The Victoria and Albert Museum will host The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains in London for 20 weeks between May 13 and October 1, 2017. This major international Pink Floyd retrospective marks the 50th anniversary of the band’s first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and debut single, “Arnold Layne,” both released in 1967. The Pink Floyd Exhibition is billed as being “an audio-visual journey through 50 years of one of the world’s most iconic rock groups, and a rare and exclusive glimpse into Pink Floyd’s world.”
When I spoke with founding Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason about the band’s massive The Early Years box set, hi-res audio, and live quad for HRAC last November, we also briefly discussed the Exhibition, though I didn’t publish those comments at the time, so here they are now. “It’s fairly pressing because of all the things we have planned,” Mason admitted. “The interesting thing will be, hopefully the Exhibition will follow the [David] Bowie and [Rolling] Stones model, and it will tour. What that might allow us to do if it works well is to develop it and improve it as it goes around. And if we have more space, we’ll probably do more than we can do at the V&A.” (Cue my personal “High Hopes” for the potential touring aspect of it all…)
Tickets for the Exhibition are on sale now via the V&A and other ticketing partners. Admission is £20 (Monday – Friday) and £24 (Saturday – Sunday), and V&A Members can attend for free. Advance booking is strongly advised. Tickets are available in person at the V&A, online at vam.ac.uk/pink-floyd, calling 0800 912 6961 (booking fee applies); or from ticketing partners Ticketmaster, LOVETheatre, See Tickets, and Encore. (I’d say start via the V&A link before pursuing the other ticketing options.)
Audio specialist Sennheiser is the official audio partner of the Exhibition, enabling captivating audio experiences through its AMBEO 3D audio technology. Sennheiser systems will be used for all audio elements throughout The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains, including the delivery of highest-quality arrangements from Pink Floyd historic audio documents.
Pink Floyd band used Sennheiser and Neumann audio equipment throughout their career, starting with the legendary Sennheiser MD 409. The exhibition will culminate in an upmix of “Comfortably Numb” from the Live 8 concert on July 2, 2005, the last time the band played together. This will create an AMBEO 3D audio experience (18.3) that places sound around the listener, delivering an immersive sensation said to be “unlike anything visitors will have encountered before, very much [in] the pioneering spirit of Pink Floyd.”
Mason and bassist/vocalist Roger Waters made a rare public appearance together at London’s May Fair Hotel on February 16 at a media briefing and Q&A session for The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains. Waters and Mason met as students at London’s Regent Street Polytechnic in the early 1960s, studying architecture. The pair formed the group that eventually became The Pink Floyd with keyboardist Richard Wright and guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett. The band eventually dropped “The” from their name, and Barrett was replaced in 1968 by fellow guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter David Gilmour.
The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains is anchored by a chronological trip through Pink Floyd’s history, connecting with music, art, design, sound technology, and live performance from their beginnings on the underground club scene in 1960s London to the present day, via landmark albums such as 1973’s The Dark Side of The Moon, 1975’s Wish You Were Here, 1977’s Animals, 1979’s The Wall, and 1994’s The Division Bell.
Every chapter of the Pink Floyd story is represented at the Exhibition with more than 350 objects and artifacts on display — many of them never before seen — including handwritten lyrics, musical instruments, letters, original artwork, and stage props, all accompanied by objects from the V&A’s collection of art, design, and performance. Some of these items had been long-held in storage facilities, studios, and personal collections for over 40 years before being rediscovered.
The entry point into The Pink Floyd Exhibition is a replica of the Bedford van Pink Floyd used as their touring vehicle in the mid-1960s (and, I might add, the inspiration for the outer design stripe on the aforementioned The Early Years box set). From this moment, the visitor is immersed in Pink Floyd’s world. Emerging from the vehicle, they will find themselves transported to Swinging London and the UFO Club, the home of the capital’s psychedelic music scene where Pink Floyd became the unofficial house band during the early part of 1967. This exhibit includes atmospheric oil and light show projections created by Pink Floyd’s 1960s-era lighting designer, Peter Wynne Willson, which, together with the accompanying soundtrack, is said to ensure a fully immersive experience.
