Analyzing “ATOM HEART MOTHER” Of PINK FLOYD
Atom Heart Mother is a six-piece suite music, which was released in 1970 from the album with a similar title. It was prepared by the well-known music band ‘Pink Floyd’ and with the effective participation of Ron Geesin, a British avant-garde musician and experimentalist. It was the longest music made by Pink Floyd’ and was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. The team members included:
– Roger Waters: Bass player, singer, and songwriter
– David Gilmour: Electric guitar player and singer;
– Richard Wright: Keyboard player
– Nick Mason: Drummer
Syd Barrett, the founder, mastermind and source of inspiration to Pink Floyd, was shortly discarded from this group due to some reasons that are out of the scope of this essay; however, the great impact of his creativity and spirit was still lasting in his works. The author believes that it is even evident in this album.
The album was also Pink Floyd’s first album reaching number 1 in the UK chart, and kept this rank for eighteen successive weeks.
The famous British director, Stanley Kubrick, intended to include parts of the suite in the “Clockwork Orange” soundtrack, even though Roger Waters did not accept the request. However, Kubrick, in a short scene from his film, displayed this music album behind the showcase of a store, which reflects the special respect of this legendary cinema super-genius in this work.
After several decades, the album “Atom Heart Mother” is of such a historical and conceptual significance that Ron Geesin recently authored a book entitled “The Flaming Cow” on the steps involved in making and recording this work.
The album cover shows a Holstein-Friesian cow standing in a pasture:
It is said that there is no specific aim behind this choice, and Roger Waters chose this photo from dozens of photographs provided by Storm Thorgerson, the group’s graphic artist and photographer. Later, Storm added that it was originally inspired by Andy Warhol’s “Cow Wallpaper”. The group (notably Roger Waters) was looking for a non-psychedelic cover design, and as a result, the image came out!
It should be noted that the music bands, especially “Rock” and “Metal”, have an unwritten tradition in revealing their own intentions while creating their works. In other words, they do not lead their audience, so that they let them experience the pleasure of discovery and allow their works always keep its novelty and multi-dimensionality. Hence, their works would have no expiration date. This idea was true and admirable. Therefore, the narratives about the selection of the cover and other narratives about this work are not likely to be true. If it is so, it should be said that the work has surpassed its creators!
Some artwork sometimes comes up with such a rare event:
The origin of an artist’s inspiration mainly is his “unconscious”, and perhaps physiologically, the right hemisphere of his brain, which often surpasses his conscious (or perhaps the left hemisphere of the brain, where logical reasoning is located). Thus, the artist unconsciously incorporates a component in his work, of whose reason he himself is not aware.
For example, the same statement has been repeatedly narrated by Ahmad Shamlou (the famous Iranian poet), suggesting that there is sometimes something beyond a poet’s conscious extracting the necessary material from his mental reserves and thus creating a work that even the creator is not also aware of. He himself has frequently experienced the same event when writing a poem, the true sense of which has become evident to him later in his follow-up reviews!
Regarding the cow imagery on the cover of this album, one should also ask what symbol is more maternal than a cow in the human myths, especially among a nation now called “Indo-European”!?
The cow is an indisputable symbol of survival and generosity, and has always enjoyed a special sanctity, as far as being worshiped by Hindus as the goddess of land. The cow was also the symbol of the land for the ancient Persians. This is also well documented by Persepolis carvings.
In these ancient paintings, the cow (Taurus) is the symbol of the Earth (the classical Soil element), and is manifested in May, when the earth is at the peak of its birth and flourishing. On the other hand, the lion (Leo) symbolizes the sky, the sun (the classical Fire element) and the hotness of August. For the ancient people, especially the Aryans escaping from coldness, the lion’s attack on cow is to celebrate the conquest of life on earth.
And now we have the cow imagery on the cover of this album, the first part of which is “mother”, “heart”, and “atom”!
There is also a similar narrative about the appellation of “Atom Heart Mother”, narrating that the band packed different pieces of this song over and over, but not still fixed. The band members performed these seemingly irrelevant pieces in their live performances with non-determined titles such as “The Amazing Pudding” or “Untitled Epic”. They had labeled six pieces of this music as follows. There are, however, several narratives with regard to the timing of each piece:
1. Father’s Shout
2. Breast Milky
3. Mother Fore
4. Funky Dung
5. Mind Your Throats Please!
Total: 23:44 min
Something else still seems to be incomplete and it perhaps needs the genius of someone else, like the Dadaist artist, Ron Geesin who, as a skillful editor, made the work as we know today. This coincided with the first artificial heart transplant to a pregnant woman, and Roger Waters selected the title of the music and album on July 16, 1970 according to an article on the same story published in the UK Evening Standard newspaper. This is a historical narrative! But again, we have to go back to the story about the cow imagery!
