Blame it on big brothers.
While growing up in Jerusalem, Israel, Gilad Cohen became fascinated with British pop, rock, and progressive rock music that was created long before he was born. His late father, who was a computer programmer at the Bank of Israel, and his mother, a librarian at the Israeli Ministry of Education, were both amateur musicians and loved Israeli folk music and classical music. Perhaps to rebel against their parents’ tastes, Cohen’s older brothers had rock music on the stereo.
“I inherited the love for rock, specifically for the Beatles and Pink Floyd, from my older brothers,” says Cohen, a composer, performer, and music theorist, as well as a PhD candidate in composition at Princeton University.
Cohen adds that it may have been impossible to ignore Pink Floyd in his native Israel, such is the nation’s love for these grandfathers of progressive/art rock.
“There are a couple of countries outside of the United States where Pink Floyd is huge — France is one, and Israel is another,” Cohen says. “If you stop someone on the street in Israel and ask who their favorite band is, Pink Floyd will be in the number one or number two spot. I’m not exaggerating.”
It is only natural, then, for Cohen to incorporate his love for Pink Floyd into his academic studies. He also wants to share his passion for the group with the university and the Princeton community at large. Along with fellow PhD candidate Dave Molk, Cohen initiated and organized an interdisciplinary conference celebrating the music, art, and culture of Pink Floyd, titled “Pink Floyd: Sound, Sight, and Structure.” Hosted by Princeton University, the academic conference, which runs Thursday through Sunday, April 10 to 13, is thought to be the first ever based entirely on this legendary band.
The conference will include world premieres of acoustic compositions and arrangements inspired by Pink Floyd’s music, lecture-concerts, a panel discussion, a community-wide Pink Floyd jam session, a public screening of the film “The Wall,” and an exhibition of Pink Floyd album covers and art.
In addition, Princeton will welcome James Guthrie, producer and engineer extraordinaire, who oversaw the creation of Pink Floyd’s 1979 double album, “The Wall,” and won a Grammy Award in 1980 in the non-classical engineering category.
Guthrie will present two sessions. The first — set for Saturday, April 12, in McAlpin Hall — is the surround sound playback of the producer/engineer’s 5.1 mixes of “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” and special world premiere of his just-finished 5.1 mix of Roger Waters’ “Amused to Death” on state-of-the-art Acoustic Transducer Company (ATC) speakers.
The second is the Sunday, April 13, keynote address: “Surrounded by Recollections of Pink Floyd Records” in McCosh 10. A panel follows with Pink Floyd scholar Shaugn O’Donnell, an electric guitarist and music theorist from the faculty of the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. Also included is Nigel Smith, a musician and professor of ancient and modern literature at Princeton University.
The seed for the conference was first planted when Cohen presented the idea to his advisor, Scott Burnham, professor of music history and theory at Princeton, as well as Steven Mackey, composer, guitarist, educator, and the head of the music department at Princeton.
“They both liked the idea very much,” Cohen says. “It was this initial support that allowed it to happen.”
“I came in a little afterward, but we both knew that our goal would be to bring in as many people as we could who are passionate about the band,” co-organizer Molk says. “We’ll be covering a lot of different topics, and although we wanted the conference to be academic, we also want it to be approachable, not in any way bogged down by jargon. Our goal is that the conference will be accessible for anyone who comes, to make the long weekend of a true celebration of the band, its culture and impact. When we think about it, even spread over four days, there’s not enough to do the band and its music justice. We’re just scratching the surface.”
Cohen reflects that most academic conferences have a keynote speaker, and he thought Guthrie would be the ideal choice, in a practical and creative way. In addition to engineering “The Wall,” Guthrie has mixed and re-mastered almost every release related to Pink Floyd. He is recognized by his peers as the pre-eminent surround sound specialist and his 2003 surround mix of “The Dark Side of the Moon” celebrated the 30th anniversary of the classic album and won numerous prizes within the music industry. Guthrie has also worked with artists as diverse as Toto, Queensryche, Bonnie Raitt, and Kate Bush.
