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Indepth, illustrated review of exhibition Print E-mail

Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition

Paris, Cite de la Musique, October 10th 2003 - January 25th 2004

Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition"The Azimuth Co-ordinator mate? Just over there, by Rick's Farfisa and Roger's bass... you can't miss it..."

Sometimes, rare opportunities present themselves - opportunities that just cannot be passed up. Floyd fans are sadly used to waiting a long time between significant events; as a group, the phrase "patience is a virtue" serves as our mantra.

And the opening weekend of "Pink Floyd Interstellar", held at the Cite de la Musique in Paris, was one such significant event.

The aim of "Interstellar" is to put on show a load of dusty relics - no, not the band, but items, instruments, pictures, and other bits of fascinating memorabilia, all in one place.

Work in earnest on the exhibition has been ongoing for at least six months, and has included the plundering of some of the band's own archives, along with materials donated by others.

The exhibition can be seen as a fitting tribute to the hard work that, in particular, Storm Thorgerson and the late Steve O'Rourke both put into arranging it. Regular visitors to this site will have heard the very sad news that both have suffered strokes - Storm on the eve of the opening, and Steve, whose stroke was tragically fatal, a couple of weeks later.

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionThe Cite de la Musique is a relatively new building, part of the Parc de la Villette complex, on a fairly scruffy, built-up road in the north-east of the city of Paris. Market traders and people selling all sorts of bric-a-brac line the street, offering stuff that you cannot imagine anyone ever wanting. An inauspicious start to things...

- The "Pre-Show"

Turning from the pavement, onto the concrete concourse of the Parc, things take a definite upturn. The very front of the Cite de la Musique has a large, vertical banner, internally illuminated at night, advertising the exhibition, next to what appears to be an uncompleted flyover, on which a couple of mannequins stand naked on the edge. This echoes one of the two event posters, which shows two naked people (the man appearing semi-excited!) on the end of a similar precipice.

Walk underneath this, and on the approach to the doors of the Cite, you can see down the left hand side, in a side courtyard, three blue pyramids and an inflatable piggy! The piggy is made of fairly flimsy material and looks very much like one of the porkers that appeared at the top of the speaker stacks on the last tour, in 1994.

Entering the foyer, where you find the information desk, and ticket office, and you find the inflatable father from the 1977 Animals tour looming over you, and the inflatable TV to keep him occupied when there aren't any visitors to stare at. Both are in surprisingly good condition.

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionAhead, passing under the Shine On reflective "flower", hanging from the ceiling, and by the large foyer windows which have semi-transparent plastic on them with song lyrics in English and French, are the stone heads from the cover of The Division Bell (peeping behind them shows them to be coated polystyrene!).

To the right, are five of the different painted baffles seen hanging from the roof of Earl's Court in the PULSE video, and an inflatable igloo running demonstrations of the Dark Side Of The Moon SACD. Every item in the exhibition is labelled, with information of what the item is, when it dates from, and who contributed it. The text is just in French.

Cunningly, you have to pass through the gift shop, offering t-shirts, posters, books, magazines and music, to get to the exhibition itself.

Whilst there is no official programme of the event, there is a fold out poster, one side being the diving naturists, the other being details of the time line and what to expect. Fortunately, all is logically laid out and easy to follow - on the whole.

Many people found themselves entering the final room first - indeed, it was the only room that seemed to have free access; tickets were checked at the entrance to the exhibition proper, which was some ten feet after the "tunnel" to the final room. This resulted in non-Floydian museum visitors accidentally entering the final room and looking totally confused!

- Set The Controls...

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionA dark tunnel, under a video screen showing the London 66-67 footage. Just UV lighting... follow the trail... pass a clock with numbers all over the place, and a dark hidden booth playing the strains of the band's early influences: Ellington, Coltrane, Bo Diddly, The Byrds, and more. Their albums and the release dates fluorescently break up the inky blackness of the walls... accompanied with key sounds that recall the classic moments - clocks, cash registers, gongs... keep following the trail...

Emerge blinking into the light of 1967, and the band's faltering first steps. Each room is devoted, on the whole, to one album and moment of time in the band's history - this one, of course, being Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, and the genesis of the group.

