When Under Ether

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"When Under Ether"
A woman in a white dress stands in front of a white background. An orange light is being shone on her. To the right, white block capital text reads "PJ Harvey When Under Ether."
Single by PJ Harvey
from the album White Chalk
B-side "Wait"
Released 17 September 2007 (2007-09-17)
Format Digital download, 7"
Recorded November 2006 (2006-11)–January 2007 (2007-01)
Genre Alternative rock, folk rock, piano rock
Length 2:25
Label Island
Songwriter(s) PJ Harvey
Producer(s) Flood, John Parish, PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey singles chronology
"When Under Ether"
"The Piano"
"When Under Ether"
"The Piano"

"When Under Ether" is a song written by PJ Harvey for her album White Chalk (2007). It was released as the album's first single in September 2007. This song was #32 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of 2007[1] and reached number 101 in the UK Singles Chart.[2]


"When Under Ether" was released as the lead single for White Chalk on 17 September 2007, in both digital download and limited edition 7" vinyl formats. The b-side is "Wait", a song which Harvey composed and recorded in 1988, rumoured to be one of her first recordings.[3]


Harvey wrote "When Under Ether" and produced it along with Flood and John Parish. It is set in common time (4
) and composed in the key of F minor. Throughout the course of the song, Harvey's vocal range spans over one octave from C4-A♭4.[4] Like the majority of songs that appear on White Chalk, "When Under Ether" was written and performed on the piano, which is a departure from prior PJ Harvey albums. It is also similar to the other tracks in that it is short in length and sung in a higher register than expected.

Musically, the song is quite sparse, centering on Harvey's vocals — which have an airy, otherworldly quality to them — and a subtle, repetitive piano melody. According to critic Joshua Klein, "the simple repetitive pattern that gently drives 'When Under Ether' drips with menace."[5] Drums, autoharp, and organ accompany the main components of the song and are low in the mix. The lyrics and the title quote T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets (East Coker- movement number III[6]) which seems to be a prominent influence on some other songs from the album (for example "The Mountains"). Eliot's words are "[...] Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing - I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope"; the theme of that section of the poem is about the feelings of the traveler. East Coker is a small village in Somerset not far from Yeovil, where P. J. Harvey was born.

The lyrics may indicate something as innocent as a dream dissolving into the clouds under diethyl ether intoxication, but while one critic takes the song as an account of a "harrowing" birth under archaic medical conditions,[7] some critics[8][9] such as Heather Phares[10] hint that they "quite possibly" refer to "abortion, since unwanted children are some of the many broken family ties that haunt the album". However, when asked directly during an interview in The Guardian, Harvey replied, "That's obviously what you hear, but for me it's not actually tied to anything specific, like an abortion. These aren't just words. They're songs. They inhabit themselves, really".[11]

Track listings[edit]

UK 7" single (1747513)
  1. "When Under Ether" – 2:25
  2. "Wait" – 2:17
US promotional CD (N/A)
  1. "When Under Ether" – 2:25
  2. "Wait" – 2:17
  3. Interviews – 14:32
EU promotional CD (WHENCDPRO1)
  1. "When Under Ether" – 2:25


All personnel credits adapted from the album's liner notes.[12]

Technical personnel
  • Flood – producer, engineer, mixing
  • John Parish – producer, mixing
  • PJ Harvey – producer, mixing, additional engineer
  • Catherine Marks – assistant engineer
  • Andrew Savors – assistant engineer
  • Ali Chant – additional engineer
  • John Dent – mastering
Design personnel
  • Maria Mochnacz – artwork, photography

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (2007) Peak
UK Singles Chart[2] 101

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ No byline (11 December 2007). "The 100 Best Songs of 2007" Rolling Stone. Retrieved 21 December 2007
  2. ^ a b "Chart Log UK: H & Claire–Hysterix". zobbel.de. Retrieved 2 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "'When Under Ether' Out Now." (18 September 2007). PJHarvey.net. Retrieved 22 October 2007.
  4. ^ "P J Harvey – When Under Ether Sheet Music (Digital Download)". musicnotes.com. Retrieved 2 July 2012. 
  5. ^ Klein, Joshua (2007). "PJ Harvey: White Chalk Review", Pitchforkmedia.com. Joshua Klein, 24 September 2007. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  6. ^ http://www.coldbacon.com/poems/fq.html
  7. ^ Hannan, Tom (2007). PJ Harvey: White Chalk "Review", Rockfeedback.com. 10 October 2007 3:02:52 PM. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  8. ^ Keefe, Jonathan (2007). PJ Harvey: White Chalk "Review", Slant Magazine. Posted: 1 October 2007. Retrieved 10 June 2008.
  9. ^ Mardles, Paul (2007). PJ Harvey: White Chalk, The Observer. Sunday 16 September 2007.
  10. ^ Phares, Heather (2008). PJ Harvey: White Chalk "Review", AllMusicGuide.com. Retrieved 9 June 2008.
  11. ^ "Songs of innocence and experience." (28 September 2007). The Guardian. Retrieved 22 October 2007.
  12. ^ White Chalk (LP). PJ Harvey. Island Records. 2007. LC 00407.