Or it was a choice that was completely deliberate, or the work itself made a name in the light of its creators’ unconscious!
Narrative of this work from the perspective of the current author:
This Rock opera runs two dramatic trends in succession (and sometimes overlapping) and in parallel.
The original grand narrative is the story of Mother Nature (planet Earth) and the emergence of intelligent beings (humans) and disasters that this awkward child brings to his kind mother, stressing that this suffered mom does nothing but granting generosity and love until the last moment.
The smaller narrative of the work is the story of a sample human being with all his sorrows and pains in the modern civilized life. A child who is the product of the love between a woman and a man; however, when he grows up and gets matured, he is left in a world of uncertainties and ignorance to repeat the history of human life in an endless cycle.
In the middle of this work, a gender war between women and men is mentioned in human history: The prehistoric tribal feminism is replaced by the patriarchy in the modern world. In the end, though, the verdict of the work creators is that both genders to survive in the future world should create a harmony in quantities (and not necessarily qualities).
On the other hand, the planet Earth in the grand narrative with all its productive reserves is the manifestation of the feminine aspect and the man making tools represents the masculine aspect.
The story begins with a painful review of human history, with all the wars and struggles for survival, resources, religion, and so on. Then we come back to mother and child and witness the growth of the child alongside his mother, and the growth of human civilization in the planet Earth in parallel. The sample human being in this story begins its story in a sad tone from here…
Having a flashback, we come back to the time when life (at least its intelligent type) is not formed, and the mother planet is still virgin; seeking love and eager for generativity. Finally, this intact maiden gets stuck in a romantic event and bears the seeds of human beings.
In the book of “Genesis” we read: The sons of heaven marry earthly girls.
Men and women get together and a child develops in the mother’s womb. We go inside the womb and hear the outside sounds by his ears. There is a melee outside! A mixture of joy and concern…
The child’s self-awareness is forming, and the force and extrinsic factors slowly make his rebellious subconscious submissive and ready to live outside the safe womb. The child is born in a mixture of pain and joy. The happiness and joy inspired by the birth of a human being fills the space; however, he like his ancestors is also condemned to repeat the same predetermined historical paths; the same human sufferings and concerns which make human life a devastating routine and seize his days.
From now on, the work creator’s attitude towards the future of mankind is relatively positive, and in fact, it may be the artist’s desire manifesting him in this way: The child of this story wants to break the repetition cycle and return to his mother’s arms. A man subdued by technology stops destroying his planet, and adopts a new look for a postmodern return to nature. The mother planet is the same as before, with the same kindness, hugging her kid again.
This conscious return to “childhood” is what the philosophers (especially in Eastern and Buddhist philosophies) call “maturation”. As Indian mystic Osho says:
The stage when you’re a child but not acting like a child!
Thus, the story ends in an epic, magnificent and promising tone.
□ Description: The times reviewed in this article are taken from the original and digital version of the “Atom Heart Mother” Album (1970); hence, the existing versions may not exactly match with the mentioned moments due to the different Rips from different CDs (There might be a maximum difference of one or two seconds).
The preface of the story begins with an atmosphere of suspense and wonder. From the very beginning, the audience finds out that he is not to face a common piece of music, and that he is supposed to be surprised!
The sequences of notes are abnormal; the sounds of brass instruments are constantly crashing the wall and are not what you expect to hear since they are playing an inverted melody (from the end to the first) to spring the time flashback to your mind.
You are faced with an unconventional opera, even with the standards of the Psychedelic Rock in that time.
The scale used in this section is “E minor”, which, according to some musicians, is often accompanied by a melancholic, profound, and sometimes even frightening sentiments.
A brief, but struggling and sad review of human history and its wars…
People who do not grow up over time, but their toys grow bigger and their weapons get more frightening…
The storytelling hero escapes by a motorcycle to narrate his own story later.
Reviewing the human history, we witness the life of a sample human being, and feel the sadness conveyed in his story.
We remember the mother’s welcoming arms.