The room focuses on three main aspects: Syd and his influences, the band's early visual expression, and the path to the first professional Floyd line-up. Ahead of you is Peter Wynne Wilson's Aldis lamp, which provided their first proper light show, next to an exact copy of Syd's mirrored Telecaster.

There's a collection of books, all of which heavily influenced Syd's writings - Lord Of The Rings, The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, Chaucer, CS Lewis,Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition Pooh, Lear, Hillaire Belloc, the I-Ching, etc., coupled with vintage, unique and unseen photos of the band in those early days.

A video screen shows some great footage - a colour "Let There Be More Light" with Gilmour - superb quality, with a long solo, taken from the INA Surprise Party 1968. There's also Flaming (INA Bouton Rouge 1968), Arnold Layne (promo, EMI, 1967) and Peter Whitehead's London 66-67 footage.

Wandering around the room, you come to a mass of cuttings, pictures, reviews and so on, printed on the walls. Most of these come from Nick Mason's personal collection (as do a number of other exhibits as you wander around) and naturally there are some corking things on display. One such item is a cutting from the Cambridge News, 30th May 1964, and concerns an art display which includes the work of one Roger Barrett:

"...Barrett's work shows some of the advantages of an art school training. His prints, monotypes and drawings are slight but necessary student exercises, but in two still lives, a landscape and two convincing portraits, he is already showing himself a sensitive handler of oil paint who wisely limits his palette to gain richness and density..."

There's Storm's map of Cambridge with most notable addresses shown (although what's the betting that some kind, clever person indicates where Roger Barrett is living?!), the Pink Floyd "family tree" covering the years 1962 - 1968, a picture of the 1964 Floyd line-up (Syd, Bob Klose, Chris Dennis, Roger Waters), a picture of Those Without, January 2nd 1965 (Syd, Smudge, Stephen Pyle, and an unknown musician), and a picture of the six-piece Abdabs.

A map of the London sites, very akin to Storm's map, shows where all the key places and venues were in the late sixties, and this leads to various posters, fliers, contracts, and photos of concerts - there's even the artist's car pass for the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert of 12th May 1967! Nick obviously started squirreling away items from a very early stage in his career...

Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition There's some nice live shots and shots from Abbey Road, including Syd on a piano/organ, June 1967, and under these, is a rather tatty and nondescript box. Closer inspection shows it to be the tape box for "Bubbles" from the Games For May concert, and Richard Wright's name and phone number are included on the front. In a neighbouring panel, the label tells us that the larger tape box shown is the original Piper album reel. Strangely enough, it is the More reel, which gives the following track details:

Main Theme 1 & 2 / Party Sequence 1 & 2 / Jukebox (Up The Khyber) / Theme - Beat Version / Spanish Music / Blues - Slow / Hollywood / Seabirds / Crying Song / Waterpipe / Paris Bar

Despite its incorrect placing, nice to see. Turning around from these items, suspended from the ceiling encased in plastic is Syd's "Fart Enjoy" in all its glory. The plastic allows one to see both sides of each page. Great stuff!

Moving from 1967 to the transitional year of 1968, with the change of personnel and the change of musical focus, you pass a screen showing Vegetable Man from BBC's archives, together with Syd's First Trip. Ahead are some great original Marquee posters, which use foil/gold leaf, with Richard's Farfisa Compact Duo keyboard, with a Binson Echorec on top, in front of them. Both the Farfisa and the Binson have seen better days. Next to Richard's Farfisa is Roger's Fender Precision bass guitar (interestingly enough from David's collection!). Turn 180 degrees, and, courtesy of London's Victoria and Albert Museum, sitting quietly under a poster of a Leeds concert, is the Azimuth Co-ordinator! Somewhat Heath Robinson, but in better condition than expected, a nice item to have the opportunity of seeing.

- Marmalade, I like marmalade...

Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition1969 - 1970 begins with a mirrored wall of the Ummagumma cover - giving an endless corridor effect, a good counterpoint of the picture-within-picture design. Pictures and covers from More round out this early part, leading to a collection of Nick's drumsticks fanned out on the wall, above one of their original WEM speakers, and an original Mason painted bass drum skin (a naked, outstretched man with a star behind and waves).

