It’s one of the ironies of the mid-seventies that Pink Floyd became identified with the worst excesses of popular rock and roll. They were dismissed by punk and New Wave bands as too slick and bombastic, but while they may have turned into a stadium act after Dark Side of the Moon, they also deserved credit for pioneering the kind of avant-art-rock theater punk eventually normalized. One early performance, for example, involved “sawing wood and boiling kettles on stage,” writes Mark Blake, of the album that was meant to be the follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon—an album called Household Objects, consisting entirely of sounds made on… household objects.
The band was totally engrossed in this radically anti-commercial DIY project until 1974, “making chords up from the tapping of beer bottles,” remembers producer John Leckie, then a tape operator at Abbey Road, “tearing newspapers for rhythm, and letting off aerosol cans to get a hi-hat sound.” Given the incredible expense of spending hours a day—over a period of years—recording rubber bands and pencils at Abbey Road studios, one can see the merit in charges of meaningless excess.
But as we’ve seen from Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson, The Beatles, and the maddening recording process of Steely Dan, when talented musicians have the luxury to use the studio as an instrument, the results can very well justify the costly means. What did Household Objects yield? The haunting crystalline sound of the wine glass harp in “Shine One You Crazy Diamond Part 1.” Maybe not much else. Was it worth it? I think so. But how can anyone measure such things?
Better to “go with the flow,” as David Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson tells him in the video at the top—do whatever seems like the intuitive next thing and see what happens. This is not a trivial statement. It was the guiding creative principle of Pink Floyd’s most inspired work. Gilmour takes her advice, and invites wine glass player Igor Sklyarov, whom he met that day on the streets of Venice, to perform on “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” in St. Mark’s Square that very night. (You’ll see some footage of the show in the short clip.)
Of course, the wine glasses have made it into many live performances of the song—see a trio of players rehearse the part above, and play it live below. Sklyarov’s turn on the glasses is just one notable demonstration of Floydian spontaneity. Gilmour’s version of “go with the flow” might always be more rarified than ours, but the lesson he and his erstwhile Pink Floyd bandmates imparted remains relevant and accessible to every artist.
When Pink Floyd Tried to Make an Album with Household Objects: Hear Two Surviving Tracks Made with Wine Glasses & Rubber Bands
Watch Pink Floyd Play Live Amidst the Ruins of Pompeii in 1971 … and David Gilmour Does It Again in 2016
An Hour-Long Collection of Live Footage Documents the Early Days of Pink Floyd (1967-1972)
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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