Human is at the prehistoric stage, and all natural forces are almighty and, of course, often maternal due to their generativity. The human community is also tribal and matriarch. Men are hunters and have little chances to play a role in the society. At night, they being tired of daily hunting come back to their shelters and caves, and all important managerial duties are undertaken by women.
The mother/woman loves and is not tired of loving.
3: 30-3: 57
The child (Keyboard) starts speaking!
Gradually, the human beings reach initial technological advancements. This growth is progressive and continuously accelerates. The extraction process of land resources is increasing, but the mother (Viola) continues to love with the same rhythm as if this process does not have the slightest effect on her.
We have a flashback to the human’s tragic story about the sad days of history…
Humans and his life, with a handful of extrinsic factors slowly enslave his rebellious spirit and natural instincts.
The bound sounds of “Drums” and “Bass guitar” throughout this work are the symbol of the determinism and extrinsic factors, against which human beings is constrained and incapacitated.
By contrast, the wild sound of “Electric guitar” symbolizes the inner nature the human being as an intelligent animal at the end of one branch of the life-tree, and the tendency of this animal to overthrow civilization and the imposed constraints; his tendency to escape from the limiting rules and the current custom of neurotic human community.
With reviewing the rock and metal music works, one can certainly claim that the sound of “Electric guitar” plectrums generally reflect rebelliousness, transgression, and the spirit of youth and freshness, that start complaining about paradigms, constraints and imposed systems.
For a minute, the human’s subconscious (or from a psychological point of view, his suppressed inner child) cries out and complains. The right hemisphere of the brain (a place of discovery and subtler intuition and feeling), which always lies in the subjugation of the logical and calculator left hemisphere, complains of separatism. In the grand narrative, it also seems that the human community is narrating its own chronic disease.
In this section, we hear the Piano. According to the writer, in the majority of music works, it symbolizes a submissive and romantic narrator. Here, the piano does not have a special melody, and only sadly and forcefully, in harmony with the drum, displays its mere obedience to determinism, just in contrast to the electric guitar that tries to cope with or escape from the existing situation.
When continuing the review of memories, we come to the life of the man and the woman before marriage and integration … Humankind before himself! The virgin maiden Earth before joining with the seeds of the sky, before the lions’ invasion to the cow!
She is playfully seeking love and generativity along with flirting and charming at the same time.
… In the end, the man proposes the woman!
For love at first appeared easy, but difficulties have occurred… (Hafiz)
There is a struggle and war over power between the two genders.
As it was mentioned, femininity was the dominant force of society over the early periods of human group life and the gods are often feminine. Goddesses such as “Nana”, “Gaia”, “Sepandārmaz” and “Anahita” govern the Earth, and the women are in charge of the kids’ education and training. In these societies, father is a secondary, and sometimes even an unknown element since the tribal men are merely uncles for physical care and provision of resources and there is no need to identify a father for each child.
But since the beginning of the agrarian age, the tribal men are no longer forced to leave their residential places. And they gradually tend to grasp the leadership of the tribe from the hands of expert old women to play a more significant role in educating their children. Over time, male gods are placed against the goddesses, and patriarchal religions come out of history. To achieve this superiority, women must be humiliated in order for their superiority to be completely forgotten by their following generations. They must be at the wrath of the gods, then they become “the gates to the hell” and “the cause of the fall!”
This conflict over superiority is at peak at 8:50. The masculine bass choral slowly overcomes the elegance of the feminine choral and a patriarchal human society then appears.
This conflict is also worth being examined from other perspectives, i.e. the feminine and masculine aspects of every human being from a psychological viewpoint. In Carl Gustav Jung’s analytic psychology school, the “unconscious” or true inner self of each individual is called Anima and Animus, which is against the “mask” or the outer representation of an individual. In the unconscious of a man, “Anima” finds expression as a feminine inner personality and Animus in the unconscious of a woman is expressed as a masculine inner personality. The ultimate psychological balance of humans is in creating the balance between these two aspects, which are referred to as “yin and yang” balance in the ancient philosophies of the far east. We are not to discuss them in-depth here.
That’s why the narrator then wishfully speaks of the third scenario where men and women can achieve the right balance in confronting the life disasters on the planet, and each has a part in life management with regard to his/her gender attributes. This event, depending on the mentality of the work creators, can reflect the present (the beginning of the 1960s and 1970s when gender equality movements began), or an ideal future when gender superiority is minimized, and thus the consensus and harmony we hear at the end of this section appears.
