Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (Saucerful of Secrets)

Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun 5:23
     (written by Roger Waters)

Little by little, the night turns around
Counting the leaves which tremble at dawn
Lotuses lean on each other in yearning
Under the eaves a swallow is resting
Set the controls for the heart of the sun

Over the mountain, watching the watcher
Breaking the darkness, waking the grapevine
One inch of love is one inch of shadow
Love is the shadow that ripens the wine
Set the controls for the heart of the sun
The heart of the sun (13x)

Witness the man who arrives at the wall
Making the shape of his question to heaven
Whether the sun will fall in the evening
Will he remember the lesson of giving?
Set the controls for the heart of the sun
The heart of the sun (14x)

Lead vocals: Roger Waters
Guitar: Syd Barrett, David Gilmour

This song is chronologically the oldest track on A Saucerful of Secrets, and was the first song recorded specifically for this LP (September 1967). This is one of two songs on the album which more or less represent the band as a five piece, with the guitar playing shared between Syd and Dave. Syd put his guitar down first, and later (probably early February 1968) Dave overdubbed his own guitar work. The two fit quite nicely.

Dave Gilmour: "Even in those days recording tended to be a few people playing and then drop-in overdubbing afterwards. There are tracks on A Saucerful of Secrets that Syd played on and I played on later, a little bit. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, I think I played a bit on."

Set the Controls is the first classic Roger Waters composition (and only the second Waters song to be recorded!). Recording first began on August 7, 1967, at a time when other members of the band were being encouraged to write more, as their managers and producer were having problems coming up with a viable third single. There are a few live recordings of the song from that period, with Syd on bass guitar. The lyrics for the song, Roger admits, were taken from a book of Chinese verse of the late T'ang period, while the title and the chorus came from 'within him' (though the title is also to be found in a book by William S. Burroughs, which Roger may have read and then forgotten about). Roger did actually improve on the lyrics over the time that the song was performed live (see the differences on the Ummagumma album). Roger commented on the imagery he envisioned for the title.

Roger: "An unknown person who, while piloting a mighty flying saucer, is overcome with solar suicidal tendencies and sets the controls for the heart of the sun."

The song is hypnotic, seductive; the bass line is intriguing and the melodic role played by Nick's drums is fascinating. The lyrics (excepting the chorus) whisper of a quiet dawn, the awakening of understanding, and the wonderment of man at the cycles of nature—and the nature of life. Syd's influence on Roger's song writing is obvious here; the piece is every bit as 'psychedelic' and spacey as anything Syd has written. The song had a long life in live performance: it was finally phased out in 1973. Over this period it continued to evolve, and Nick's drumming in the song reached a peak around the 1971 period. The version on 1969's Ummagumma is also very good. The only thing missing from the live versions are the sound effects, which are used extremely well on the album version, changing the feel of the song and creating more of a 'science fiction' atmosphere.

Peter Jenner: "Set the Controls was the first song that Roger wrote that stood up against Syd's songs, which was significant."

Let There Be More Light
Remember a Day
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
Corporal Clegg
Saucerful of Secrets, A
Jugband Blues


  1. Recording of this song began in September 1967.

    Syd plays bass on the live version 10-11-67 (and probably on the record as well). I don't think there is any guitar on the finished recording.

  2. Set The Controls was chronolocally the oldest SOS recording; it was begun on August 7, 1967 along with Scream Thy Last Scream.

  3. I've edited the entry to include your input. Thanks for the help!

  4. There is guitar on the Rotterdam November 1967 bootleg. I doubt it very much that Syd and Roger swapped instruments at that point. I think set the controls was written without any specific guitar part in mind and could be equally played with or without a guitar. Which explains why on the 11/67 version the bass and guitar both play the same riffs. Given the sound quality of the recording, it's sometimes difficult to tell one from the other.

  5. I always thought "Love is the shadow that brightens the mind."
    But I guess I get it.

  6. Waters actually says "Witness the man who raves at the wall"

    He was inspired by a Chinese Poet.