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The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains - a first look Print E-mail
Written by Matt   
Thursday, 11 May 2017

The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal RemainsOn Saturday, May 13th, a landmark event in the world of Pink Floyd takes place. At London’s historic Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains opens to the public, bringing the world of the band to fan and casual observer alike. As with any such exhibition, the creators have to ensure they are not just preaching to the converted, but providing an absorbing, illuminating and compelling experience to all audiences. Covering 50 years or so of a band with the richness of Pink Floyd’s music, staging and design was never going to be easy, so the opening of TMR, finally, has come at the end of what seems quite a development process. A few hiccups along the way (not least, the aborted opening of the exhibition in Milan, three years ago) but thanks to much persistence and effort, it is now here. Brain Damage was very fortunate to attend on Tuesday this week for a preview of the exhibition, and our initial report follows below.

Stepping through the doors into Their Mortal Remains provided a real feeling of wonder and intrigue, and we know many of you will be travelling (some from far flung corners of the planet) to attend the exhibition. At this stage, we really don’t want to spoil the experience you should be able to have, walking around and exploring. The mainstream media have covered some aspects of the exhibition quite well, and some of it has been shown off on TV, on websites, and in newspapers. For now, though, we will hold back our extensive photo selection of the exhibition so that visitors to this site at least go in pretty fresh to the exhibition. It is a balance though, as we know some of you won’t be able to attend (at least the London staging; the V&A are saying in interviews they hope to tour it), or want to know more about it before committing to tickets, travel arrangements, and suchlike.

So, without giving too much away, what should you expect from the exhibition? First off, the official catalogue of The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains has been available to order for a while now; for those wishing to get this, we would urge you to consider ordering online, as the paperback (only available from the V&A online and on site) and the hardback (available from all Amazon stores, and featuring a rather wonderful lenticular 3D cover) are heavy items, and you won’t necessarily want to carry them around, and also risk getting them damaged on the way home. We will cover the book in more detail shortly on this site, but briefly, it includes pictures of a fair amount of the exhibits, but many items on display AREN’T in the book. There are also a number of pictures in the book that aren’t on display. It also features extensive text, essays about the Floyd, and more. It’s a fascinating look at the band in a much wider sense than a dry catalogue ever would be, and a definite recommended purchase. You can find more details through this link.

OK, let’s now give you a rough guide to the exhibition, again without hopefully giving too much away, or spoiling surprises…

The V&A is an easy museum to find, and surprisingly large. If you are using public transport in London, you need to head to South Kensington tube station, or use the relevant bus service. It’s very well signposted in the area. The V&A has a large, front entrance, and through the doors, after going through a bag check, you’ll see your first bit of Floyd! To the left of the main gift shop entrance, just ahead of you, is the Abbey Road mixing desk that recently sold in auction for £1.4million. The American who has purchased it will be using it in his studio, but he has temporarily allowed the museum to display it prior to shipping to the US. Slightly dusty but interesting to see.

At this stage, the main gift shop has only a display of Their Mortal Remains books, but fear not – a proper (and major) retail opportunity awaits you later on! Walk through the gift shop, then down the steps at the end, turning right where you will see (at the end of the corridor) signs for the Pink Floyd exhibition. Here, you will check in with your pre-purchased ticket, and pick up your headset.

These are clever devices, developed by the Sennheiser company. Slung around your neck, they have over-ear headphones attached, and just have a clear ‘+’ and ‘–‘ volume control on them. There are no other controls – tracking technology in the floor knows where you are, reports back to a central server, which provides you with the appropriate music, or interview, or whatever, from ceiling mounted transmitters. Or something. All very clever (keeping track of around 900 visitors at a time) and pretty seamless – just don’t wander around too much when listening to something specific as you may switch to something else! Other exhibitions rely on the visitor selecting exhibit numbers on a keypad, or some other fiddly way to hear particular audio, or have hard-wired headphones attached to various places which causes frustration or queues to listen, in busy exhibitions. No such issue here. Slip the headphones on, and instantly you’ll hear the soundscape that will accompany you down the corridor to the entrance proper, passing the shop, and covered doors, on the left, and on the right, the first of the telephone boxes you’ll discover, and a very large, lenticular style image on the wall, opposite the exhibition entrance. None of the phone boxes can be entered, but are to be peered into.

This is where the fun really begins… stepping through the doors, you are met with the sight of another phone box, but much more importantly, a larger than life Bedford van, as seen in those early pictures of Pink Floyd, and celebrated on the packaging of Pink Floyd: The Early Years 1965-72 box set. Stepping through what would be the driver’s door, your adventure begins, and your journey down the figurative rabbit hole starts… The van takes you through a wild imagining of UFO, before heading into the exhibition proper. This is arranged broadly chronologically taking you through the band’s history, but (with the help of the telephone boxes) giving some sense of the historic and social contexts of the time.

Take time to absorb the short videos, which are filled with often very amusing insights, as well as regularly casting your eye skywards… otherwise, you may miss out on some of the more unusual items from the band’s rich history. The display cases are well thought out and arranged, and seem more a feature of the early days. As the exhibition goes on, maybe there were less of the small items more suited to an array, from the latter years? The early material includes some incredible finds, and looks back to before the band came together with some fascinating work from the budding architects, for example.

Throughout, there are many of the band’s iconic instruments, but one area (Musicology) in particular has a heavy concentration of these - over 50 of them - arranged with the help of Phil Taylor and Nick Mason. This area, too, allows the visitor to have a go at remixing Money using one of the small desks around the room, with the audio piped direct to your headphones. Clever stuff.

