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Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibition at the V&A – review

Psychedelia and striking art installations meet Sennheiser 3D audio to spectacular effect at the V&A’s new Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains exhibition, James Laird writes in his review.

Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains is the V&A Museum’s latest ambitious musical show, following 2013’s successful David Bowie Is exhibition.

The 350-strong collection of Floydian artefacts is as intriguing as it is vast, and there’s superb Sennheiser 3D audio powering the experience as visitors journey chronologically through the band’s diverse career and catalogue.

It took me a few minutes to get my head around the show, given how many immersive elements it had.

Before entering, you’re given a pair of Sennheiser headphones –  the HD 2.20s (check out our review of the more recent Sennheiser HD 2.30s) – and a receiver box to hang around your neck or clip to your belt.

The receiver then talks to the exhibition’s multimedia elements, triggering Pink Floyd tunes and interview clips that illuminate the different relics on show, which range from posters and instruments to outfits, stage props, and album cover art.

Given the sheer scale of memorabilia, it can be a bit sensitive – a step here or there, and you’ll switch to a new track or clip – but once you get the hang of it, it’s really rather clever.

The curation, too, is superb, the work of a polite partnership between the V&A Museum in London, Pink Floyd’s long-term artistic team Hipgnosis, and the remaining band members.

Now, I’m too young to have experienced Pink Floyd in their prime, but as an enduring part of the stoner canon, Dark Side of the Moon resided on a semi-permanent basis in my car’s CD player during high school.

In all honesty, I didn’t even really like it that much, but it was the crowdpleaser and the one girls deemed the right side of weird.

No, I’m a card carrying ‘first album’ wanker whose deepest affections are reserved for Floyd’s Syd Barrett-fronted days and its debut record, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (and, to a lesser extent, A Saucerful of Secrets, where Barrett’s presence is still mercifully in evidence).

Classics like Arnold Layne and See Emily Play offer a brilliantly surreal lyrical take on the notion of Englishness and are far more intriguing than the pseudo-political prog-rock musics of Messrs Waters and Gilmour.

So my personal highlight of Their Mortal Remains is actually the very first room, which is dedicated to Barrett. It’s the only part of the exhibition that sees an individual take centre stage and is the show’s most moving element.

The centrepiece is a note penned by Barrett to a girlfriend, which he signs with his first name proper, ‘Roger’, and adorns with a child-like drawing of the band’s (presumably) first van.

“You can’t see me because I’m in the back.”

It perfectly – indeed, prophetically – captures the Barrett enigma. Within a few years, the increasingly reclusive, erratic frontman would be sidelined from the band.

That’s only touching the sides of what Their Mortal Remains has to offer, though.

Like the band itself, things get more bombastic as the show progresses. Backed by the Sennheiser audio, all the big hits are rendered flawlessly and you may, like I did, see some in a new light as a result.

Other highlights include a trippy 3D rendering of the Dark Side of the Moon cover art; a cane used to flog Roger Waters during his school days; a replica of Johnny Rotten’s infamous ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt; and a giant replica of Battersea Power Station.

Most mindblowing, though, is the final concert room, or ‘Performance Zone’. Here, you get to relive Pink Floyd’s iconic performance of Comfortably Numb at Live8 in surround sound – but not surround sound as you know it.

Not only is the performance remixed in AMBEO (Sennheiser’s patented 3D audio technology), there’s a whopping 18 Neumann KH 420 mid-field monitor loudspeakers and seven KH 870 subwoofers in the intimate room – I’m looking at my modest-sized open plan kitchen and thinking it’s not much smaller –  plus four video screens, resulting in an experience that comes amazingly close to recreating the feel of a live gig, just without the spilt beer.

As arguably the exhibition’s biggest selling point, we weren’t allowed to film in the Performance Zone, but here’s a taste of what else Their Mortal Remains has to offer…

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Pink Floyd

A letter penned by Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett to a girlfriend

Pink Floyd

Replicas of some of the band’s guitars

Pink Floyd

Part of the original score for Atom Heart Mother (composed by Ron Geesin)

Pink Floyd

A replica of Johnny Rotten’s infamous T-shirt

Pink Floyd

An alien, or a symbol of society’s ills?

Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd became more political over the years

Part homage and part history lesson, Their Mortal Remains is a nearly flawless AV experience that emphatically illustrates the new boundaries of art. Only John Cale’s two-night ‘drone orchestra’ gig with artist Liam Young, which I was also lucky enough to see, comes close to matching its ambition.

Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains runs at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum from May 13 to October 1. Tickets cost £22 for weekdays and £26 on weekends, inclusive of booking fee. They’re in high demand, but you can book your visit via the link below.

Suffice to say, what’s on offer fully justifies the price of admission.

Are you going to check out the V&A’s new Pink Floyd exhibition? Let us know in the comments.

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