There are bands one casually encounters through greatest hits or breakthrough albums, on which they sound exactly like themselves and no one else. It’s impossible to imagine anyone but Fleetwood Mac making Rumors or Tusk. Or anyone but Pink Floyd recording Wish You Were Here or Dark Side of the Moon. But just like Fleetwood Mac, when we look back before Floyd’s best-known work, we find, as Mark Blake writes at Team Rock, that “they were a very different proposition.”
And yet it wasn’t that Pink Floyd radically shuffled the lineup—though they had, since their first album, lost founding singer and guitarist Syd Barrett to mental illness and taken on David Gilmour to replace him. It’s that the same four musicians who re-invented psych-rock in the early 70s with “Money,” “Time,” and “Great Gig in the Sky,” sounded nothing like that blues/funk/disco/prog hybrid in the late 60s. Some of the same elements were there—the sardonic sense of humor, love for sound effects and extended jam sessions—but they cohered in much more alien and experimental shapes.
The title track of 1968’s Saucerful of Secrets, for example, opens with four minutes of dissonant horror-movie organ drones, which give way to primal drumming around which piano chords and sci-fi noises fall haphazardly, then resolve in a closing wordless choral passage. Not a single, cynical lyric about the pains of modern life to be found. The following year’s Ummagumma continued to build the band’s experimental foundations, and in-between these projects, they recorded film soundtracks that, again, do not make one think of laser-lit arena rock shows.
But there is plenty of connective tissue between the various phases of Floyd, much of it, like the bulk of their 1970 soundtrack for Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, officially unreleased. We can add to that list an attempted album called Household Objects, which they began in 1970 and abandoned in ’74. The project, drummer Nick Mason admitted, represents the then-largely-instrumental band “still looking for a coherent direction,” and in so doing, abandoning instruments altogether. On Household Objects, they made serendipitous discoveries using—as the title clearly stated—found sounds, in the vein of John Cage or the avant-garde composers of musique concrete.
In 1971, Abbey Road studios tape operator John Leckie, who went on to produce the heavily Floyd-influenced Muse, remembers the band “making chords up from the tapping of beer bottles, tearing newspapers for rhythm, and letting off aerosol cans to get a hi-hat sound.” Keyboardist Richard Wright recalls spending “days getting a pencil and a rubber band till it sounded like a bass.” The idea began two years earlier when the band performed a composition called Work that “involved,” writes Blake, “sawing wood and boiling kettles on stage.”
Household Objects recording sessions, writes Rolling Stone, “consisted of Pink Floyd playing songs on hand mixers, light bulbs, wood saws, hammers, brooms and other home appliances. Recording in this manner was excruciating.” Wright and Gilmour grew exasperated and the band moved on to other things, namely Wish You Were Here. All that seemingly remains of Household Objects are the two tracks here, “The Hard Way” (an instance where rubber bands sound like a bass) and “Wine Glasses,” the latter employing, you guessed it, wine glasses. But like so much of Floyd’s lesser-known or forgotten experimental work, these sessions created the backdrop for their more accessible hits. “Wine Glasses” survived in “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” In the video just above, you can see David Gilmour work out the glass arrangements for his performance of the song in the 2006 Royal Albert Hall concert film Remember That Night.