The Pink Floyd guitarist joins the ambient-techno pioneers for an out-of-this-world electric guitar–driven adventure: Metallic Spheres.
There's little chance of hearing Pink Floyd perform together again anytime soon. Although Roger Waters is on tour with The Wall, and reportedly will be joined by David Gilmour on some surprise dates, there’s been nothing to suggest that drummer Nick Mason will join the fold for a performance or future project. And with the death of keyboardist Richard Wright in 2008, a true Pink Floyd reunion is impossible.
However, fans of the band can get an approximation of the legendary prog-rock act’s ageless spirit courtesy of a new album that teams Gilmour with British ambient-techno pioneers the Orb. Titled Metallic Spheres and released under the banner of the Orb Featuring David Gilmour, the album is a compelling union of classic and contemporary, uniting Gilmour with a band that has often been compared to Floyd for its ambient prog-based excurions and trippy performance-art concerts. The 50-plus minutes of music on Metallic Spheres contain some of Gilmour’s finest solo work of late, with lengthy workouts reminiscent of vintage Floyd tracks like “Echoes,” from Meddle, the group’s classic 1971 album.
It’s not hard to understand why Gilmour teamed up with Alex Paterson and Thomas Fehlmann, a.k.a. the Orb. Some might even say it was long in coming. Widely heralded as the ecstasy generation’s very own Pink Floyd, the Orb blew countless minds with their 1991 debut, Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, on which they gleefully mixed the atmospheres, dynamics and limitless explorations of prog with the disciplined rudiments of dub, dance and inventive sample manipulation. Tracks like “Little Fluffy Clouds” and “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld” became chill-out room staples.
“When we were DJing, it was an ambient thing,” Paterson says. “But because we were adding all this other instrumentation and we had a live drummer and the whole light show, people thought it was more like the Floyd.”
“The whole idea was influenced by Floyd’s sound-and-light philosophy, the show being as important as the band,” adds Youth, an Orb associate, respected producer and performer known for his work with Killing Joke. “There were really strong parallels between what we were doing and prog rock.”
Fast-forward to 2010 and the group’s collaboration with Gilmour. Both Paterson and Youth knew Gilmour through their friendship with fellow musician Guy Pratt, who is married to Richard Wright’s daughter.
“I met David on a number of occasions,” Youth says. “He rang me up for some advice about a charity record he was doing. I said, ‘Why don’t we do a collaboration with you and Alex from the Orb?’ We spent a day with David at the studio with his guitar, and he just plugged in and started playing, and it became this 25-minute track. After Dave left, I thought, There’s so many twists and turns in this jam, we could stretch it out, put a few things in and turn it into a 50-minute album. So that’s what I did!”
The results are spread out over the two lengthy tracks that make up Metallic Spheres: “Metallic Side” and “Spheres Side.” Clocking in at 28:42 and 20:12 respectively, each track has five movements on which Gilmour works his signature licks on electric guitar and lap steel. The album is available on vinyl and CD, with a special two-CD version delivering a surround-sound experience via ordinary stereo gear, with no special equipment required.
And with Pink Floyd activity suspended until further notice, that’s arguably the closest fans will get to new material that’s imbued with not only the prog legends’ influence but also their artistry. All things considered, that’s pretty close—and for fans of Gilmour’s guitar work, it’s sure to be satisfying.
“I prefer to think of this record as more techy, but with very, very big sounds and Gilmour’s guitar,” Paterson says. “Not many people have done that, except maybe [guitarist Steve Hillage’s ambient dance band] System 7. Someone said to me the other day, ‘What a dream it would be to get Steve Hillage and David Gilmour onstage together with the Orb!’ And I said, ‘Okay, but could we add Jimmy Page to that too?’ ”