Obscured by Clouds is the seventh studio album by English progressive rock band Pink Floyd, based on their soundtrack for the French film La Vallée, by Barbet Schroeder. Some copies of the album refer to the film by its English title, The Valley. The cover of Obscured by Clouds is an out-of-focus film still of a man in a tree. The album was released in the UK on 2 June 1972, and a few weeks later in the US, by Harvest, reaching number 6 and number 46 respectively. A single, "Free Four" was released in the US only.
At this point in their career, the band had some experience in the production of music scores. They had already scored the films The Committee in 1968 and More and some of Zabriskie Point in 1969. Consequently, Barbet Schroeder contacted the band in order to make another soundtrack, which they had agreed to do after More had become a success. The band had already started working on The Dark Side of the Moon at this point, having done some basic recording and performed the piece live several times during this period, but work was interrupted when the band travelled to France on two separate trips, either side of a Japanese tour, to write and record music for the film. The album was then mixed from 4–6 April at Morgan Sound Studios in London.
As they had done on More, the band saw a rough cut of the film, and noted down certain timings for cues with a stopwatch. From this, they created a number of pieces that they felt could be cross-faded at various points in the final cut of the film. They weren't too worried about creating complete songs, feeling that any musical piece would be workable without the need for any solos, but nevertheless, under pressure to produce enough material, they managed to create a whole series of well-structured songs. Mason recalls that the sessions were very hurried, and the band spent most of the time in Paris locked away in the studio.
"Free Four" was the first Pink Floyd song to get significant airplay in the US, and the second (after "Corporal Clegg" from A Saucerful of Secrets) to deal with the death of Eric Fletcher Waters, Roger Waters' father. "Childhood's End" was the last song Pink Floyd released to have lyrics written by Gilmour while Waters was still in the band. "Absolutely Curtains", the closing instrumental on the album, ends with a recording of the Mapuga tribe, as seen in the film.
During the first recording session in February, the French television station ORTF filmed a short segment of the band recording the album, including interviews with Waters and Gilmour. In a snippet of interview footage that appeared in the 1974 theatrical version (later released on VHS and Laserdisc) and subsequent "Director's Cut DVD" versions of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, Roger Waters stated that early UK pressings of the album contained excessive sibilance (a loud high-frequency sound most apparent on "s", "sh", and "t" sounds which often causes distortion). As Waters says in the film during a conversation with George Martin, the sibilant distortion was caused by "a bad cut", meaning it came from a poor quality tape-to-disk transfer during mastering. The sibilance problem was corrected in later pressings.
Obscured by Clouds was the second Pink Floyd album to feature the VCS 3 synthesiser as stated by EMS Archives. Mason also plays electronic drums on this track.
After recording had finished, the band fell out with the film company, prompting them to release the soundtrack album as Obscured by Clouds, rather than La Vallée. In response, the film was retitled La Vallée (Obscured by Clouds) on its release.
The album's cover was, like several other Floyd albums, designed by Hipgnosis. It is a photograph of a man sitting in a tree which has been taken out of focus to the point of complete distortion. The album was released in the UK on 2 June 1972 and then in the United States on 15 June 1972, both on Harvest. The album reached number one in France, number six on the UK Albums Chart, and number 46 on the US albums chart (where it was certified Gold by the RIAA by 1997). In 1986, the album was released on CD. A digitally remastered CD was released in March 1996 in the UK and August 1996 in the US.
Pink Floyd opened some shows in 1973 with an extended jam based on the pairing of "Obscured by Clouds" and "When You're In", accompanied by smoke and a light show.
"Childhood's End" is the only other song from the soundtrack to find its way to the stage. It made several appearances in Europe starting on 1 December 1972 and at the start of the band's March 1973 tour of North America, usually with an extended instrumental passage.
"Wot's... Uh, the Deal?" saw revival as part of David Gilmour's set list during his 2006 solo tour. One of these performances features on Gilmour's 2007 DVD Remember That Night and also the vinyl version of his 2008 live album Live in Gdańsk.