Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Saucerful of Secrets (album)

A Saucerful of Secrets  39:31
Studio recording January-April 1968 
* Released 29 June 1968 
* Re-released in the Shine On box set, 1992

Recorded at EMI Abbey Road Studios, Studio #3
Produced by Norman Smith
(Except the title track, produced by Pink Floyd)

UK: Columbia SCX 6258  Reached #9 on the UK charts
US: Tower ST 5131 (July 1969)

A Saucerful of Secrets, which went on sale on 29 June 1968 for 16 shillings and sixpence, was the transitional album which saw the disappearance of Syd Barrett and his replacement by David Gilmour. Noted under each song is the guitarist for that particular track, as well as the basic order in which the songs were recorded. Basically, there are two songs with Syd (Remember a Day and Jugband Blues), two with Syd and Dave (Set the Controls and Corporal Clegg), and three with just Dave (See Saw, Let There Be More Light, and the title track). By the time the album came out, Syd had been gone for three months. Because of this transitional phase in their career, Saucerful was not planned as an album, but instead just a collection of songs covering eight months in the band's career.

Dave talked about the difficulty in creating a new sound for the band whose prior creative inspiration
was now absent.
Dave Gilmour: "We had to start the ball rolling again: A Saucerful of Secrets was the start back on the road to some kind of return. It was the album we began building from."

A Saucerful of Secrets also witnessed the change from free-form improvisation, exemplified by Jugband Blues, to meticulously constructed works of art that were very carefully mapped out, such as the title track. Sources such as Miles have opined that this shift was due to the change in dominant personalities in the band, and that Roger and the others simply approached music in a different way, perhaps because of their educational background.

Miles: "I've always thought their music sounded deeply architectural. The change from the Syd Barrett period into the music of three architecture students was really quite dramatic... their architectural vision of music flowered into great cathedral constructions [eventually] taking up whole albums."

Nick Mason discussed how this shift in musical focus came about.
Nick: "[It] started with recording. All the things that interested us in a studio were not the things that were involved with improvisation. Very quickly we found that what we were aiming for was to try and perfect things and then build them up — particularly in the early days when we were working with four and eight tracks. There was a hell of a lot of layering that went on, where things had to be sort of set in stone, because you then were going to overdub on them. So you became more and more conscious of trying to get something absolutely right — and that it was better if it was simpler and correct than a bit fancy and wrong. Because once you started layering things on them, any little glitch that was there got worse and worse. You'd think, 'we'll just put a guitar on,' and every time it came to that lurch, the guitar would lurch over it and emphasize it even more. So I think that started us on something else. And then, when we'd take those recordings into live performance, to work with staging and with lights and all the rest of it, it made life a lot easier and a lot better if we stopped being too free."

Pete Brown: "The Floyd were one of the first bands to learn to use the studio properly. They had to, because otherwise they would have disappeared. They weren't players — they were kind of concept artists, really."

Once again, the band participated in and authorized the now rare mono mix of the album, but had nothing to do with the stereo mix. By the end of this album, the band was ready to take over from Norman Smith as producer.

Rick Wright: "There wasn't a sudden break, or a bad feeling at all. It wasn't all of us one day saying, 'Right, Norman, you're out!' We realized what was happening, 'cause his good point, early on, was teaching us how to work in the studio."

Dave Gilmour: "[Norman] tended to get in the way of invention some of the time. On one or two occasions he bugged me when I was trying to do something that sounded great to me but didn't fit the rule book. But he was a nice guy."

Norman Smith offered his view of the band's new direction: "After this album they will really have to knuckle down and get something together."

Below is the press release that came out at the time of the album's release. Its author is unknown.

"If you care about contemporary music and its power to express the way we are and the way we live, then the new LP by the Pink Floyd, A Saucerful of Secrets, is a terrifying glimpse of what might be and of what is. Suddenly the description 'pop music' is an irrelevant label for what most people think is neither popular nor music.

A harsh, relentless juxtaposition of nightmare sounds, of pounding, monotonous, pulsating drones, of fragmented whisperings and half-familiar snatches of melody, the record triggers off psychological fears, too complex for easy assimilation and too full of wonder to be thought cheap. It is a sustained attempt to harness in sound our crazed, demented, agonized frustrations. A sense of terror and melancholy pervades every song. It is the most evil-sounding record that I know, and also one of the greatest. The Pink Floyd first startled the London scene two years ago with a concert at the Commonwealth Institute. Previously, they had been hoarded by the underground as the ultimate psychedelic freak-out. Loudness became a totally new concept.

Their LP has only seven tracks — one, the title song is over 12 minutes long. It is symphonic in construction, and through a combination of sound effects, backwards tapes, howl round feedback and echo, is the first wholly science fiction music to have emerged. Unlike Cornelius Cardew or even Stockhausen, whose futuristic dabblings seem erratic and uncoordinated, the Pink Floyd have managed to blend sounds — all sounds—so that they convey deeply felt convictions with a clarity and directness whose authority is unmistakable. Their song Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, with its energy, its anger, its science fantasy, its longing and its musical brilliance says it all."

Album Package
Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis explains his work on the album sleeve in an essay from the Shine On boxed set book.

"This cover, most particularly, is redolent of its times. The superimpositional mix of many items was an attempt to represent the swirling dreamlike visions of various altered states of consciousness. (Cough, cough.) Such altered states were induced by religious experience, pharmaceutical additives, or Pink Floyd music. Or all three. The cover design consisted of three main ingredients, to whit the marbled work of a friend of ours called John Whitely, the ominous presence of Dr. Strange from Marvel Comics, and the use of very trendy, jolly weird infrared color film.

Marbling is patterns of watery shapes on paper and is often used on the end papers for old books. It has a swirling speckledy kind of quality and is like a wallpaper version of the galaxies. John Whitely is a master of the art of marbling. Colored oil paint is dropped into water where, because of the immiscibility, it breaks up into a myriad pattern. If you lay a piece of paper over the water and then pull it away, the pattern is transferred from the surface of the water onto the surface of the paper.

Dr. Strange, with his magic amulet and the all-seeing eye of Agamotto, was a great hero of ours. He was capable of passing into netherworlds, weaving spells and altering dimensions, yet his strength was based on guile and intelligence rather than on brute force. He had quite a natty line in clothing as well. Infrared film was developed for aerial reconnaissance and tended to turn blue skies green, and green foliage orange and so on. Its effects were like a crude representation of the alteration of colours which occurred during various drug experiences and therefore we just had to use it."

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

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