As you begin your journey into Their Mortal Remains, the Pink Floyd exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert museum showcasing their 50 year musical journey, you enter via a giant replica of the band’s old touring vehicle from the 60s, a black Bedford van.
This initial exhibit acts as a slightly surreal entrance to the rest of the rooms in this engrossing exhibition. It nods to the curation efforts involved, which was a partnership between the V&A Museum, Pink Floyd’s long-term artistic design team Hipgnosis, production designers Stufish, and the remaining Pink Floyd band members. Of which, it seems, Nick Mason had the biggest input.
This black Bedford van is used as a gateway that spirals into the band’s early days in 1960s London and the psychedelic underground scene from where they materialized.
It was a groovy place where the band’s audiovisual experimentations were already underway in the dark spaces of London’s UFO club and the Roundhouse. The exhibition showcases various posters from their early gigs, along with noting the underground publications which wrote about the band.
Unlike now, you wouldn’t find a review of a gig from an up and coming band in a mainstream media publication. They wouldn’t go near it, so it was down to underground magazines, like the famous Oz magazine, to write about the events and happenings that the 60s counterculture existed within and around.
Their Mortal Remains exhibition opens Saturday, 13 May 2017 and runs until Sunday 1 October 2017
Their Mortal Remains – The Early Years
A note written by Roger Waters to his girlfriend in which he adds a child-like drawing of the band’s first touring van. He finishes with “You can’t see me because I’m in the back.”
You get the feeling that this ‘Alice in Wonderland-esque’ room is dedicated to the late Syd Barrett, it’s also the only room in the entire exhibition dedicated to focusing on a single band member. “We wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for him,” says Roger Waters in another room further along in the exhibition.
Musical memorabilia from Pink Floyd’s ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ album.
Even back in the 1960s reviews of the band’s live shows spoke about the innovative visuals that accompanied the sounds. The lava lamp-esque projections that enveloped the band—Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright—as they and their audience turned on, tuned in, and dropped out to tracks like “Interstellar Overdrive.”
One of many previously unseen backstage photographs taken during The Dark Side of the Moon Tour.
‘Streaming through the starlight skies, traveling by telephone, hey ho here we go, ever so high’
By 1968 the group’s lineup had changed. Due to problems resulting from LSD and mental health Barrett left and Dave Gilmour joined. But the band’s success continued. And Their Mortal Remains looks not only to the band’s cult appeal at this time with their idiosyncratic albums, but also their emergence as an artistic force too.
An amazing array of psychedelic imagery and visual promotion for Pink Floyd’s gigs in the late 1960s’.
Along with their early studio albums, it also references the Pink Floyd Ballet where they performed live on stage with ballet dancers, working with famed French choreographer Roland Petit. And acknowledges their work on movie soundtracks, scoring Peter Sykes’ film noir The Committee, working on songs for Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, and Barbet Schroeder’s arthouse films More and La Vallee.
They even provided a bluesy song to accompany the moon landing for a BBC TV show.
The Sennheiser Audio Visual Experience
The Pink FLoyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibition feels like a musical retrospective journey.
As you walk around all this looking at the exhibits you’re wearing headphones that soundtrack your experience—playing Pink Floyd’s music and also providing audio for the videos that feature interviews with the band and their collaborators.
The headphones you’re given are Sennheiser HD 2.20s, along with a receiver box which can either by hung around your neck or clipped onto a belt.
An interactive audio exhibit from the ‘Wish You Were Here’ recording sessions.
Here’s a great explanation by TrustedReviews on how the headphones work: “The receiver talks to the exhibition’s multimedia elements, triggering Pink Floyd tunes and interview clips that illuminate the different relics on show, which range from posters and instruments to outfits, stage props, and album cover art. Given the sheer scale of memorabilia, it can be a bit sensitive—a step here or there, and you’ll switch to a new track or clip – but once you get the hang of it, it’s really rather clever.” It all adds up to a fully immersive exhibition experience.
The Dark Side Of The Moon
Many of Gilmour and Roger Waters Fender guitars are on show, some of them replicas. Also on show is Nick Mason’s famous 1972 Ludwig drumkit which featuring the image of the Great Wave Of Kanagawa by Japanese artist Hokusai.
