very Kubrick-like traveling shots down both an empty hospital corridor and of Heathrow’s arrival lounge, and later a fist punching a bowl of eggs, Zabriskie Point-like exploding televisions, shots of Nixon and Idi Amin, and finally back to opening shots of the moon for the finale.
But there’s also moments of animation created then-unknown filmmaker Ian Emes.
The up-and-coming and self-taught artist had already made an animation “French Windows” set to the Floyd song “One of these Days,” filled with trippy landscapes and rotoscoped dancers. It won awards at animation festivals and was shown on British TV. According to Emes:
“Having seen my film French Windows on BBC’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, the band commissioned me to make their first-ever animated film, which they subsequently toured the world with. The Time sequence is used to this day. It was a breathtaking experience to see my film projected live at Wembley Arena before a huge crowd of tripped out fans.”
The concert films differed from country to country, sharing 75 percent of their footage, which means if you are a true fan, you’ll have to watch the British Tour version and the French Tour to know what you’re missing. The British version features more information, but it's not clear if it's also by Emes.
After Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd continued to bring visuals into their live shows, most notably another animation for “Welcome to the Machine,” seen below. This time they used another up-and-coming illustrator and animator called Gerald Scarfe to create the harrowing graphics. Scarfe, of course, would later create many more works for Pink Floyd's The Wall, and those animations would be used in concert and later in the Alan Parker film, The Wall.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.