The Victoria & Albert Museum have done it again! This time trading in a Starman for the cosmic stylings of Pink Floyd. “Their Mortal Remains” takes us on a musical journey that spans the entirety of Pink Floyd’s career, a whopping 50 years since their first single, “Arnold Layne”, was released. The V & A partnered with Pink Floyd and Iconic Entertainment studios to bring us one of the most immersive and informative musical exhibits in recent history. V & A played host to “David Bowie Is” in 2013, which successfully sent the exhibit on tour (Chicagoans start crossing your fingers!).
Nick Mason, the band’s drummer, wasn’t sure there would be enough material to fill such an exhibit but soon realized they couldn’t fit everything they had in the building! The massive display features hundreds of items, leaving even the most cynical of fans with their jaw on the floor. Pink Floyd is best recognized for their monolith of an album The Dark Side of the Moon, followed closely by The Wall. A Floyd fan myself, I’ve found they’ve so much more to offer, and much like David Bowie, once you dive into their catalog, there is no going back. You may not be able to physically dive into their music here at the V & A, but you certainly can walk through a psychedelic landscape. I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition recently, and coming up are the 10 coolest things they have to offer!
10. One of These Days
Lyrical Vibe: “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces” — “One of These Days”, Meddle
Ian Emes’ animated French film French Windows can be seen, paired with some of his other work. (“One of These Days” from Meddle was featured in the film.) Feast your eyes on the imaginative animation while losing yourself in one of Floyd’s most thumping tracks! Some of these images were also recently used during Roger Waters’ tour, specifically the clocks for “Time”. Emes was also known for his interpretive film that was projected onto the Berlin Wall during Roger Waters’ solo performance of the album in 1990.
09. Keep Your Hands off of My … Track?
Lyrical Vibe: “I’m alright, Jack. Keep your hands off of my stack” — “Money”, The Dark Side of the Moon
Whether it be the “cha-ching” of cash registers, Waters’ iconic, thumping bass line, or the memory of Wizard of Oz munchkins marching along the yellow brick road to guitar solos and saxophones, “Money” is still the root of all evil today. But don’t worry! If the idea of saxophones, evil, or any of the above aren’t your thing, The Dark Side of the Moon section of the exhibit gives you the chance to mix your own version of the song at three listening stations. If you’re too shy to man the controls yourself, simply stand near someone at the mixer and see if they have what it takes to be the man behind the band. It’s always fun to listen to isolated vocals! This area is also home to a 3-D-projected recreation of the album cover set to “The Great Gig in the Sky”. This was particularly interesting to see, more so due to the die-hard fans who have most likely heard this song a thousand times, yet still lingered or even sat down to enjoy.
08. For the Gold in Their Bags
Lyrical Vibe: “For the gold in their bags/ Or the knives in their backs” — “Your Possible Pasts”, The Final Cut
Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut is a controversial album to say the least. With many fans touting it as Roger Waters’ first solo album, it’s never quite received the love it deserves. Although Waters collaborated with the museum, so did David Gilmour and Nick Mason. In the end, the album only receives a small portion of the exhibit but is a sight for sore eyes. The V&A have recreated the back of the album’s cover art: a solider with a knife in his back standing in poppy fields. This section also houses some handwritten lyrics to “The Post War Dream”, written by Waters. A video of “The Gunner’s Dream” can be seen and heard while standing here. It’s a bittersweet tribute to Waters’ last days in the band, which we must never forget. Take heed of his dream. Take heed.
07. Remember a Day Before Today
Lyrical Vibe: “Remember a day before today…” — “Remember a Day”, A Saucerful of Secrets
The entrance to the exhibit is a walk through a giant replica of the band’s Bedford van painted with a white stripe down its side. The new Pink Floyd Early Year’s Box Set takes a note from the Van design, simply owning a white stripe as well. Inside one can find the walls striped black and white, twisting and turning as if headed for a psychedelic trip into the collective mind that is Pink Floyd. Just beyond that, we find ourselves in a room littered with early psychedelic posters of the time, some of them referencing a very young Pink Floyd playing at the famous UFO Club, thus setting the scene for what’s to come. One might normally rush through this section of the exhibit to get to the meat of it all, but remember to take your time, as there is much to see, and in order to really get the full effect, it’s important to soak in the environment from room to room.
06. There’ll Be No Sleep in Here Tonight
Lyrical Vibe: “There’ll be no sleep in here tonight” – “One Slip”, A Momentary Lapse of Reason
The best sight may lay beyond the Roger Waters era, with a long hall lined with beds that house promotional materials, videos, and even Gilmour’s Candy Apple Red Fender from the Momentary Lapse of Reason album. Truly a wonder, the hall encapsulates the art and design behind the album and subsequent tour. Storm Thorgerson was brought back in to design the cover art for said album with Robert Dawling photographing. Looking up, one might glimpse a bed, UFO, or rocket ships, so keep your wits about you! Also, for the die-hard fans out there — housed silently at the end of the room are two mannequins sporting the light bulb suits from the live album cover of Delicate Sound of Thunder!