Art and technology are also celebrated. Included is an original painting by Syd Barrett (as seen above), who studied art in London and his hometown of Cambridge before becoming a full-time musician. Also featured is the Azimuth Coordinator (from the V&A’s own collection), the custom-built device used by Richard Wright to pan the group’s live sound via a joystick around any given venue for a quad effect. The groundbreaking device played an integral part in Pink Floyd’s theatrical live performances at venues including the Royal Festival Hall and Royal Albert Hall in the late 1960s, as well as being used in the recording of the clock montage for “Time” on The Dark Side of the Moon. (In addition to the aforementioned interview with Mason here on HRAC, I also discussed the origins of live quad with Roger Waters on Enjoy The Music.)
Also included are Pink Floyd’s soundtracks for the art-house movies More, La Vallée, and Zabriskie Point. Having abandoned the concept of releasing singles at the end of 1968, these film soundtracks show the band exploring alternative media for their music. Together with the performance-art aspects of their live shows, the Exhibition illustrates Pink Floyd’s experimentation with multimedia work.
Pink Floyd’s journey through the 1970s saw them embracing studio technology and using all the resources at their disposal at EMI’s Abbey Road Studio on albums such as 1971’s Meddle, as well as the previously noted The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Several instruments used on these albums are on display, including David Gilmour’s famous Stratocaster nicknamed “The Black Strat,” which has been used on many Pink Floyd tours since making its debut at the 1970 Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music.
The infamous artwork for The Dark Side of the Moon was created by Hipgnosis, the design partnership comprising exhibition co-curator Aubrey “Po” Powell and the late Storm Thorgerson. Hipgnosis’ work is on display throughout the Exhibition, alongside artwork and stage designs created for the band by others, including Gerald Scarfe and the late Mark Fisher.
These artifacts not only plot Pink Floyd’s development as a live band, but also the broader social, cultural, and political threads which ran parallel to their music. Among the many iconic set pieces on display is a celebration of architect Giles Gilbert Scott’s Battersea Power Station, the building immortalized on the cover of Pink Floyd’s 1977 album, Animals. Roger Waters’ lyrics on Animals were a critique of social inequality and capitalism, but Pink Floyd were also a target for many younger, up-and-coming punk groups at this time, as encapsulated by Sex Pistols leader Johnny Rotten’s famous customized “I Hate Pink Floyd” t-shirt, seen at right.
In 1979, Roger Waters conceived The Wall, which explored childhood alienation, World War II, the loss of his father, and the rites of passage of a downward-spiraling rock star. The album’s striking artwork and its grotesque cast of characters, including a cane-wielding schoolteacher, were created by the aforementioned cartoonist and illustrator Gerald Scarfe.
These characters were then re-imagined by Mark Fisher as huge inflatables in the subsequent Wall stage show, which Stufish has re-created for the exhibition. Revealed in the Exhibition is the inspiration for the schoolteacher, and it also includes the cane used by the headmaster at the Cambridge and County High School for Boys on his pupils Waters, Barrett, and future collaborator Storm Thorgerson, as well as a punishment book detailing the dates and reasons for the beatings. (Oh, how the times have changed…)
The scale and ambition of Pink Floyd’s imagery and live shows continued in the 1980s and ’90s with world tours for 1987’s A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and 1994’s The Division Bell. The Exhibition salutes this scale and ambition with a specially reconstructed suit of lightbulbs worn by a model on the cover of the 1988 live album, The Delicate Sound Of Thunder, and the original giant “talking heads” designed by Storm Thorgerson for the sleeve of The Division Bell.
The Pink Floyd Exhibition was created in partnership with the V&A by Pink Floyd’s creative director Aubrey “Po” Powell (formerly of the design partnership Hipgnosis) and Paula Webb Stainton, who worked closely with members of Pink Floyd, and is being promoted by Michael Cohl and Iconic Entertainment Studios. The V&A curatorial team is led by Victoria Broackes, Senior Curator, with Anna Landreth Strong, Curator, Department of Theatre and Performance. The exhibition is a collaboration with designers Stufish, the leading entertainment architects and the band’s long-serving stage designers.
