(The) Pink Floyd is a perfect museum piece. Beyond Syd Barrett’s mid-60s psychedelic maelstrom, Arnold Layne, See Emily Play, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn et al, and its aftermath, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright dispensed with the definite article. They studiously configured new depths, and heights, of sound and light, in the studio and on the road through the 1970s and into the 1980s.
Waters took a greater and greater role, his last project with Pink Floyd, The Final Cut, was by and a large a solo album and he left the band soon afterwards. Gilmour, Mason and Wright reunited and took the group in a less political, more commercial direction before reuniting with Waters at Live 8 for a tense three song sign off.
Conceived by Storm Thorgerson, developed by Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, working closely with Mason, and punctuated by red telephone boxes, the V&A’s Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains tells the whole story. It takes visitors from a scaled up, walk through model of the Bedford van the band used back in 1965 to Hyde Park 40-years later via lyrics, letters, designs, technology and instruments. Several of David Gilmour’s guitars, including his famous Black Strat, are exhibited, alongside Richard Wright’s early-‘70s era Mini Moog synthesiser and a treasure trove of effects pedals, hand-painted drum heads, echo chambers and more. Filmed interviews with the band members explain how this kit created the Pink Floyd sound over the years.
Just across the van threshold hangs a particularly poignant quote from DJ John Peel: “They could have joined the audience at one of their own gigs without being recognised.” And personality is the principal difference between Their Mortal Remains and David Bowie Is, in the same space four years ago. The latter was as much the man as his music where Pink Floyd’s is about the brand.
Technical drawings, sketches, iconic imagery, as seen on album covers and on stage, highlight the group’s close working relationship with world-class designers, lighting engineers, architects and illustrators. The inflatable TV and refrigerator used on 1977’s In The Flesh tour are on show, a life-sized model of the British soldier from The Final Cut artwork, the light bulb suit from the Delicate Sound Of Thunder album sleeve and the 6-metre metallic heads from the cover of The Division Bell.
Sennheiser’s unique GuidePORT system, which made its V&A debut with David Bowie Is, synchs the journey, 900 receiver units coupled with HD 2.20s headphones streaming audio information to visitors according to their location. As they watch any of the 40 videos they automatically hear the corresponding soundtrack in their headphones. It’s a fitting touch for all the studio polish.
“The result is a fully automated yet entirely personal tour, as the exhibition can be explored in whatever order and at any pace whatsoever. The audio is always played at the right time for each visitor and gently faded in and out when they enter or leave an area, respectively,” Robert Généreux, Sennheiser’s Business Director, System Design, says.
The Barrett-era was crazy creativity and Pink Floyd’s second decade was relatively austere in comparison but equally venturesome. It encompassed the band’s heavyweight unit-shifters, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall, and makes for the hub of the exhibition.
“We had the maddest ideas and there was no one to tell us ‘you can’t do it that way,” Gilmour said recently.
There’s a chance to remix Money analogue-style, a feature prepared by Bobby Aitken and Scott Willsallen’s aptly titled Remarkable Projects, before a whole room is given to Dark Side’s famous prism cover art.
Pink Floyd set a precedent for touring production too, working with the late, great Mark Fisher on The Wall extravaganza and their final outing, in support of the Division Bell, nearly 15 years later and there are floor-to-ceiling installations by Stufish at the exhibition. Not least a massive representation of The Wall stage set used during the 1980-1 tour replete with the giant inflatable schoolteacher looming at the top. It stands opposite a parallax of Battersea Power Station, with pig, reflecting the cover of the Animals album.
The Final Cut, is given tellingly short shrift before the focus switches to the new Gilmour/Mason axis, looking a bit Phil Collins meets Miami Vice in one picture, who dispensed with the politics, re-recruited Wright, and amplified the ‘Floydisms’ musically across two albums and around the world.
The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains wraps with fittingly stunning audio and visuals, putting visitors in front of a new immersive mix of Comfortably Numb from Live 8, the band on a huge screen managing to combine their mastery and keep their distance at the same time.
Created using Sennheiser’s AMBEO 3D technology in a brand-new format, it puts the sound both around and above the listener, delivering a uniquely immersive audio sensation.
The 360° surround mix was presented earlier this month at Abbey Road Studios where Pink Floyd made The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Recording engineer Andy Jackson collaborated with Simon Rhodes and Simon Franglen, the producers behind the new AMBEO version of Pink Floyd’s music. Together they created mixes which utilise many more discrete channels than were previously possible and the Performance Zone at the end of Their Mortal Remains is truly remarkable as a result.