05. I Was Staring Straight into the Shining Sun
Lyrical Vibe: “I was staring straight into the shining sun” — “Coming Back to Life”, The Division Bell
If giant, inflatable props don’t do it for you, surely the Division Bell metal heads will. Designed by Storm Thorgerson and Keith Breeden (constructed by John Roberston), these two heads stare straight into you as you walk into the second-to-last room. The heads have become a favorite symbol of Floyd fans across the board and were among the most welcoming and satisfying sights to behold on the tour. Many of the designs for Division Bell can be seen on the walls, as well as a replica of the promotional airship flown in 1994. Three mirrored panels from the Division Bell tour face the heads on the opposite wall, giving a sparkling glow to the mammoth figures. I’m sure they’ll need help moving those beasts out at the end of the month. Any takers?
04. What Shall We Do to Fill the Empty Spaces?
Lyrical Vibe: “What shall we do/ To fill the empty spaces?” — “Empty Spaces”, The Wall
Fill them with giant, over-size, inflatable props from both the Animals and Wall tours, of course! Since their inception, Pink Floyd always brought spectacle to their stage shows. From the barrage of psychedelic lighting at the UFO Club to the pull-down hotel room from The Wall (which can be found in this area as well), Pink Floyd have always challenged themselves when it comes to their live performances, and this collection has no shortage of relics. You can see the maniacal school teacher looming over the Battersea Power Station, seemingly “scolding” a nearby floating pig. The Wall’s monstrous wife peers at you from behind a few missing bricks, as a life-size masked body from The Wall sits on a jutted brick. Jeffrey Shaw, with design team Hipgnosis, are to thank for the Giant Pig, which can still be seen today as Roger Waters still incorporates this icon on his current tour. He also dusted off the idea of the marionette teacher and company for his tour of The Wall in 2014.
03. We Would Zigzag Our Way
Lyrical Vibe: “We would/ Zigzag our way/ Through the boredom and pain” — “Pigs on the Wing (Part One)”, Animals
One of the most awe-inspiring portions of the exhibit is turning the corner to find yourself looking at the giant, blacklight-lit Battersea Power Station, featured on the Animals album cover. Don’t let your eyes deceive you; it’s actually an optical illusion. Upon closer inspection, the building is broken into various pieces that allow you to roam through the aisles of the station at your leisure. Here you can view plenty of props from the Animals tour, which include deflated giant sheep, David Gilmour’s 1962 Telecaster used to record “Dogs” (originally titled “You Gotta Be Crazy”), as well as schematics to the construction of animal props and sets for the tour. A video dedicated to the inflation and sailing of these over-size sheep and pigs had people laughing out loud. So, take some shelter here from pigs on the wing; you won’t regret it!
02. I Know a Room Full of Musical Tunes
Lyrical Vibe: “I know a room full of musical tunes…” – “Bike”, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Quite possibly the most interesting and satisfying portion of the exhibition comes right out of the gate as we move into the beginnings of the group. A plethora of artifacts are scattered about as we survey their early Pre-Floyd career. Pictures of earlier versions of the band such as The Tea Set or Gilmour’s Joker’s Wild can be seen here. There are also handwritten notes from Syd Barrett to then-girlfriend Jenny Spires; one in particular speaks about the very van at the beginning of the tour! Instruments abound in this room. Some are the genuine issue (Wright’s electric organ used on “Obscured by Clouds”) while others (Syd Barrett’s lost mirrored Fender Telecaster) are recreations. These are welcome, though, for they truly send us back in time. One slightly out of place item is Syd Barrett’s orange bike, which he owned from the ’80s until his death in 2006. It’s a poignant reminder of the loss of their fellow bandmate.
01. Summer’s Thunder
Lyrical Vibe: “Summer’s thunder time of year/ The sound of music in my ears” — “Fat Old Sun”, Atom Heart Mother
Sennheiser, who provide the “sound experience,” have really outdone themselves this time. Having also provided their handy work to the “David Bowie Is” exhibition in 2013, they’ve proven themselves to be the go-to sound company when it comes to events such as this.
At the beginning of your adventure, you’re simply handed a headset to slip on. This is, in fact, our first takeaway from the exhibit, for you are in control of your experience. As you wander the rooms, the corresponding music shifts to the exhibit you’re closest to. Whether your interests lay with a video on Richard Wright’s piano stylings or early footage of the band playing “Jugband Blues” from Saucerful of Secrets, one simply has to move close to the item you wish to see and hear, and you can trust your musical journey to smoothly fade into the next portion of the tour as you travel through.