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677339 Posts in 27334 Topics by 4045 Members - Latest Member: iggy October 07, 2022, 08:16:33 AM
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Author Topic: The Elements - wahey :)  (Read 957 times)
mike s
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« on: August 25, 2022, 06:11:36 AM »

Haven't given much thought to The Elements for years.  Had a quick brush up and I now think this:

Not as mysterious as presumed.  There were 3 of the 4 sections clearly identified:

1 - Mrs O' Leary's Cow (fire)
2 - Vega-Tables (earth - plainly noted as such in the booklet - unless someone would try to argue it was fire or water)
3 - Found audio of water that would have been edited into a musical form - according to Vosse they'd captured all the pitches they needed.

That leaves Air - an unfinished piano piece.

So not all that mysterious really...?  Yes Brian then broke VT off into its own track so if he'd carried on then something else would have had to be substituted - possibly one of the vocal skits..?

I think one of the problems with this suite is that for years we all wanted it to be something even better and more mind-blowing than Cabinessence/Heroes etc..?  It became hugely mythical and I think people just felt the idea that VT or a skit was 'earth' was a bit lame..?

I think Barnyard makes a fantastic Earth and the 'Fire intro' Keystone Cops section works well as air but I know that wasn't the intention - they just aurally fit the bill.

I expect people will argue against the 1-3 I've stated here but looking at it with a fresh eye after years away and old misconceptions gone it just seems so obvious.
 
« Last Edit: August 25, 2022, 06:17:06 AM by mike s » Logged
Zenobi
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« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2022, 11:04:05 AM »

For me, the perfect Air section has always been the ""Whispering Winds" bit. Here it is, isolated and extended:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WVUkiD_2mwQ
« Last Edit: August 25, 2022, 11:08:03 AM by Zenobi » Logged
mike s
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« Reply #2 on: August 25, 2022, 11:30:37 AM »

Yes fits very well - probably not the section but great regardless.

For me, the perfect Air section has always been the ""Whispering Winds" bit. Here it is, isolated and extended:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WVUkiD_2mwQ
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BJL
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« Reply #3 on: August 25, 2022, 01:35:50 PM »

I definitely see the logic to what you're suggesting...but I'm not sure it's so cut and dry. The thing is, with a lot of the songs we can point to a moment when there was a clear intention of what the song would be: Wonderful and Wind Chimes were set aside as masters, before Brian returned to them and rerecorded. Cabinessence, Do You Like Worms, or Surf's Up all had a set structure and were substantially recorded in a basically coherent way. But other songs were moving targets. Heroes and Villains, for example, was one thing in November, another in December, another in February. When is as important a question as what. I think the Elements is in the latter category. Yes, all the pieces you lay out make sense individually, but did they ever co-exist as a complete idea called "The Elements?" I don't think there is definitive evidence either way.

As for Vegetables being Earth, I have always thought the two songs being listed separately on the back cover is *slightly* stronger evidence that Vegetables wasn't part of the Elements than the booklet is that it was, since a track list, to my mind, has a little bit more authority than artwork, though they're both packaging.

Honestly, I think the Elements remains the biggest question mark in the whole project, because other than Fire and Vegetables, the ideas you lay out are concepts, not songs. What would found audio of water at different pitches have turned into if Brian had actually made a serious effort to turn it into music? Given how creative Brian Wilson was when he set his mind to finishing something, I think it's just impossible to know. Likewise, *all* Brian's songs start out as piano pieces. All that Brian quote about Air being a piano piece tells us is that Brian had composed something, but who knows where it would have gone in the studio. It's like--imagine if Fire hadn't been recorded, and all we knew about it was that Brian had composed a piece representing a fire, that all the musicians were  going to wear fire hats, and that Brian planned to light a fire in a bucket during the session and record that too. That wouldn't really tell us *anything* about what Fire actually was. We might well lock onto the "recording a real fire" part and think it was going to be a lot of found sounds. And we wouldn't even be able to *imagine* that Brian would then record "rebuilding" with power tools and hammers! That's where earth, air, and water are to me. Concepts, not songs, but thinking we understand what the elements would have been because we know the concept is as impossible as it would be to figure out what Heroes and Villains was if it had never been recorded and all we knew about it was the title and that it was about the old west!
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mike s
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« Reply #4 on: August 25, 2022, 02:07:26 PM »

I mostly agree with you except for VT - you can't dismiss the 'Elements' link from the booklet its such strong evidence.

