Inside the V&A's Pink Floyd Exhibition

To mark the 50th anniversary of the band’s first single, “Arnold Layne,” the Victoria and Albert Museum in Central London is hosting an impressive Pink Floyd retrospective. The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Moral Remains comprises a multi-room audio-visual journey through the band’s unique past, while chronicling its music, design and staging from the Sixties to the present day. Each section features a specially recorded commentary and vintage tracks replayed to visitors via Sennheiser IR headphones, culminating in a realistic concert replayed back via a multichannel AMBEO immersive system. The exhibition, which marks the first collaboration in decades between the band’s remaining members and is promoted by Michael Cohl plus Iconic Entertainment Studios, continues until October 1.
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The vintage EMI TG12345 Mk IV console used to record Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon album at Abbey Road Studios.

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To mark the 50th anniversary of the band’s first single, “Arnold Layne,” the Victoria and Albert Museum in Central London is hosting an impressive Pink Floyd retrospective. The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Moral Remains comprises a multi-room audio-visual journey through the band’s unique past, while chronicling its music, design and staging from the Sixties to the present day. Each section features a specially recorded commentary and vintage tracks replayed to visitors via Sennheiser IR headphones, culminating in a realistic concert replayed back via a multichannel AMBEO immersive system. The exhibition, which marks the first collaboration in decades between the band’s remaining members and is promoted by Michael Cohl plus Iconic Entertainment Studios, continues until October 1.

From pigs flying over London’s Battersea Power Station, to The Dark Side of the Moon prism and marching hammers to inflatable teachers, the band has produced a range of iconic imagery; their vision was often brought to life by long-time collaborator Storm Thorgerson, illustrator Gerald Scarfe and lighting designer Peter Wynne-Wilson. Their Mortal Remains celebrates the band’s work in staging, music technology, graphic design and photography, with more than 350 objects and artifacts presented alongside works from the V&A’s collections. Standout exhibits include set and construction pieces from some of the band’s innovative and album covers and stage performances, including The Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall and The Division Bell, together with instruments, mixing consoles, architectural drawings, lyrics, prints and posters. The multi-element exhibition was designed by Stufish, a leading entertainment architect and the band’s long-time stage designer.

“Pink Floyd is an impressive and enduring British design story of creative success,” stated museum director Martin Roth. “For over five decades, they have been pioneers in uniting sound and vision, from their earliest 1960s performances with experimental light shows, through stadium rock shows, to their consistently iconic album covers. The exhibition locates them within the history of performance, design and musical production.”

Martin Roth (left), Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, Tim Reeve, Victoria Broackes and Michael Cohl. Photo: Ian West/PA Wire.

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Drummer/co-founder Nick Mason commented in a media reception that he was surprised the band’s remaining members are still working after 50 years. “If you told me that we’d still exist even four years after we started, I‘d have been surprised. Now I feel [the exhibition] will do things that hopefully have never been seen or heard before,” he predicted.

For this visitor, one of the most interesting exhibits, located in the museum’s entrance lobby, was the original EMI TG12345 Mk IV solid-state console used during the tracking and remix of The Dark Side of The Moon at Abbey Road Studios in the early Seventies, as well as for The Beatles' Abbey Road album. Equipped with 24 mic inputs and eight tape outputs—a significant improvement over the eight mic inputs and four outputs of the facility’s previous tube-based REDD.51 console—the larger configuration enabled the studio to replace its four-track Studer J37 machines with the eight-track 3M M23 transports.

The EMI TG12345 Mk IV console was used by then-engineer Alan Parsons to record The Dark Side of the Moon.

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As I discovered, producer Mike Hedges purchased the TG12345 console directly from Abbey Road in 1983, housing it at his own studio since then. It was sold at auction earlier this year for $1.8 million to New York’s Pie Studios, where it will be installed following the current V&A event. (The twin MK IV, which was housed in Abbey Road's Studio 3 before being moved into Studio 1, currently is housed in Austria's Prime Studios.)

The Azimuth Coordinator Panner for Pink Floyd’s custom-made quadrophonic speaker system for live shows. Built by Abbey Road Studios, it was operated during concerts by keyboardist Richard Wright to move sounds around the auditorium.

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The exhibition’s commentary is replayed via a Sennheiser GuidePort audio tour system that automatically tracks visitors through the exhibition zones, and relays appropriate audio to visitors’ headphones; each visitor receives a personalized experience while the event remains free from confusing sound spill between different sections.

Visitors can also experience classic Pink Floyd concert footage with a custom-designed laser show and AMBEO surround playback. A pivotal element is a new immersive mix of the song “Comfortably Numb” from 2006’s Live 8 Concert held in London’s Hyde Park—the last time that David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Richard Wright played onstage with former member Roger Waters. The material was remixed at Abbey Road Studios using Sennheiser’s AMBEO 3D technology in a new 25-speaker immersive format by engineer Andy Jackson, who worked with the band on several albums, including The Division Bell, in collaboration with scoring mixer Simon Rhodes and composer/producer Simon Franglen. Sennheiser was official audio partner for the V&A exhibition, so the exhibition’s video final playback area with AMBEO 3D surround is appropriately equipped with 18 Neumann KH 420 mid-field monitors and seven KH 870 subwoofers.

“Pink Floyd has worked with Sennheiser and Neumann microphones throughout their career,” recalled Mason, who returned to Abbey Road during the production of the AMBEO mix. Added Franglen: “I can’t think of a band that is better suited to Sennheiser’s AMBEO 3D technology than Pink Floyd; they pioneered surround sound in their live shows and now Sennheiser’s immersive audio pioneers a completely new experience.”

As a fan of the band for 50 years—since its successful debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in 1967, through live concerts in Brighton, UK, that featured the innovative “Azimuth Coordinator” 360-degree sound system, to performances of The Wall at London's now-defunct Earls Court live venue—Pink Floyd has remained a musical vitality and inspiration. This exhibition celebrates the band's profound creativity and application of innovative sound technology both on stage and in the studio. Their handful of albums continues to inspire multiple generations of artists and, sonically, seldom has been bettered. The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Moral Remains is a not-to-be-missed exploration of their considerable talents.

©Mel Lambert. All rights reserved.

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Andy Jackson (left), Dr. Andreas Sennheiser, Simon Franglen, co-curator Aubrey Powell, Simon Rhodes and Daniel Sennheiser during AMBEO remix sessions at Abbey Road Studios.