Now, the woman and the man / human and the earth / Anima and Animus in coordination sing the anthem of life, each of whom has found one’s proper place and plays his/her appropriate role in confronting the harsh and hard moves of determinism.
In the civilized human society, the blind equalitarian rights of men and women, in quantitative terms, is not the solution, and this equality must appear in the quality of rights. The passive woman in the role of a counselor and supporter, should consciously grant the active man the agency and take care of the “details” for which she is made! While the ever-hunting man’s holistic attitude is more appropriate to explain the general and macro politics. Men are often under-represented in viewing and analyzing the details.
Now, it is time for lovemaking and integration. The music slowly enters the romance and goes to a kind of sexual audacity. The music scale moves to “G minor” and, musically speaking, a jamming (improvised playing of the main musicians) as if they all are invited to watch a special event!
The music tune fluctuates between “Blues-Rock”, “Funk” and even “Jazz” and “Disco”, depicting the vivacious integration of the lover and beloved.
From the perspective of the grand narrative, humans are exploring, mining and extracting minerals and resources, and enjoying the pleasures of the wealth that has brought about prosperity thanks to technology. The earth generously and handsomely makes its resources available to this parvenu masters. The earth looks sad, though, it apparently does not complain.
Finally, the sperm is formed, the sperm of the story hero, who was the narrator of this story from the beginning.
His unconscious (electric guitar) is in the process of being shaped and influenced by the extrinsic mashing factors (drums)…
We go inside the womb. The fetal organs are developing alongside its self-conscious.
“Drums” and “Bass guitar” symbolize powerful deterministic factors. The rhythms of these extrinsic factors and the factors that the child has no role in selecting them, including who his/her parents are or at what geographic location and under what ideology or religion he/she is born and at what period (war or peace) it grows. They all affect its conscious (Electric keyboard). Furthermore, the unconscious, the natural instincts of the same inner child (Electric guitar), are in an abominable attempt to disobey the systematic and sequential rhythms of these factors, which make the child’s rebellious spirit be submissive and ready for life among other human beings from the very beginning.
On the other hand, outside the womb, we hear human but inaudible sounds.
It seems natural that the conversations are meaningless out there because the embryo inside the womb has not yet learned a language! So, we beside him only know the senses and the feelings of those who are outside the womb, instead of the concept of words.
Apparently, everyone out there is worried and looking forward to having a baby, and if we look carefully, then we can recognize the sounds of the father, doctor, nurse, and perhaps a few friends and acquaintances! Everyone is happy but a little worried… Of course, for the baby who is not yet born, none these have no meaning except some strange and new senses. What is up out there?!
The birth moment is close (14:25)
Nurses are beside the mother and tell her:
Take a deep breath!
– Hoooo … Hoooo… Hoooo…
– Hoooo… Hoooo… Hoooo…
… And the baby is born!
… I dancing cross the threshold of determinism
Happy and grateful!
I came from outside
From a perspective
To watch the observer
Not to the shape of plants, not to the shape of rock, not to the shape of ponds
I was born to the “us” shape
To the glorious shape of human
To sow the rainbow of the butterfly in the spring of the plant
Find the mountain pride and hear the solemnity of the sea
To discover my realm and make the world meaningful to the extent of my attempt and chance
A masterpiece of this kind
Is beyond the power of the trees and the birds as well as the cliffs and waterfalls
To be born as a human being was the nullification of duty
Being able to love and be loved
Being able to hear
Being able to see and say
Being able to get sad and happy
Being able to laugh to the heart extent,
Being able to cry out the life
Being able to raise the neck in pride on a magnificent height of modesty
Being able to bear the burden of Divine Trusteeship
And Being able to sadly bear the loneliness …
Music is combined with an epic and magnificent tone. Since a human being is born!
The repetition of the melody brings us back to the beginning of the story; where we well remember that this glory does not last for a long time, and men should go through terrible bottlenecks to pass the path that may seem smooth at the moment.
Behind the happy and prosperous appearance of urban and modern humans is a heavy sorrow of miseries that he has passed and still has in front.
No music accompanies the song and it converts to a scary chaos of unfamiliar sounds. A strange routine that cannot be guessed where it will go. In fact, this is the true condition of a child who has just entered the world and, after pleasant and relatively safe days (which, of course, it was a difficult time to compare with the absolutely safe nature of the womb), he/she should confront alone with an unknown world, explore and discover it. Nothing is familiar and the horrible shadows have surrounded him.