Insights abound from the videos and interviews as the band discuss, say, their seminal 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moon, which really broke them into the mainstream, despite it being about madness, death, and violence. Its searing lyrics, multilayered sound, and long compositions were refined over months of live performances and hours of time experimenting in the studio.[cmamad id=”2266″ align=”none” tabid=”display-desktop” mobid=”display-desktop” stg=””]
There’s also a hologram of the famous prism spectrum from The Dark Side of the Moon album cover. As ever with the band, visuals are all important and the creators of the prism image, an early sketch of it is provided in the show, are featured heavily. They are the legendary Hipgnosis, founded by designers Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell.
The ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt nods to the band’s label mate Johnny Lydon who famously wore it back in the 1970s. He’s now said that, actually, he loves the band.
As a mark of the album’s longevity and appeal, even today thousands of copies of The Dark Side of the Moon are still sold every week. Nick Mason thinks he has an, albeit tongue in cheek, explanation as to why this is. “I have worked it out,” Mason once told The Australian. “What it equates to is that one in four households (has) a copy of the record. But I don’t think that is the case. We have an older audience now, many of whom are quite forgetful. So they go out and buy it again. I think one in seven (has) got three copies each.”
Hipgnosis And their Role In Pink Floyd
The Hipgnosis room features many of the iconic Pink Floyd album images.
Hipgnosis were responsible for a vast amount of Pink Floyd’s iconic imagery. Like the cover and gatefold of Wish You Were Here—the two businessmen (Danny Rogers and Ronny Rondell) in suits shaking hands at Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles, one of them aflame.
Stuntman Ronnie Rondell (wearing a full-body asbestos suit under a wig and his clothes) was set alight 15 times to get the right shot while assistants stood by with fire extinquishers.
Original cover artwork for Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album ‘Wish You Were Here’
“The concept was one of Storm’s visual puns” Aubrey explains. “It was a very ’70s expression – ‘Man i’ve been burned’ – as in ripped off.” Hipgnosis famously insisted in staging such surreal and improbably scenes ‘for real,’ to enhance the power of the image.
Photographic transparency film from the shoot for Pink Floyd’s ninth studio album ‘Wish You Were Here’
Like the album, which remembered the departed Syd Barrett, the designs too for Wish You Were Here—Thorgerson notes in a video—are about absence. And in a strange moment of synchronicity, Syd Barrett visited Abbey Road Studios when the band were recording Wish You Were Here, turning up unannounced.
A Polaroid taken from that day of an unrecognizable Barrett is on show in one of the cabinets with a quote from Nick Mason, “David asked me if I knew who he was… even then I couldn’t place him, and had to be told. It was Syd.”
A throwback to the days when national newspapers used to do in-depth write-ups on music events.
Pink Floyd’s Technical Wizardry
Nick Mason’s drumsticks from the ‘Live At Pompeii’ performance.
There’s also rooms in Their Mortal Remains dedicated to the band’s technical and technological invention. Explanations of how they, along with their producers, created the various innovative sounds for their albums, from Gilmour’s guitars to Wright’s keyboards, with the equipment, synths, Fender guitars, mixing desks, all on show
Another look at the designs on Nick Mason’s 1972 Ludwig drumkit, plus more guitars.
The Animals And Wall Tours
An amazing chance to get up close and personal with Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’.
But perhaps one of the most striking rooms is the one dedicated to their live shows when they were at their peak, playing stadiums of 90,000 people. Their Animals and The Wall tours. Look up at the ceiling of the museum and you’re met with the surreal inflatables used for the live shows.
An open fridge with worms wriggling out, an inflatable headmaster based on Gerald Scarfe’s caricatures and illustrations and of course a giant pig, but not the actual one unfortunately. The reason for the real swine’s absence is obvious explains V&A curator Victoria Broackes, “The actual pig is enormous, it would have filled this room.”
A battle of the albums as the headmaster meets the giant pig flying over Battersea power station.
It’s hilarious to think that the giant pig from the disused Battersea Power Station escaped and landed on a farm in Kent.