Taking up the majority of this area is a large scale reproduction of Ron Geesin's Atom Heart Mother manuscript, above a reproduction of the cow from the cover, Lulubelle III. Hanging from the ceiling are a set of kitchen utensils, linking well with the sound of breakfast being prepared from Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast. These aren't the original's used on the album, though...

Next to the first of the listening booths, allowing a single person to rest their feet and hear tracks from Floyd albums in soundproofed comfort (in this case, Atom Heart Mother), is the second of the video screens. Extracts from the Director's Cut of Live At Pompeii (Saucerful, Set The Controls and Careful),Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionCareful With That Axe - Pop2, from the INA archives in 1970, and Zabriskie Point, are shown in rotation. To complete the period, are La Vallee and Zabriskie Point tape boxes, and stills and posters from the films.

Through an archway into a sparse room celebrating Live At Pompeii and Meddle. A white room with a large reproduction of the centre spread of the Meddle album - the four faces in black and white. An oil lamp casts psychedelic bubbles on the floor and passing visitors. Rick's Hammond organ (complete with cigarette burns on top, and a flight sticker on the side), David's Stratocaster, and Nick's bass drum skins are dotted around.

A central display has some fascinating items - a programme from the Pink Floyd ballet, a Zurich concert poster (both Nick's collection), a nice set of stills from Pompeii (Adrian Maben), and contracts for the ballet and the BBC 1971 broadcast (Steve O'Rourke's collection). The BBC show details the recording on September 30th, between 9pm - 10:30pm, and broadcast on October 12th between 10pm - 11pm. The cost to the BBC was a bargain £280 including overseas airings!

Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition- As a matter of fact, it's all dark...

Cross the corridor, cross the initial trail, and step into the Dark Side Of The Moon. The room is devoted to the album, and the 3 foot by 3 foot backlit stained glass representation of the cover produced for the 30th anniversary (Storm's collection) dominates the matt black darkness, reflecting off everything (many instruments are behind glass/perspex).

Almost as dark as the initial tunnel, the room features more tasty items.

There are two video displays here - one shows footage of the Dark Side recording sessions from Pompeii, the other has a circular screen with various concert films - Great Gig In The Sky, Money, Us And Them (all by Storm), Time (Ian Emes), On The Run and Eclipse (both Peter Medack).

Hanging above you is the "rocket airplane" from 1973, used during On The Run, and to the left of you is Nick's fantastic 1972 Ludwig drumkit, with the Great Wave Of Kanagawa design (by Katsushika Hokusai, who died in 1849), familiar to many.

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionAnother listening booth, with ceiling mounted speakers and a subwoofer under your chair, and the SACD of Dark Side (in case you didn't get your fill in the igloo at the start).

Next to this is the circular screen, and a display of various key instruments, most of which from David's collection: a Synthi Hi-Fli, Strobo tuner, Hohner D6 keyboard, Lewis guitar, and a Fender Precision bass. Oh and something called a VCS3! Yep, the original that was used to such innovative effect on the album...

Plenty of cuttings - reviews and such, some complementary, some not so - mingle with other items on the walls, such as the original artwork for the Dark Side cover; this is Storm's original design with instructions for the printers for the colour separations.

Moving on, you enter an environmental area, for Wish You Were Here...

- Come in here, dear boy...

A relatively small space, your senses are met with the sound of water, or of wind blowing, the opening notes of Shine On or Welcome To The Machine. The names of the four elements are projected onto the ground (or on the head of unsuspecting visitors). It is an area designed for quiet contemplation, looking more to the imagery of this period of their story.Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionCasting a thoughtful head skywards, you are met with a picture of Syd on the ceiling from Mick Rock's photos taken in 1969 - fitting.

Although small scale, there are some real gems in this area. A computer monitor shows Storm's Flash video for Wish You Were Here, opposite an absorbing tableaux of items. Pictures of the recording sessions - professional ones, together with Gilmour's guitar tech Phil Taylor's personal snaps of work and play at Abbey Road Studios - mingle with some great handwritten materials and official documents for the album. The handwritten stuff includes pages from Roger's lyric and idea notebook and Roy Harper's own notes on how to sing Have A Cigar...