Also I agree the water thing was a concept rather than a song/track but its a solid concept:  at that point he was going to 'sample' water to make a tune and they even had the 'samples' recorded. 

I definitely agree it was all morphing.  I don't think my suggestion was anything concrete as he got spooked and seemingly dumped Fire so that was rapidly in and out.



I definitely see the logic to what you're suggesting...but I'm not sure it's so cut and dry. The thing is, with a lot of the songs we can point to a moment when there was a clear intention of what the song would be: Wonderful and Wind Chimes were set aside as masters, before Brian returned to them and rerecorded. Cabinessence, Do You Like Worms, or Surf's Up all had a set structure and were substantially recorded in a basically coherent way. But other songs were moving targets. Heroes and Villains, for example, was one thing in November, another in December, another in February. When is as important a question as what. I think the Elements is in the latter category. Yes, all the pieces you lay out make sense individually, but did they ever co-exist as a complete idea called "The Elements?" I don't think there is definitive evidence either way.

As for Vegetables being Earth, I have always thought the two songs being listed separately on the back cover is *slightly* stronger evidence that Vegetables wasn't part of the Elements than the booklet is that it was, since a track list, to my mind, has a little bit more authority than artwork, though they're both packaging.

Honestly, I think the Elements remains the biggest question mark in the whole project, because other than Fire and Vegetables, the ideas you lay out are concepts, not songs. What would found audio of water at different pitches have turned into if Brian had actually made a serious effort to turn it into music? Given how creative Brian Wilson was when he set his mind to finishing something, I think it's just impossible to know. Likewise, *all* Brian's songs start out as piano pieces. All that Brian quote about Air being a piano piece tells us is that Brian had composed something, but who knows where it would have gone in the studio. It's like--imagine if Fire hadn't been recorded, and all we knew about it was that Brian had composed a piece representing a fire, that all the musicians were  going to wear fire hats, and that Brian planned to light a fire in a bucket during the session and record that too. That wouldn't really tell us *anything* about what Fire actually was. We might well lock onto the "recording a real fire" part and think it was going to be a lot of found sounds. And we wouldn't even be able to *imagine* that Brian would then record "rebuilding" with power tools and hammers! That's where earth, air, and water are to me. Concepts, not songs, but thinking we understand what the elements would have been because we know the concept is as impossible as it would be to figure out what Heroes and Villains was if it had never been recorded and all we knew about it was the title and that it was about the old west!
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BJL
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« Reply #5 on: August 25, 2022, 02:48:41 PM »

I mostly agree with you except for VT - you can't dismiss the 'Elements' link from the booklet its such strong evidence.

I don't dismiss it at all, I think it's a wash. The booklet is strong evidence, yes, but, to my mind, the tracklist is equally strong evidence the other way. Why would you list *just one single element* separately on your track list, but combine the others? Then again, why would the booklet say "'My  Vege-Tables' the Elements" if it wasn't part of the elements? Depending how the dates line up, it does make one wonder if the Elements started out as a more general conceptual idea that encompassed songs about vegetables and wind chimes, and then at some point evolved into a the famous suite that would have been its own song?

Also I agree the water thing was a concept rather than a song/track but its a solid concept:  at that point he was going to 'sample' water to make a tune and they even had the 'samples' recorded. 

I know, and it's a concept with so much potential too!

I definitely agree it was all morphing.  I don't think my suggestion was anything concrete as he got spooked and seemingly dumped Fire so that was rapidly in and out.

