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An analysis of Echoes Print E-mail
Written by TH   
Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Pink Floyd EchoesPink Floyd's epic track Echoes has long been a source of fascination to Brain Damage visitor TH (who can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ). He has used that interest, and taken a close look at just what it is that absorbs him so much about the track. Here is his view on it, along with some background to the track:

Echoes has always been a riddle. A truly unique song and absolutely fascinating for the following reason: I first heard it when I was about 14 years old. I was blown away. But this also applies to many other songs that I've heard over the years.

However, being 37 now this one song has lost none of its fascination, while the other songs really only matter now because of associated memories. But then, why? What is different about it? This is what I wanted to understand for quite some time now and it finally makes some sense to me now - even though all of this is of course absolutely and completely subjective. To do so I first had a look at the page Songfacts.org which collects information about songs.

Fortunately Echoes is part of it. I read at that website the basic facts that it is over 23 minutes long and takes up the entire second side of the 1971 album "Meddle". The music, so it says, was written mostly by Rick Wright. It also said that the song is a tribute to the artist Terry Riley and originally called Return to the Sun of Nothing [editors note: actually normally referred to as Return of the Son of Nothing]. Roger Waters wrote the lyrics. In an interview with the Rolling Stone about the meaning of the lyrics he is quoted saying "The potential that human beings have for recognizing each other's humanity and responding to it, with empathy rather than antipathy." So far the facts. Interesting, but it did not help me in answering the question. So I turned to the audience. How is it received by the audience, what does it mean to those who listen? If you have a look at Pink Floyd forums, there are almost always contributions regarding this song. Browsing through the webpage songmeanings.com was revealing. There are a wide range of interpretations.

But it is noticeable that one topic keeps coming back: nothing less than the creation of the world and the evolution of life.

Not easy to digest. Could the uniqueness of the song be explained by this? By providing a description of the origin of the world, the evolution of life? Maybe. But something was still missing. Because somehow this is true of many songs, but when I hear Echoes, then it is more than a simple story. Somehow Echoes goes beyond a mere description. But then, some time ago I stumbled over Arthur Schopenhauer who wrote about the metaphysics of music. "The World as Will as Representation" is his masterpiece. Schopenhauer believed that there is no world without us representing it, positing it. There are certain laws that allow the perception and then, representation of the world: space, time and causality are those laws. It is only via such laws that objects appear to us as they are, in their individuality, that is, as individual objects (trees, mountains, apples, animals, people, etc.). It is the task of science to explain the world as representation. But science can only explain. We need meaning. For the meaning of the whole thing we have to look elsewhere. Other philosophers now turn to God. Not so Schopenhauer, he was far too pessimistic for that. For him the meaning can be seen everywhere. It manifests itself, for example, in the human body: the body is not just an object, but instinct, desire, want and need. What, however, is the idea behind this, what drives it all? For Schopenhauer its "The Will".

"The Will" is One. A dark drive, a pulse, an urge, but which has no goal. Schopenhauer's Will is no Will to Power (as in Nietzsche), but simply Will. The Will "objectifies". Although the Will is "One" it appears "divided" in objects and manifests itself in objects such as trees, mountains, apples, animals, people, etc . - The Will is in each and every of these objects. However, the Will is more manifest in some types of objects than in others. There is a progression: minerals, the plants, animals, man. Man is the highest objectification of the Will.

For example if part-time vegetarians, like me, all of a sudden feel the lust for meat, the dark drive of the Will becomes apparent while I am drooling in search of a sausage. Anyway: it is clear that in his objectification and hence division, the Will appears as pushing, consuming, as causing pain, joy, and everything related to this without any consideration for anything. Every single act (i.e. from the point of view of the individual objectifications of the Will) may have a purpose and meaning; the purpose and meaning of the Will as "One" does not. Worlds are created and destroyed. It is expressed nicely in like this: "If the whole of nature in terms of her drifting and her being driven is being considered, the darkest aspects of our everyday reality is brought into focus. The whole thing shows up as a wild, reckless urge with no chance of harmony and peace. There is a merciless struggle - all against all, Will against Will - where everyone just wants at the expense of another, where everyone that can live must. The tragedy is absolute (www.philosophische-praxis.at/pessimismus.html)". This is a tragedy indeed. And now back again to Echoes.

Well not yet. First, two words about art, then about music , and then finally back to Echoes. For Schopenhauer, art, as an aesthetic experience, is a way to get to the Will - that is, one can learn, contemplate its nature.

According to Schopenhauer, not all arts do equally well in this. Especially, there is a difference between those arts that "only" describe, represent and imitate, for instance via words, paintings or sculptures on the one hand and music on the other hand. Within the arts music has a very special place as it does not imitate or copy in the way for example a painting does. Music allows a much more direct access to the essence of the will because the access to it is not mediated by such a copy or imitation that a painting is. Two quotes by Schopenhauer: "Music is thus by no means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas, but the copy of the Will itself, whose objectivity these Ideas are. This is why the effect of music is much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, but it speaks of the thing itself." "Music does not express this or that particular and definite joy, this or that sorrow, or pain, or horror, or delight, or merriment, or peace of mind; but joy, sorrow, pain, horror, delight, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without accessories, and therefore without their motives. Yet we completely understand them in this extracted quintescence. Hence it arises that our imagination is so easily excited by music, and now seeks to give form to that invisible yet actively moved spirit world which speaks to us directly, and to clothe it with flesh and blood, i. e. to embody it in an analogous example." The other arts use "analogous examples", music does not. But here again: this is about music in general, not only about Echoes.

So what then makes Echoes so special? Well here it is: for me, many other songs are about individual emotions, such as joy, sadness, love, etc. These are all individual, partial manifestations of the Will. However, the full essence of the Will and its meaning remain somehow hidden. But Echoes is special. Echoes goes further. In Echoes it is not about a particular manifestation of the Will. Rather, Echoes discloses the one Will in his aimless, destructive nature.

Echoes, like no other song, discloses the essence of the Will: The soft, hesitant start, the stronger and expectant throbbing, the demanding, the chaos of battle, the destruction, the darkness and the new beginning. Again and again. For no reason. Attributing to Echoes such a meaning is, of course, in no way presumptuous and only a tiny bit exaggerated :) But then again: this is absolutely and completely subjective. Strictly speaking, what is mentioned above refers only the music itself, not the lyrics, which belong, as also mentioned above, to another art form, one that allows no direct access to the Will.

Nevertheless, also the lyrics are trying to get there, by trying to describe to the Will: "And no one called us to the land, and no one knows the where's or why's. Something stirs and something tries, starts to climb toward the light".

But how does that fit with what Roger Waters has said about the lyrics: "The potential that human beings have for recognizing each other's humanity and responding to it, with empathy rather than antipathy." As mentioned above, the tragedy of the human condition is inevitable. What is left to us? To oppose the Will. Antipathy would be the way of the Will. For Schopenhauer "compassion" is the ethical principle per se. Empathy is what we need for compassion.

"Strangers passing in the street, by chance two separate glances meet, and I am you and what I see is me. And do I take you by the hand, and lead you through the land, and help me understand the best I can..."

That's it then. Echoes combines the tragedy of the human condition, being delivered to the dark, aimless drive of the Will with a way of dealing with this condition. Via the music the essence of the Will is disclosed, via the lyrics we are shown almost something like a way out. That's Echoes.

Therefore, Echoes is unique and timeless, whether you are 14 years old, or 37 or whatever, simply because it is ever relevant. Lets put it on.

Ping .... ... ... Ping .... ... ... Ping .... ... ...

 
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