FS: It's been 40 years since "Music from The Body." When was the last time you listened to it start to finish?
RG: Oh, no. Never! (Laughs)
FS: You never listened to the album?
RG: Oh yeah. Shortly after we made it, I think I would have listened to all of it. Not very often.
FS: Tell me how it came together. My understanding is that you and Roger Waters mostly worked independently.
RG: We made our stuff separately, simply because it was tight. The usual thing. The deadlines are tight. So, crack on. And he was very busy with the Floyd. So he just grabbed a day or two here and there. So his stuff on the film was fairly raw — clearly rough. So when it came to make the album, we decided to remake a lot of stuff. Most of my stuff was the same. Indeed it was. Used the same tapes, because I didn't have the constraints of time so much at that time because I was just working in that medium — the film medium. So I'd get up in the morning and then work all day, etc. etc. So Roger remade all his stuff for the record.
FS: So at the beginning, you didn't realize there was going to be a record?
RG: No. Just did the film. I didn't realize. But maybe because of his connection at the time and Floyd were beginning to get famous, maybe he would have known that would have been a likely way. And Steve O'Rourke the manager would have looked for that anyway.
FS: How was it that you and Roger teamed up? Who got the job? Was it both of you? Was it you?
RG: Ah. I was being supported a lot by a disc jockey: John Peel on BBC in radio. He played a lot of my stuff. And then I did sessions for his programs. And this film, Tony Garnett, the producer, and Roy Battersby, the director, one of them, I think it was Tony Garnett, happened to meet John Peel and he said we're doing this exciting new film, dah, dah, dah — and who you do think is hot these days doing that kind of thing. A bit adventurous. And John Peel had no hesitation in saying, "Ah, Ron Geesin. He's the chap to do that." So they came to me — that's to say Garnett and Battersby came to me — and asked if I'd do the film. And then they said, "Do you do songs?" And I said, "No, I don't do songs, but I know a man who does." Because I was very good friends with Roger at that time. So that's how that happened. And of course he being of the Pink Floyd, they were absolutely delighted.
FS: Tell me about some of the techniques you used to make this very unusual sounding album.
RG: I should shoot my mouth off and say I was a virtuoso with a razor blade — with tape. I could make tape do anything. Everything. Turning it backwards and forwards and sideways — anything you like. And that's how the first piece, "Our Song," ... that is entirely all done editing tiny bits of body sounds using a click track and editing stuff so that it was all syncopated in rhythm. Most of the body sounds are mine and some of them are Roger's. And I just got all these sounds together and edited them together in rhythm. It's all down to using a ruler. It's an old technique, before my time. And then I played the piano to it. And that's the piece.
FS: Let's give that one a listen. "Our Song," the first track on "Music from The Body," by Roger Waters and our guest Ron Geesin, our guest this week — that album turning 40 years old this weekend.
FS: Broadcasting from the dark side of the moon every week, this is "Floydian Slip," an hour of Pink Floyd. Some "Music from The Body" there — the first track from that album, turning 40 years old this week "Our Song." It was by Floyd's Roger Waters paired with avante garde jack of many trades Ron Geesin, who is our guest joining us via Skype from his home about 50 miles outside London.
We would only be telling half the story if we didn't mention that "Music from The Body" was only one of the Floyd-related projects you were involved with. You also played quite a big part in the making of the 1970 "Atom Heart Mother" album. The band was experiencing some growing pains, maybe, at that point in its history. How was it that you were brought into that project?
RG: Yeah, they were exhausted. Gigs and pressure and — exhausted becoming famous. And they got this thing stuck together with bits of tape at Abbey Road, EMI Abbey Road studio, and they didn't know what to do with it. They called it "Epic" and they couldn't see it forward. And then they were — I think they were coming over to your place to do a tour. And they needed to get something sorted out. This is the first side of the album about 24 minutes. Obviously, I knew them very well, socially as well, meals and pints of beer and things like that. And they said, "We want to do something big with this. We've got this backing track that has been stuck together in sections. Can you do something with it? We'd like quite a big sound, this and that." And I said, "Yeah, of course I can do something with it. What do you want? What should we do?" So we worked out the affordable forces that would be 10 brass, 20 choir and a solo cello. On top of their backing tracks. And I said, "Well, what do you think here?" And Dave, Dave Gilmour, said, "This passage here I've got a little bit of an arpeggio thing," and he played me that and I took note of that. Which is really — it wasn't a melody. Well, literally, an arpeggio, which is Italian, means "steps." And Rick Wright came around and we looked at how to start the choral section — just the first phrase really. And they had to go on. So I said, "Look you get off to make a fortune in America and I'll get on with it." So they were away for a month and I was stripped down to me underpants quite often, because it was very hot that year, writing the stuff on top of their backing tracks. And that's it. That's what came out.
FS: What did the musicians that you brought on board — the brass players and the string players — make of all this Pink Floyd stuff? Were they more accustomed to playing more classical type of music?