Other props from these live shows are also featured, like the creepy Michael Myers-esque masks, which were actually rubber face masks of the band members. They were worn by a fake band who opened The Wall live shows before the real band members came on stage.
There’s so much packed into the show, which runs chronologically, from the personal—letters, photos, a cane from their Cambridge school days—to the conceptual, giving insight into their influences, processes, musicality and creativity.
There is so much information and props contained in this room it’s almost overwhelming.
Illustrations by Gerald Scarfe for The Wall. Also a mannequin of a WWI soldier stabbed in the back, an image taken from the band’s album The Final Cut.
From Roger Waters’ lyrics to the band’s sonic evolution, to the bombastic live shows of stage designer Michael Fisher and the visual identity created by Aubrey Powell and the late Storm Thorgerson. It’s all here for you to marvel at and mull over.
A guy watching TV, an iconic visual from The Wall film.
Division In The Ranks
The Division Bell sculptures were devised by Keith Breeden, and constructed by John Robertson.
It even deals with the years when the band split, and then reformed—minus Waters—in the 1980s and 90s for the A Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour and The Division Bell Tour.
The cover for Division Bell, Aubrey Powell said at a press conference for the exhibition, ties back to ideas from The Wall about lack of communication. Which was also quite pertinent considering what the band was going through at this stage.
“The Wall is not just a global wall between factions that are warring and divisions between countries. It’s also about the emotional wall.” Powell notes. “Roger [Waters] was very good at tapping into the deep inner psyche that’s within all of us, and that inability to communicate. And in fact that goes on to the Division Bell later on, the stage three of Pink Floyd where we have David Gilmour and Nick Mason’s Pink Floyd. And you look at the Division Bell and you have two heads, and it’s called Division Bell, and it’s the inability for people to communicate or not communicate, [represented] with these steel heads.“
For fans, the whole exhibition is like stepping into the band’s collective unconscious, for casual listeners, it gives further insight into why they are so beloved.
Division Bell was the fourteenth studio album by Pink Floyd, released on 28 March 1994.
Live 8 – The Sonic Immersive Experience
Andreas Sennheiser with his brother Daniel Sennheiser talking about the AMBEO sound installation.
Then the exhibition ends, fittingly, by immersing you in the last time the band would perform together, all four of them, at Live 8 in 2005. Using Sennheiser’s 3D audio technology you’re enveloped in their last ever reunion as they play “Comfortably Numb”—its familiarity and emotional power washing over you as if you were there.
“We always try to something beyond the ordinary, beyond reason. The music of Pink Floyd and mixing something in AMBEO, in an immersive audio format, was the great challenge here.” explains Andreas Sennheiser, CEO of the company along with his brother Daniel Sennheiser, about the sound installation. “We teamed together with Simon Franklin, Simon Rhodes, and Andy Jackson, they locked themselves up in Studio 2 at Abbey Road and mixed the content. They used the original tapes of the concert— it’s a recording of the last time they were on stage together in Dansk—and mixed it in a truly immersive format called AMBEO.”
‘Ummagumma’ the Floyd’s fourth album and the last album to include band members on the cover.
Andreas continues, “The setup in the installation is 17 channels and 25 speakers. One of the reasons we did this was to show the beauty of truly immersive sound, the depth, the width and the emotional impact it has on the listener. To enjoy it the most you should walk around the space. Because one of the great benefits of an AMBEO mix is there is no sweet spot. It’s like being there, if you go to one side you have a little bit more drums, if you go to the other side you have a little bit more of the guitar. So you can actually decide on where you want to stand in the venue. Close your eyes and imagine you are there.”
You’ll come away wanting to dig out some Pink Floyd, crank the volume up, and take flight.
Delicate Sound of Thunder is a Pink Floyd concert video taken from A Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour.
The Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibition runs at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum from May 13 to October 1. Tickets cost £22 for weekdays and £26 on weekends, inclusive of booking fee.
Get your butt along to this event if you can because it’s awesome, but be warned, tickets are in high demand. You can book your visit and find out more about Their Mortal Remains and get tickets at V&A’s website.
Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason at the opening night with his wife Nettie and Oasis band member Noel Gallagher (right) and a host of other celebrities who turned up for the exhibition preview.
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