Yea, pieces in motion for sure!
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mike s
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« Reply #6 on: August 25, 2022, 03:09:07 PM »

Well by the time the list was written VT was removed to make a new song so seemingly something else would have replaced it.  At the time of the list there was still 'The Elements' which has been repeatedly described as a 4 part suite - from reports at the time that is.

I mostly agree with you except for VT - you can't dismiss the 'Elements' link from the booklet its such strong evidence.

I don't dismiss it at all, I think it's a wash. The booklet is strong evidence, yes, but, to my mind, the tracklist is equally strong evidence the other way. Why would you list *just one single element* separately on your track list, but combine the others? Then again, why would the booklet say "'My  Vege-Tables' the Elements" if it wasn't part of the elements? Depending how the dates line up, it does make one wonder if the Elements started out as a more general conceptual idea that encompassed songs about vegetables and wind chimes, and then at some point evolved into a the famous suite that would have been its own song?

Also I agree the water thing was a concept rather than a song/track but its a solid concept:  at that point he was going to 'sample' water to make a tune and they even had the 'samples' recorded. 

I know, and it's a concept with so much potential too!

I definitely agree it was all morphing.  I don't think my suggestion was anything concrete as he got spooked and seemingly dumped Fire so that was rapidly in and out.

Yea, pieces in motion for sure!
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Bicyclerider
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« Reply #7 on: August 25, 2022, 04:18:06 PM »

As late as April Brian was still talking in the press about a four part Elements suite, and that the track was giving him trouble.  The artwork predated the track list by a couple of months so yes originally Vegetables was to be earth but then it became its own track.

It's unclear what Brian was going to do with the water sounds - Vosse make no mention of them being connected to a "water" track or intending to be used as notes in a song.  Remember Brian was also talking about a sound effects album (and a comedy album) at this time.  Even when Stephen repeated Michael's work recording water sounds and feeding them into a synthesizer that Brian could then "play" the sounds as notes for Sunflower, this time clearly for a song (Cool Cool Water), Brian never touched the thing and used the regular synthesizer instead.

Would Brian have cannibalized other Smile tracks to get sections for earth, air and water?  As you note Barnyard would make a nice earth section, but wasn't it more likely going into the IIGS track?  It seems clear that Brian never made a decision and apparently never recorded (and likely never wrote) any of the other sections.  He should have just renamed the track "The Element" and left it as fire only, that was mind-blowing enough on its' own.
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mike s
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« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2022, 12:07:12 AM »

Well Vosse does say the water 'samples' would have been edited into a song - he specifically says 'song'.

I just re-read it and interestingly he says Brian and VDP had decided to put a lot of sound FX on Smile.

The CCW spooky section works as an impression of the ocean - its a much better piece than the 'swim fishy' stuff.  I can't remember what it was recorded for - was it a pure CCW session - I don't think it was around before that..?



As late as April Brian was still talking in the press about a four part Elements suite, and that the track was giving him trouble.  The artwork predated the track list by a couple of months so yes originally Vegetables was to be earth but then it became its own track.

It's unclear what Brian was going to do with the water sounds - Vosse make no mention of them being connected to a "water" track or intending to be used as notes in a song.  Remember Brian was also talking about a sound effects album (and a comedy album) at this time.  Even when Stephen repeated Michael's work recording water sounds and feeding them into a synthesizer that Brian could then "play" the sounds as notes for Sunflower, this time clearly for a song (Cool Cool Water), Brian never touched the thing and used the regular synthesizer instead.

Would Brian have cannibalized other Smile tracks to get sections for earth, air and water?  As you note Barnyard would make a nice earth section, but wasn't it more likely going into the IIGS track?  It seems clear that Brian never made a decision and apparently never recorded (and likely never wrote) any of the other sections.  He should have just renamed the track "The Element" and left it as fire only, that was mind-blowing enough on its' own.
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guitarfool2002
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« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2022, 06:36:32 AM »

I'd also point to one of the lesser discussed "elements" of The Elements, and that's the group chants recorded in the Fall of '66 while the Boys were away on tour. It's obvious to anyone who has listened to the full reel that there are 3 of the 4 "elements" being used as the basis of the chant themes which Brian gave the guys to improvise on. He had them chant about vegetables, he had them chant about water, and he had them do an "air" type of breathing improvisation...the only one missing was a "fire" chant, and at that point in the timeline he would already have had the "fire" music.

