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Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Morse code in the Pink Floyd song ‘Astronomy Domine’

Pink Floyd stands as one of the most influential bands in music history. Across their extensive and illustrious career, the group transitioned from the raw psychedelia of their initial era, led by Syd Barrett, to a deep dive into musical and studio experimentation.

As expected from a band with such a lengthy tenure, Pink Floyd experienced their fair share of less successful releases. However, the standout moments they produced are truly exceptional. Whether it’s Meddle, The Dark Side of the Moon, or Wish You Were Here, the ongoing debate about the definitive Pink Floyd album will likely persist long after our time on this earth — a testament to the sheer brilliance of their musical high points.

In 1967, Pink Floyd dropped their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, marking the band’s initial foray into the music scene and becoming a significant piece in the history of psychedelic rock. With Barrett at the creative helm, the band became a pioneering act in the emerging genre, thanks to the musician’s guidance along with his imaginative lyrics and unique musical style.

Perhaps one of the most psychedelic pieces of the entire album exists within the creative walls of their song ‘Astronomy Domine’. Crafted by Barrett, it opens with a series of endearing notes before his discordant guitar slices through the arrangement. Amid a chaotic soundscape, Barrett and Richard Wright share vocal duties, conjuring an almost ethereal, Gregorian-like harmony that adds a magical layer to the piece.

Combined with the mesmerising musical arrangement, Barrett’s references to celestial bodies firmly anchor this track within the psychedelic realm. Gliding through different images of space, galaxies, and interstellar travels, the lyrics paint a vivid picture of cosmic exploration, which aligns perfectly with the song’s ethereal and atmospheric soundscapes.

One of the song’s most fascinating elements lies in the opening notes, resembling Morse code, which, intriguingly, aren’t actually what they appear to be at first listen. These opening moments instead feature an electronic simulation created by Wright using his Farfisa organ. Wright manipulated the organ’s settings to generate a series of electronic pulses that simulate the rhythm and pattern of Morse code. These pulses create an eerie and intriguing introduction to the song, setting a mysterious tone that contributes to its cosmic atmosphere.

Still, it stands as one of the most charming initial glimpses into Pink Floyd’s mastery, solidifying their position as one of the foremost and defining psychedelic rock bands in the world. Music lovers and fans alike continue to commend ‘Astronomy Domine’ in particular, including the band’s drummer Nick Mason, who told Rolling Stone: “This is such a great drum track in an interesting time signature. It’s a fantastic bit of ’60s philosophy mixed with a sort of psychedelic lyric.”

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