Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Saucerful of Secrets (track)

A Saucerful of Secrets 11:51
     (written by Waters, Wright, Mason, Gilmour)

Instrumental

Vocals: Dave Gilmour (see below)
Guitar: Dave Gilmour

The recording for this song began on April 5, 1968 (the beginning of the Saucerful of Secrets sessions proper). It was the only new recording begun at that time, originally called Nick's Boogie 1st, 2nd and 3rd Movt, and later retitled A Saucerful of Secrets.  For the rest of that month they worked on Nick's Boogie while picking up the previously recorded (from August 1967 to February 1968) bits and pieces that would be used for the LP, bringing in See-Saw (begun 1-24-68) on 4-22-68, Set The Controls (begun 8-7-67) and Let There Be More Light (begun 1-18-68) on 4-23-68, and Corporal Clegg (begun 1-31-68) on 4-30-68.  Remember A Day and Jug Band Blues were older recordings (from September and October 1967) which were remixed for the LP on May 9, 1968, the final day of the Saucerful sessions. The album was assembled on May 15 (mono) and May 16 (stereo).

It was here that the band made their first real departure from Syd Barrett's musical spectre and began to forge their own musical identity. This was the first stepping stone on the way to the later side/album-length concept pieces. Instead of the free-form style of improvisation that Syd had favored, the band started to get into intricately crafted pieces which were produced with extensive overdubbing, layer upon layer of sounds and musical ideas translating into an elaborately structured piece.

Syd Barrett: "Their choice of material was always very much to do with what they were thinking as architecture students."

Roger Waters: "It was the actual title track of A Saucerful of Secrets that gave us our second breath. We had finished the whole album. The company wanted the whole thing to be a follow-up to the first album but what we wanted to do was this longer piece. And it was given to us by the company like sweeties after we'd finished. We could do what we liked with the last twelve minutes."

This was also when the band came up with a new way of creating group compositions: just sitting around in the studio and throwing ideas about until something started coming together. All the different ideas that people came up with would eventually be incorporated into one gigantic piece. The group continued to use this method of working, off and on, until 1975 (and again in 1993).

Rick Wright: "There are lots of ways in which we write music, for example the extremes are: we go into the studio with absolutely nothing and we sit around saying 'Look, we're gonna write something.' From then on it's people giving ideas, saying 'Look, I've got this thing in my head' and playing it. And from nothing you create a whole piece. Saucerful of Secrets was one of those where we went in the studio saying 'Right, let's do something,' with no preconceived ideas. The other extreme is someone coming in with a song, which is all the chord sequences, all the words written, ideas for the arrangement — everything. In which case he says 'We do this, this and this.'"

This track gave Dave his first writing credit with the band, but he gives all the credit to "the architecture students in the band... drawing these peaks and troughs and things on a chart, working out where the piece was going to go."

Rick Wright: "[Norman Smith] was into the songs, but Saucerful of Secrets he just couldn't understand. He said, 'I think it's rubbish... but go ahead and do it if you want.'"

Saucerful was basically produced without the help of Norman Smith, as the band had been learning studio production at an incredible rate, and Norman was not interested in the track. (Apparently, once they realized their capabilities in the studio, they wanted to produce more; Norman Smith's future involvement with the band would consist only of producing a few singles and half of the Ummagumma album.)

What exactly the Saucerful track meant or represented is open to interpretation, but Dave's view was that the entire track represented a war.

Dave Gilmour: "The first part is tension, a build-up, a fear. And the middle, with all the crashing and banging — that's the war going on. The aftermath is a sort of requiem."

Dave explained that the predominant instrument in the first section was a closely miked cymbal, stroked "very gently with soft mallets. That actually provided a tone not a bit like a cymbal. The whole first section is basically a series of those tones, with lots of stuff stacked on top."


In the second (rhythmic) section, a drum pattern from Nick was spliced into a tape loop, creating a repetitive rhythm on top of which Dave played his guitar "turned up real loud and using the leg of a microphone stand like a steel bar, running it up and down the guitar finger-board. I remember sitting there thinking, 'My God, this isn't what music's all about.' I had just come straight out of a band that spent most of its time rehashing early Jimi Hendrix songs to crowds of strange French people. Going straight into this was culture shock."

The track was true innovation, and drew comparisons to such avant garde musicians as John Cage and Stockhausen. The first section, as Dave said, creates an eerie tension, the stroked cymbals evoking a supernatural rumble; layered on top are Rick's keyboards and bizarre sound effects. The second section managed to teeter precariously on the edge between inspired random musical chaos and pointless bashing away on instruments (in live performance, the band would often cross back and forth over this line). The third section is funereal, dominated by Rick's organ and some wind chimes, and is very short. The fourth and final section is the requiem, and certainly sounds very ecclesiastical, with heavy, slow organ and a beautiful choir including Dave's voice and what sounds very much like some uncredited session vocalists, male and female, augmenting the band's sound very effectively (there is no proof of this, and in fact no records at all of the recording of this piece seem to exist at Abbey Road). In a clever touch, buried in the mix can be heard echoes of the 'war,' something which would be ever-present in the minds of those at a requiem for the fallen. The piece ends slightly abruptly with an editing cut necessary to keep it under the allotted twelve minutes.
It should be noted that the war interpretation of the piece is specifically Dave's, and the others might have thought of different meanings for it.

Roger Waters: "A Saucerful of Secrets allowed you to think of anything that you wanted..."

Nick Mason: "[Saucerful was a milestone] from the point of view of helping us sort out a direction we were going to move in. Just that piece itself contains ideas that were well ahead of that period, and very much a route that I think we have followed, on and off, quite a lot. Which is making something sound professional, really, even without using a lot of elaborate technique, without being particularly able in our own right — finding something that we can do individually that other people just haven't done, or haven't tried. We're not competing for who can play the guitar fastest. It's actually about finding that you can provoke the most extraordinary sounds from a piano by scratching about inside it — or something like that."

Dave Gilmour: "The title track of Saucerful of Secrets I still think is great. I really love it; it was brilliant. That was the first clue to our direction forwards, from there. If you take Saucerful of Secrets, the track Atom Heart Mother [Suite], then the track Echoes — all lead quite logically towards Dark Side of the Moon and what comes after it."

Roger Waters: "It was the first thing we'd done without Syd that we thought was any good."

A shorter version (about six minutes) of this track was recorded for BBC radio broadcast under the title of The Massed Gadgets of Hercules on 25 June 1968.

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

3 comments:

  1. The Roger Waters comments about this song are misleading - studio logs show it to have been started in early 1968 (not at the end of the sessions) under its original title "Nick's Boogie". Later it was called "Nick's Boogie parts 1, 2 and 3". April 1968 was when it was completed (and presumably retitled).

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  2. The recording for this song began on April 5, 1968 which was actually the beginning of the SOS album sessions proper. And it was the only new recording begun at that time, originally titled Nick's Boogie 1st, 2nd and 3rd Movt.

    For the rest of the month they worked on Nick's Boogie while picking up the previously recorded (from August 1967 to February 1968) bits and pieces that would be used for the LP, bringing in See-Saw (begun 1-24-68) on 4-22-68, Set The Controls (begun 8-7-67) and Let There Be More Light (begun 1-18-68) on 4-23-68, and Corporal Clegg (begun 1-31-68) on 4-30-68.

    Remember A Day and Jug Band Blues were older recordings (from September and October 1967) which were remixed for the LP on May 9, 1968, the final day of the SOS sessions.

    The album was assembled on May 15 (mono) and May 16 (stereo).

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've edited the entry to include your input. Thanks for your invaluable insight.

    ReplyDelete