From the perspective of the grand narrative, the man who is a newcomer on the planet has to face a thousand of terrible and deadly extrinsic forces (including wild animals, lightning, flood, earthquakes, illness and infection, hunger, thirst, and others) and survive. He must find a clever solution for each factor.
Survival is an inevitable and dangerous play!
At 17:34, a sentence is heard: “This is a loud announcement!”
At 17:48, the horror and chaos are at peak, but something like a train or tremendous wave sweeps and takes away all these sounds, which may be a reminder of death as the last release of all the concerns and perhaps the demand of all humans at the difficult moments of life. With a more optimistic view, it might be a symbol of an inner light and insight that releases men from struggling in vain cycles; an enlightening voice from the depths of the unconscious ocean.
The repetition of history is also inevitable and we suddenly hear all we have heard so far! The constructive melodies of human life are overlapping and overwhelming us!
The foolish repetition and routines of mornings and evenings, the never-ending getaway from death, and the ineradicable search for survival… It is as if we all are condemned to play the same roles…
From the perspective of the latest findings of biological knowledge, human beings inherit the memory of their ancestors through DNA molecules in addition to their brain memory, and this is a scary finding! We may have incomprehensible memories in our genetic memory from our non-human ancestors, and they result in behaviors that we do not understand! And the civilized human being, by virtue of his defined culture and intelligence, overcome one’s merely instinctive and animalistic acts, although at the expense of the suppression of his inner child.
The intermingled melodies are well matched with the lyrics we have already given:
Glory of being human and sorrow of getting human!
Everything is integrated, and the narrator’s mind is stirred up by chaos. At 19:15, we hear another sentence, representing the command of a supernatural power or cosmic wisdom: “Silence in the studio!”
The chaos immediately subsides, and the melody resumes in the “E-major” scale. From the viewpoint of a majority of musicians, the major scales inspire a sense of passion and happiness.
19:15 to 19:44
A human being looking for meaning; in search of excellence and a better life… Epic glory of being the only intelligent being on this planet! And afraid of knowing that we are alone!
19: 44-20: 20
The work creators’ wish: The solution is found: Returning to the safe conditions of the womb; recapturing innocence; returning to the welcoming arms of Mother Nature; having a rebirth of becoming a baby; and finding innocence
The acceleration of the inevitable emergence of a newborn baby (Keyboard): again, the technology noise and the re-expression of a feeling that does not change a bit. The Mother Nature (Viola) is constantly and continuously awaiting and ready with great openness. The newborn baby with a return to his own origin calms down again, and the epic glory of humanity returns…
With the experience he has gained, he now is dealing with everything that is softer and more feminine (passive). He is full of tranquility, and even coordinates but not fights with the determinism, which is still violent…
Here, the drums’ melody loses its threatening tone and is actually tamed.
21: 18-22: 13
Now, the narrator revives his narrative with the new insight he has gained. The difference is obvious in melody tone. Sadness and joy are still mixed up and there is no escape from it. Everything has a different color and smell, and it seems that instead of sitting up and running with the raging waves at the surface of the ever-stormy sea, he resides in the very depths of his inner world, in the sea depth which is always quiet.
We find the melody of this section full of confidence and assurance; however, in some parts we hear the subconscious, or the inner child (Electric guitar) making mild disobedience! Such disobedience is indispensable for creativity, discovery, and innovation. The partial rebellion of this suppressed child is imperative to have a more beautiful and artistic world. If paying attention, we hear that the stretching sound of David Gilmour’s guitar is directed towards safety and security each time, and it seems inevitable to obey the determinism. Power systems seem to have been displaced, though, the newly formed systems, slowly and inevitably, are on the same side. This is the certain path that we have adopted to survive!
C’est la vie! ‘ This is Life!
□ Hear the disobedience of the inner child at 21:48, 21:52, 21:58, and 22:05.
22: 13 to the end
The ultimate choral of Anima and Animus / men and women in the community / Heaven and Earth / roots and wings….
Some unexpected and unpredictable events still occur (e.g. at 22:39), but this coordination and integration is so powerful that it immediately overcomes any abnormality as if it had not existed from the beginning. It seems that:
… Redemption is close by;
in the midst of yard flowers…!