“Taking it from the practical side, we thought James Guthrie and his relationship with the band (would be interesting), but he would also bring his special and unique angle to the conference, his contribution to the music and art of Pink Floyd,” Cohen says. “Getting to him was a challenge, since he’s not a very public person. But the minute he heard what we were doing and he understood our approach — with lectures, live concerts, and whatnot — he jumped aboard. He’s been great to work with, and has really helped move the conference forward.”
“Guthrie will address the issue of sound, his (creative efforts) from the last 10 years, which go way beyond being an engineer,” Cohen says. “Guthrie was a witness to so much of their legendary work, and he’ll talk about the process of working with the band. We’ll be flies on the wall, listening in on what was it like, for example, to be at the pub with the band, that kind of thing.
“Plus, a lot of what makes Pink Floyd (so outstanding) is their sound, and in shaping that sound, James Guthrie is no less than the musicians in the band,” Cohen says. “He’s almost like the fifth Pink Floyd member.”
Cohen, who moved from Israel to New York in 2006, earned his master’s degree at the Mannes College of Music. His article about large-scale structure in Pink Floyd’s music will be published this summer by Resling Publishing House in Tel-Aviv.
For the conference, he re-imagined the slow, bluesy, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” from Pink Floyd’s 1975 album, “Wish You Were Here,” for flute, clarinet, piano, and strings. He will speak about his ideas Sunday, April 13, with the lecture “The Shadow of Yesterday’s Triumph: ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and the Stage Theory of Grief,” followed by a performance of his acoustic arrangement of the song.
It is widely thought that “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” is an elegy for Syd Barrett, one of Pink Floyd’s original members, who experienced a drug-induced psychological breakdown and left the band in 1968 to be hospitalized. The lyrics to “Shine On” include such lines as, “You reached for the secret too soon/You cried for the moon/Shine on you crazy diamond,” and “Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!” Barrett, a mystery to longtime Pink Floyd fans, remained in seclusion until his death in 2006.
“’Wish You Were Here’ is probably my favorite Pink Floyd album,” Cohen says. “But I also love their debut album, ‘The Piper At the Gates of Dawn,’ which has a very different sound from their later albums.”
“My favorites are probably ‘The Dark Side of the Moon,’ then ‘Animals,’ then the older albums like ‘Meddle,’” Molk says. Growing up in Connecticut, where his father was an ophthalmologist and his mother a special education and substitute teacher, Molk became immersed in Pink Floyd by dissecting and practicing guitarist David Gilmour’s solos and riffs.
“I was struck by David Gilmour’s playing, learned all of his solos, and spent many hours in my basement with my friends, jamming and playing,” Molk says. Prior to his studies at Princeton University, Molk studied composition at Berklee College of Music under John Bavicchi and at Tufts University with John McDonald. His current research efforts are in software coding and electronic dance music (EDM). Molk will speak and perform Sunday, April 13, with the lecture “Space and Repetition in David Gilmour’s Guitar Solos.” Afterward, accompanied by Cohen on piano and the PUBLIQuartet, he will showcase “A Medley Full of Hits” for electric string quartet and piano.
“With this weekend-long celebration, for all kinds of people, we hope that people will go through their Pink Floyd albums again,” Molk says. “We hope they’ll participate, and we hope to get them thinking about what the band meant to them.”
“My dream is to go out to one of the pubs in Princeton, after an afternoon of Pink Floyd’s music, and overhear fans and scholars argue about things like, what the best Pink Floyd song is, what the best solo is, and whatnot,” Cohen says. “We want to encourage people to re-think and re-discover the band.”
Pink Floyd: Sound, Sight and Structure, an interdisciplinary conference celebrating Pink Floyd.
Thursday, April 10, 8 p.m. Pink Floyd jam session, Small World Coffee, 14 Witherspoon Street, Princeton. House band that includes festival coordinators
Friday, April 11, 8 p.m. Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” Princeton Film Society, Taplin Auditorium.
Saturday, April 12, 9:30 a.m. Surround sound playback of James Guthrie, McAlpin Hall.
Sunday, April 13, all day programs beginning at 9:30 a.m. in Taplin Auditorium and the 5 p.m. Keynote Address by James Guthrie and panel discussion in McCosh 10.
Admission is free, but registration is required through the Website. For a complete schedule of events, go to http://pinkfloydconference.princeton.edu.
Please note that interest has been high and venues and programs can change. Please check website for ticket availability and updates.