RG: The players were not the finest brass players in the world. I had been doing a bit of working with live musicians. Although I actually favored working on my own painting with sounds with electronics. And those I'd worked with were the finest soloists from the New Philharmonic Orchestra in London, one of the top orchestras. And I was used to that. The real top quality. The sensitive people. Not hard edged. And the brass players were got for "Atom Heart Mother" were top session men, but top session men are not necessarily top sessions players. And they were very hard — hardened, you know, from playing crap. Handling the mediocrity for years. And I'm all young and green and all that. And I'm like, "What do you think of this bit? How would you like to attack it?" And they didn't understand this, because they just needed to be told what to do. And it became quite evident that my technique talking to them wasn't working. And I was about to hit a horn player. And I'm not joking. And the team in the box and all that they said, "Better get Ron outta there before he destroys the place." So they took me quietly upstairs to the box, meaning the sound control room. And the conductor of the choir took over from there.
FS: We have played the entire "Atom Heart Mother Suite" many times on the program. We don't have nearly enough time to this week's show. But I wanted to play just a little portion of the "Atom Heart Mother Suite." We're speaking with Ron Geesin, who handled orchestrations for that epic Floyd track back in 1970.
FS: You're listening to "Floydian Slip," the Pink Floyd experience. Just a short excerpt of the "Atom Heart Mother Suite" from 1970. Our guest this week, Ron Geesin, co-composer of that track. Have you stayed in touch with Roger Waters over the years?
RG: No. I fell out with him. Violently.
FS: Really, over what?
RG: (Laughs) Well ... over ... (Pause) Just personality. Just personality. At the time, I can't remember when it was 20 must have been 20 years ago, he was going through a particular, you might call it, an amateur psychologist, you might call it a paranoia period. I went to visit him one time, and it all got very silly. He would say things that were completely — accuse me of thoughts and actions that were entirely untrue. And I just said, "That's the end of that. Fuck off. I've had it. I've had that. That'll do. Thank you." One moves on. One has to move on. And I've moved on.
FS: You've had a very long career. You've done all sorts of things: music, multimedia, video, you're a writer as well. I'm guessing that there are lots of people like myself who want to do nothing but talk about your work with Pink Floyd, which happened 40 years ago. And I'm wondering if that ever becomes tedious?
RG: Oh, yes! (Laughs) Absolutely. Because there wasn't that much work done. There was one piece. There's some bloody good melodies. That cello melody could stand up against anybody as a melody. And that's entirely mine. Some of the themes in "Atom Heart Mother" are strong. Strong. But that's that.
FS: Getting back to the reason for your visit on this week's show: Forty years since the release of "Music from The Body," we play cuts from that album routinely here on the show ...
RG: Yeah, good. Good! Keeping going! (Laughs) I'll get two dimes and something out it.
FS: It's been some time since I listened to it start to finish, which I did the other day. It has a real kind of stream of consciousness feel to it.
RG: Well, I have to say that it was Roger's idea. I always respected him for his ability to see an overall structure. And, in particular, in this one it was his idea to put the stuff seamlessly, mixing one thing into another. So you have a journey; so you have a story. Even though you'd be hard put to say where is the story going? Is there a beginning and an end? But that was his idea. To interweave the material. Because in the film you'd have one section and then there'd be some talking and other noises and then there'd be another piece of music. But it's good to be able to put that stuff together. And you know that on Track 10 on Side 2, "Give Birth to a Smile," that is the rest of the Floyd. They just came along and did the session.
FS: Yeah, why was it that they weren't given credit for that?
RG: (Laughs) I'll answer that by saying, "Why was I not given much credit on 'Atom Heart Mother?'"
FS: Well, you're one of the few people in that stage of Pink Floyd who actually earned a songwriting credit, but wasn't a member of the band!
RG: Yeah, fair enough. Just as well, isn't it? I'll answer the question seriously now, and that is that they didn't want to be credited. They just wanted to help out, cut a little bit of a session and go home.
FS: So nothing to do with recording obligations or legalities ...?
RG: No, no. Because it was the same company.
FS: You played on that track as well, didn't you?
RG: I think so. (Laughs) I think I did. I think I played the piano.
FS: OK, let's give it a listen. This is Ron Geesin along with Roger Waters and the other members of Pink Floyd. "Give Birth to a Smile," on "Floydian Slip."
FS: "Floydian Slip," an hour of Pink Floyd. "Give Birth to a Smile." That's from "Music from The Body," Roger Waters and our guest this week, Ron Geesin. That album turning 40 years old this weekend. Well, maybe we'll talk again in another 40 years.
RG: (Laughs) Well, I don't know. The way the medics are going they're keeping people alive a long time.
FS: Thank you so much for joining us, I appreciate it.
RG: Yeah, very good!
Ron Geesin interview
Nov. 23, 2010
Nov. 27-28, 2010
Listen to the interview (14:40; MP3)