So yes, these are just group improvisations happening around an open microphone in the studio, but surely no coincidence that 3 of the 4 elements are given as themes for the chants. He even said he'll have to try it with the guys when they got back.

I do think, at least during this point in time, that Brian had intended this type of vocal chanting to be a part of whatever elements project he had in mind. And I do think what we hear on those tapes was like a demo to see how it would work and how it would sound. Also worth noting is how Brian added reverb and tape delay effects to the "Underwater" part of the chant, asking the question why would he do that unless he had something in mind and wanted to see how it would sound with added "underwater" effects, similar to what fans would eventually hear and know as the "Water Chant".

It didn't happen in a vacuum or for no reason, and I think a snapshot of Brian's plans and considerations for his Elements was captured on that 50 minutes worth or whatever of studio tape where he's leading group improvisations partially based on elemental themes with Vosse, Anderle, Parks, and Gordan, trying out some ideas before the guys returned to LA.
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mike s
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« Reply #10 on: August 26, 2022, 08:44:21 AM »

Yeah totally agree.  I'll repeat my point that the Elements has eluded us probably more than it should have as people just wanted it to be something even more mind blowing than the extant mind blowing stuff - not a possible bunch of semi-humorous skits.

I'd also point to one of the lesser discussed "elements" of The Elements, and that's the group chants recorded in the Fall of '66 while the Boys were away on tour. It's obvious to anyone who has listened to the full reel that there are 3 of the 4 "elements" being used as the basis of the chant themes which Brian gave the guys to improvise on. He had them chant about vegetables, he had them chant about water, and he had them do an "air" type of breathing improvisation...the only one missing was a "fire" chant, and at that point in the timeline he would already have had the "fire" music.

So yes, these are just group improvisations happening around an open microphone in the studio, but surely no coincidence that 3 of the 4 elements are given as themes for the chants. He even said he'll have to try it with the guys when they got back.

I do think, at least during this point in time, that Brian had intended this type of vocal chanting to be a part of whatever elements project he had in mind. And I do think what we hear on those tapes was like a demo to see how it would work and how it would sound. Also worth noting is how Brian added reverb and tape delay effects to the "Underwater" part of the chant, asking the question why would he do that unless he had something in mind and wanted to see how it would sound with added "underwater" effects, similar to what fans would eventually hear and know as the "Water Chant".

It didn't happen in a vacuum or for no reason, and I think a snapshot of Brian's plans and considerations for his Elements was captured on that 50 minutes worth or whatever of studio tape where he's leading group improvisations partially based on elemental themes with Vosse, Anderle, Parks, and Gordan, trying out some ideas before the guys returned to LA.
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Bicyclerider
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« Reply #11 on: August 26, 2022, 11:46:47 AM »

The water chant (spooky section) of CCW was recorded during the Wild Honey sessions but something along the same lines may have been attempted in Dec at the aborted Surfs Up vocal session that resulted in the Brian piano demo.  At least the Inside Pop reels are suggestive of that happening.

It is hard to ignore those Elements chants particularly considering the timeline.  Brian was trying out ideas to use for the missing three elements.  But it would have been a strange suite if something as fully orchestrated and realized as Fire was followed by three different chants.  He was looking for inspiration but he likely would still have had to write music to go with any chants he was considering for the The Elements.
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Zenobi
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« Reply #12 on: August 26, 2022, 01:58:27 PM »

And Brian, apparently, did not realise that he had already a totally mind-blowing "The Elements" suite simply stacking Wind Chimes, Whispering Winds (bridge), Mrs. O'Leary's Cow, Workshop (bridge), Vega-Tables, Water Chant (bridge) and Love To Say Dada. Smiley
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