About the V&A
The V&A is the world’s leading museum of art, design, and performance with collections unrivalled in their scope and diversity. It was established to make works of art available to all and to inspire British designers and manufacturers. Today, the V&A’s collections, which span over 5,000 years of human creativity in virtually every medium and from many parts of the world, continue to intrigue, inspire, and inform. The V&A holds the national collection of material for live performance in the UK and has been collecting rock and pop works since the early 1970s, including Pink Floyd material. Previous V&A exhibitions have included: David Bowie is, and You Say You Want a Revolution: Records & Rebels 1966-70 ,which includes objects relating to Pink Floyd. www.vam.ac.uk
About Iconic Entertainment Studios
Iconic Entertainment Studios, led by Michael Cohl, is a full-service live event producer and promoter. Iconic specializes in the development of high-caliber touring exhibitions, unique live music tours, family arena attractions, and live theater. Recent Iconic productions include An Evening with Oprah 2015, David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock North American Tour 2016, and Barbra Streisand’s North American Tour 2016. Other events are Bodies: The Exhibition, and the highly-successful Jurassic World: The Exhibition, currently running in Melbourne. Active projects in production include Transformers Live, opening in China in 2017, and Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, with its world premiere in 2017 in the UK. For more information, visit www.iconicentertainmentstudios.com
Founded by the late Mark Fisher, Stufish’s work has redefined the live entertainment experience from building design to set build, from show creation to production. Stufish’s portfolio includes concert tours for Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, U2, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Michael Buble, and One Direction. Theatrical designs include Monty Python Live (mostly), We Will Rock You, and Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, as well as their own production Soho, which will open in May 2017 in the Peacock Theatre in London. Other work includes the Buckingham Palace Jubilee Concerts for HM the Queen and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics 2008. Permanent projects designed by the studio include the KÀ Theatre at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and the multiple award-winning Han Show Theatre, Wanda Movie Park, and Dai Show Theatre in China, designed for the Dalian Wanda Group.
In 1967 Aubrey “Po” Powell and Storm Thorgerson were approached by their friends in Pink Floyd to design the cover for the group’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. This led to a flurry of work from other bands including Free and Tyrannosaurus Rex. The name Hipgnosis was born out of a chance encounter with a door frame. Powell and Thorgerson had been looking for a name for their fledgling studio. At the time, they shared a flat with Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett, and by chance, Syd had scrawled in ball-point pen the word HIPGNOSIS on the door. Over the next 15 years, Hipgnosis gained international prominence. Their famed 1973 cover design for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon paved the way for other major rock bands to set foot in the surreal photo-design world of Po and Storm, resulting in many artworks for Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath, and many, many more artists.
About Paula Webb Stainton
Paula Webb Stainton is a professional organizer of high-profile international Events and Exhibitions. Clients of her company, Roebuck Webb Ltd, include McLaren Formula One, Ralph Lauren, and of course, Pink Floyd. Dublin born, Paula began her 30-plus-year career as a client manager and producer in Ad Agencies in Ireland, London, and New York before she began managing Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s action-vehicle props company Ten Tenths, as well as organizing tour events for Pink Floyd in the mid-1980s. The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains at the V&A, London which Paula is co-curating with Aubrey “Po” Powell, is her second exhibition for the band. Together with Storm Thorgerson, Paula co-curated the Pink Floyd Interstellar Exhibition at the Citie de La Musique, Paris in 2003, which became the institution’s most successful exhibition of all time.
The audio specialist Sennheiser is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of headphones, microphones, and wireless audio systems. Among its products is the world’s best headphone system, the HE 1, successor to the legendary Orpheus. Based in Wedemark, Germany, Sennheiser operates production facilities in Germany, Ireland and the USA, and is active in more than 50 countries through 19 sales subsidiaries and long-established trading partners. Earlier this year, the family-owned company launched AMBEO 3D Audio. This umbrella trademark covers the company’s 3D immersive audio products and installations. AMBEO promises the very best in immersive audio capture and reproduction – and a completely new listening experience. Visit sennheiser.com for more info.
Other related Floydian links