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionThrough some prison bars you can see the next part of the exhibition. Celebrating the Animals album, the first thing that you see is the French promotional large plastic pig, used to hold around a hundred (I guess) copies of the vinyl in a hole dug into its spine. These are pretty scarce these days, and certainly in this sort of condition. It stands on top of a large Pink Floyd Tour packing case...

On display are other promo items for this album - a wooden jigsaw pig, and a selection of badges.

From Nick's collection, on the wall facing the pig, is a lovely black and silver poster advertising the Switzerland concert, which is accompanied by backstage passes, more posters, more Phil Taylor snaps, a tour itinerary, a broken snare drum skin, which Nick has written the US venues (and concert number) on, and the rider for the shows. The rider is the list of requirements for the band and crew - and makes interesting reading, especially as the food and drink page is shown, and their demands include:

  • 2 bottles of Southern Comfort
  • 2 bottles of Scotch Whisky
  • 2 bottles of Tequila
  • 4 bottles of Vodka
  • 2 bottles of Dom Perignon
  • 3 bottles of Beaujolais (bottled in France) [interesting clarification!]
  • 1 bottle of five star Brandy
  • Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionBeer
  • Soft drinks
  • Cold buffet for 40 people

A fascinating insight into their imbibing habits during the 1977 tour!

Behind the pig and packing case, is a selection of instruments to browse through...

David's pedal rack and telecaster, and a Mini Moog. The telecaster was from David's own collection, the others from the band's collection.

On a small screen was film of the Battersea Power Station cover shoot from the EMI archives.

It was great to see this - some nice, relaxed moments with Roger and David chatting and laughing around the tea trolley, waiting for the porker to be erected and in flight. This is one of the many clips shown at the exhibition that would go well on an official Pink Floyd video anthology - how about it guys?

- (Prototype) bricks in the wall...

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionStark white brick covered walls face you, as do a number of large props. Sticking out is one of the brick knocking-down apparatus, used during the concerts for the tumble at the end. The flaming gas-fired gong, used in concert from 1969 - 1981, is painted with the crossed hammers (which are also shown on a large banner behind the gong). The gong is part of Nick's personal collection, although despite being a percussion instrument, Roger traditionally was the one hammering seven bells out of the thing!

To your left is a large quad mixing desk, made in 1975, featuring a scary number of mixers, sliders, and unspecified knobs and lights. It hasn't travelled far, coming from the collection of the Musee National des Arts et Traditions Populaires de Paris.

Back to your right, and there's the bands heads in an illuminated glass column! Don't panic though - it is the life masks used to disguise the surrogate band, as seen on the cover of the live "Is There Anybody Out There" album. A full size "Pink" doll is slumped on a precipice, looking dapper in a dinner jacket and Britannia Row t-shirt, and glaring down at the inflatable Teacher head, eyes shining brightly through the gloom, and at the cloakroom window, with the bands stage clothing from the 1980 and 1981 shows (the black satin bomber jackets, Roger's "1" tshirt).

Animation from the film and the live show is shown, projected onto the wall. On the same piece of wall, there are some examples of artwork, chiefly from Gerald Scarfe's collection: a repro of the Wall concert poster (the Judge-Ass one); a gouache of "Teacher Menaces Pink"; a crayon drawing of "The Warlords"; a crayon drawing of "The Eagles"; a crayon drawing of "The Hammer"; a gouache of "Pink's Wife Turns Into Shadow Monster"; and a gouache of "Teacher In The Tunnel". These are all the original sketches and drawings.

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionAnother group of instruments used during the Wall concerts is on display, including the Gold Top Les Paul guitar (used in the ABITW solo) and Ovation Classical guitar (both from David's collection), a Prophet Synth, guitar pedal, delay system and radio system (the Pink Floyd collection), Ovation bass guitar, Cornish pedal, WEM 4x12 speaker, and Fender Dual Showman amp (Roger's collection). In a separate display is Roger's fairly rudimentary headphones and radio system, again from the original Wall concerts, along with a prototype brick from the Studio Park collection.