The lightness of the Wish You Were Here area contrasts with the darkness and impression of industrial grime, inspiration for Animals, as you head toward a large recreation of Battersea Power Station that is the largest ever item to be on display in the V&A at over 9 metres tall, and had to be constructed on site due to its scale. The seemingly impenetrable building actually turns out to be labyrinthine, with plenty to explore. The staging for that tour was a clear step up from previous tours, and you get to explore that side of things, as it leads to arguably the band’s ultimate staging statement – The Wall. With exhibits from the original 1980-81 tours, and Roger’s subsequent 2010-13 tour, the mechanics of staging this are also explored, all under the glare of the ever present, looming figure of The Teacher from the latter Wall tour (as with Battersea, standing 9 metres tall). The wall itself is over 7.5 metres high, at its highest point, and the longest section of wall is over 22 metres long, made up of hundreds of bricks.

The departure of Roger feels rather glossed over, with a very small corridor as a dividing line between this area and the next, which has its focus on the final years of the Floyd. The new era of the band has a fair amount of focus on the staging (they used some quite interesting and innovative technologies, devices and designs on those tours) but also work-in-progress lyric sheets which are always fascinating to see how things changed and developed toward the final release version.

The Division Bell area provides a particularly rich experience, with a focus being the ‘metal’ heads seen on the cover of the album, but there are many other items to explore, from staging right through to the PULSE releases. With the story almost complete, the penultimate experience is a brief look at The Endless River, before heading in to the finale of the exhibition.

The content of this room is common knowledge now, and presents the Comfortably Numb finale from Live 8, mixed into AMBIO Surround sound, with different footage to see than originally broadcast. As the Sennheiser brothers, representing the company behind the name, explained to us on Tuesday, this presents the audio in 17 channels, using 25 speakers, and they pointed out that one of the benefits of AMBIO is that you will get a richer experience by walking around while listening – there is no “sweet spot” – and by wandering around the room, you will get closer to certain instrumentation and atmosphere. It really is quite an experience, to be enveloped with screens (keep looking round, as different camera angles are used at times on different walls), with suitable concert style lighting and lasers, having the power of this incredible, emotional performance all around you. Make sure you also enjoy the room when it isn’t showing the Live 8 footage as there are rare pictures from the rehearsals of this event, as well as some nice early shots of the band. Really takes things full circle, and the perfect end to things.

UPDATE: Since the previews on Tuesday, they've added two more songs to this room, also mixed into AMBIO Surround. One will be more of a surprise than the other, but suffice it to say, if you are a fan of earlier Floyd, you WON'T want to miss this! 

Now, if you want, you can wander back through the exhibition to explore further, or exit through the gift shop, passing the exhibition credits on the wall of the link room. This is virtually impossible to see as it is so dark - a shame for all of those who have worked so hard, for so long, for this to be unlit and thus passed by without most people even knowing it is there.

One question we've had from a fair few people, is how long should you allocate for a visit. As a rough guide, reckon on being in the exhibition for 2-3 hours, depending on the level of detail you take in. There are some 40 different videos to watch and listen to, as well as the physical items, written items, and such like. So, plenty to discover. You could do it quicker, and the casual observer might do so.

For those wanting a souvenir of their visit, you won’t be found wanting at the gift shop. There’s everything from dozens of different badge designs, the band’s back catalogue on vinyl and CD, a range of books, prints, t-shirts, replica Bedford vans, mugs, postcard sets, fluffy toy Algies, and other items – something for everyone! One thing worth noting is that some of the books are signed - there are first editions of Phil Taylor's excellent The Black Strat book signed by him, and Nick Mason has autographed copies of his latest edition of Inside Out. I think a lot of people are potentially missing this due to the huge array of items in the shop.

Needless to say, for the Floyd fan this exhibition is a wonderful experience. There are areas which one feels aren’t necessarily explored, or in enough detail, but that was probably in part due to inter band politics and disagreement. I’m sure there were quite a few elements of the design and layout process which caused major headaches and some arguments, as the various teams tried to be as even handed as possible. There is the depth that many fans crave, yet it doesn’t lose sight that it also needs to appeal to the Floyd novice, who may know little to nothing about the band. Their story and development is told as you go around, and gives enough flavour so that those who may want to explore further, can do so via some of the excellent books available about the band (many of which are in the gift shop). The exhibits are absorbing and sometimes surprising, either in nature, or that they’ve been preserved, and the overall design is impressive – balancing the practicalities of the public safely and comfortably shuffling around, with an ever present eye on a Floydian experience and feel.

Tickets for the exhibition, which is due to run from Saturday, May 13th, through to October 1st, 2017, are on sale now and many dates are now showing restricted availability, and some dates are sold out altogether. Tickets are priced at £20 (Monday-Friday), £24 (Saturday-Sunday), and concessions, including family tickets at reduced prices, are available. V&A Members go free. Advance booking is very strongly advised. Tickets can be purchased from Ticketmaster, Seetickets, direct from the V&A at vam.ac.uk/pinkfloyd, by calling 0800 912 6961 (booking fee applies), or in person at the V&A itself. More information on the event can be found at http://www.pinkfloydexhibition.com/.

You can place your order for the hardback book (featuring a lovely 3D lenticular cover, specific to this edition) which accompanies the exhibition, through the following direct links: Amazon UK, Amazon.com, Amazon Canada, Amazon France, Amazon Germany, Amazon Spain and Amazon Italy.

 
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