‘Sea Of Holes’ was part of George Martin’s score for the Yellow Submarine animated film.
The orchestral pieces were recorded over two sessions at Abbey Road on 22 and 23 October 1968. The film soundtrack LP was released in January 1969, with George Martin’s compositions filling the second half.
The instrumentals were performed by the 41-piece George Martin Orchestra, conducted by the composer himself, with John Burgess and Ron Richards co-producing.
In his 1979 memoir All You Need Is Ears, George Martin revealed how he arranged the music to precisely accompany the visuals from the animation. In the case of ‘Sea Of Holes’, which featured a range of effects, this necessitated conducting to a very regular tempo.
You plan whatever tempo your rhythm is going to be, and then you lay down what is called a ‘click track’. That is, a separate track which simply contains a click sound which appears every so many frames of film. You know that 35mm film runs at 24 frames per second, so knowing what tempo you want, you simply ask the film editor to put on a click at whatever interval you want.
Then while conducting the orchestra, you wear headphones through which you can hear the clicks, and by keeping to that particular beat you ‘lock in’ the orchestra to the film. In that way you can write your score knowing that, even if something happens a third of the way or halfway through a bar, you can safely put in whatever musical effect you want, with absolute certainty that it will match the picture… that is how I did it with Yellow Submarine. I wrote very precisely even with avant-garde and weird sounds like ‘Sea Of Holes’, keeping to their bar-lines, knowing that the click track would ensure it fitted.
All You Need Is Ears
‘Sea Of Holes’ features the sound of a harp played backwards. The idea of recording the orchestra and reversing the sound first occurred to Martin while arranging the music for ‘Sea Of Monsters’.
When the Yellow Submarine soundtrack was released early in 1969, the US version treated ‘Sea Of Time’ and ‘Sea Of Holes’ as a single track. The UK album separated the two pieces, as did the 1987 international CD reissue and subsequent releases.