There is another listening booth in this part of the exhibition - playing selections from The Wall album. It looks out to a display of memorabilia and passes from Phil Taylor's collection, for the rehearsals at Shepperton on July 28th - 31st, and Earls Court on August 1st - 4th. Nice to see this very unusual stuff!

Finally, there are pages from the press pack for the film, and pages from the script with storyboards - all from Steve O'Rourke's collection. All in all, a good selection of materials from the album, concerts and film. As with elsewhere in the exhibition, there is no trace of any solo materials, so nothing on the Berlin 1990 show.

Leaving this area, you proceed up some stairs to a very poor display for The Final Cut. Despite the fact that this album isn't looked on that fondly by members of the band, you would expect a little more than a small screen showing extracts from the video EP from the album, along with a mannequin wearing an ill-fitting uniform. Sadly, the small touch of tucking a film canister under his arm, or a knife in his back, was not employed. An afterthought? Whatever, not a good way to conclude the Waters-era section of the exhibition.

- Outside the wall/coming back to life...

Moving swiftly on from The Final Cut display (if you can drag yourself away from it!) down some stairs out of the main exhibition area, you pass the ticket collectors at the entrance, and ten feet later, turn left into another tunnel. This area contains the post-Waters Floyd story, although this second tunnel starts with some general materials pre- and post-split. One wall, on the left hand side, is covered with albums from various private collections, although nothing particularly interesting. It would have been nice to see some rare promos and samplers.

On the other side are a collection of badges, backstage passes and tickets, from Phil Taylor and Steve O'Rourke's collections. The display includes each band member's 1968 Musician Union cards, showing how up-to-date their contributions were! The passes cover various shows and tours from 1970 onwards, and the tickets include those for the 1989 Moscow concert. Many of the passes would also be suitable for display in the appropriate place in the main exhibition, although the large spread of them is attractive and absorbing.

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionNext to these is a strangely dull display of standard covers for the "Shine On" boxset, "PULSE", "Is There Anybody Out There" and "Echoes". It may have been a bit more interesting with the inclusion of promo items, or similar. There was just something lacking about this display...

Into the circular room ahead, and into the world of Pink Floyd 1987 - 1995. Quite a number of items on display, the room is dominated with a few key items. Firstly, a 12 foot by 5 foot bed with a life-sized Bulbman. It is the non-illuminating version of the suit - the bulbs are held on using thick thread. Hanging from the ceiling is a small spaceship. And to one side is a small circular screen, showing clips from the PULSE video. Below the screen are a pair of four foot high "metal" Division Bell heads, and to the right is a four foot wide stage mock-up for the 1994 tour (courtesy of Studio Park).

Pink Floyd Interstellar ExhibitionIn a perspex tube, there are a collection of instruments from David's collection: a Jedson steel guitar from 1974, a Telecaster and Stratocaster (both 1983 onwards), an effects rack (1980 onwards), Hiwatt amps, WEM speakers, Leslie rotating speakers, and a "Pink Floyd London" packing case. Included in the display is the alien head used in the rarely seen sci-fi opening sequence for Money on the 1994 tour. Most shows had the regular start, but some had this hugely fun, tongue in cheek B-movie style footage.

Nick Mason's and Phil Taylor's collections are further plundered for Versailles concert memorabilia, tickets and photos, Venice and Moscow posters, tickets and passes, tour itineraries and crew concert guides. Steve O'Rourke's collection added the original airship (aka blimp) designs and pictures, and plans of the Floyd droid, lighting rigs and mirror ball mechanism/arm.

- Isn't this where... we came in?

A phenomenal collection of great items, attractively presented with few areas where you question the coverage or items on display. Meddle, specifically Echoes, seems curiously overlooked, for example, and coverage of solo works would also have been welcomed. However, the obvious spirit of co-operation and generosity shines through and warms the heart.

The show is a fine testament to the hard work and talent of a small group of individuals - the band in its various guises, and those closely involved (the artists, the management, the crews and others) - from those early days in the sixties, to the final (?) band tour of 1994. If you can make it along to the exhibition before it finishes, do so. You won't regret it...

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