“Is there anybody out there?”
The 1999 live album was named after this track. Never released on a single or one of the extended-play promo discs, this is another one of the deep album cuts which propels the narrative forward.
Throughout most of production, the dark, eerie “Is There Anybody Out There?” was sequenced as the first track on Side 3, the second half of the album. “Hey, You” was sequenced after “Comfortably Numb” until very late in production. It was moved to the beginning of the side at the last minute before the album went for mastering. In fact, album artwork with the incorrect Side 3 track listing had already been sent out to print.
As released, the song is composed of two sections. The first section opens with a droning synth bass note. The lyric “Is there anybody out there?” is repeated four times. The eerie, seagull-like sound effects are very similar to the “whale song” effects David Gilmour used previously in the band’s song ‘Echoes’.
In early production demos, there were two reprises of a sort between “Bring The Boys Back Home” and “The Doctor”. Part II was a seedy rocker that was immediately followed by Part III, a slower, eerie, bluesy instrumental featuring Rick Wright-sounding keyboards (performed by Waters) and a reprise of the “Is there anybody out there?” lyric. Both can be heard on the Under Construction ROIO. On the Work In Progress disc of The Wall: Immersion, it is listed as a single combined track. The reprise was never recorded by the band and Roger’s original demo recording of the track was used as a placeholder until it was cut sometime after the second band production demo tape of March 23, 1979.
The Three Guitarists of Is There Anybody Out There?
The second section features a quiet Spanish-style guitar instrumental played over a small, orchestral ensemble. David Gilmour did not play the instrumental solo on the album. He felt that he couldn’t do it cleanly enough or well enough for the record. In an August 1992 Musician Magazine interview, Gilmour says, “I could play it with a leather pick but couldn’t play it properly fingerstyle.” He ended up playing the part onstage for the live shows with no problems.
In a later 2000 interview, Gilmour shared additional details about the session.
“Lee Ritenour played one of the two high strums on “Comfortably Numb” and some rhythm guitar on “Is There Anybody Out There?”. I tried it with ten different leather picks and I just couldn’t pick it smoothly enough. I’m not masochistic and sometimes I get a guitar part out of here (points to his heart) that these things (fingers) won’t fucking do!”
For the album version, studio musician Joe DiBlasi was brought in to play the solo. He was incorrectly credited as “Ron DiBlasi” in some of the liner notes. In a later interview, DiBlasi told the story of the sessions:
“It was not recorded at the same time as the orchestra. I was called in to play the song, but when I got to the studio there was nothing written. What David Gilmour played was something completely different.
“I sat down with Bob Ezrin and David Gilmour and we constructed the song. They told me what they had in mind and I would come up with an idea. We continued creating the entire song that way. Then I went in the recording booth (at Sunset Sound, Hollywood) and recorded the part. We did around 10 takes of the song to get the performance that Bob Ezrin wanted for the record.
“After my part was recorded, the song was sent to Michael Kamen, who wrote the orchestration to the guitar part. The orchestra was recorded after the guitar was recorded.”
David Gilmour played the instrumental solo onstage in the live versions of the song — not fingerstyle, but with a leather pick. His performance can be heard on the live album, Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-81. There are subtle differences between his performance and DiBlasi’s, especially the sharper attack of the strings towards the beginning of the solo. As there are no available demo versions with Gilmour on the solo , it’s really nice to finally hear what he did with the piece.
The classical guitar bridge was re-recorded again for the movie. For these sessions, guitarist Tim Renwick was brought in to perform the solo as “David couldn’t be bothered to redo it.” He performed the piece with with a leather pick and stayed pretty close to Gilmour’s live performances. On Gilmourish, he talked about the session in a 2007 interview:
“It was the short instrumental between “Is There Anybody Out There?” and “Nobody Home” (side 3 of the album). It is actually untitled and consists of classical guitar and orchestra. I recorded it at Abbey Road Studio 1; the orchestra was already on tape. Michael Kamen was producing and there were no members of the band present. I attended the premier of the movie and was disappointed to note that I did not receive a credit! That’s life!”
What Got Cut
- Well, not exactly. Production demos also contained parts II and III, neither of which were used in the final release.
Pink Floyd The Wall – Work In Progress from Pink Floyd The Wall: Immersion edition. An early, rough, bare version from pre-release production demo tapes made by the band. Here, an early version from Roger Waters’ original demos appears on two of the discs.
Pink Floyd The Wall movie (1982). The track is not extended for the film, but features an alternate version with Tim Renwick playing the instrumental solo on Spanish guitar instead of Gilmour or Joe DiBlasi. The film version, which clocks in at 2m 34s from drone to the final pluck also features different sound effects as well as additional vocal processing, adding to the eeriness of the track. Renwick’s guitar work is different, maybe even a little quieter than DiBlasi’s and for me works better with the visuals of the film.
Is There Anybody Out There?. The official live album of the original The Wall tour in 1980. Live versions of all songs. Mostly identical to the album version but with different TV sound effects. David Gilmour played the instrumental solo with a leather pick.
Last updated: September 23, 2017
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that David Gilmour played the Spanish guitar solo in the film version. This has been corrected.