While our main reason for traveling down to London a few weeks ago was to see Tom Petty, we also took the chance to drop in at the latest music inspired exhibition at the V&A, Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains.
I am not actually a huge Pink Floyd fan. I like the odd song, and while before going to the exhibit I listened to Dark Side of the Moon a couple of times extra as a refresher, it’s not exactly ‘my sort’ of music. I tend to gravitate towards melody driven tracks, catchy guitar riffs and heartfelt lyrics. To me, Pink Floyd was always just a bit noisy.
I’m sure there are Floyd fans reading this who want to throttle me right now, but that’s just the truth. I’m sorry. I still think I’m right, by the way – however, the music gets a lot more interesting the more you analyse it. It’s the perfect stuff for a detailed exhibition, to be honest.
Their Mortal Remains takes you through the artistic history of the band. Not surprising for an art museum, but if you’re looking for the nity-gritty of the personal relationships between the band members, look elsewhere. A lot of the heavy political context is missing as well, with only enough present to serve the art rather than be a part of the exhibit itself. I don’t actually feel it suffers for this, though if you didn’t live through the time and you want to get the most out of it, I’d do a little background reading beforehand.
Their Mortal Remains is a true celebration of Pink Floyd’s art, their collaborators, and the impact they have had on modern rock concerts. It’s not exactly an emotive journey, but it is fascinating. While the relation the band has to the politics of the time is mostly missing, the impact they had on popular culture is really interesting.
In particular, the detail about the inflatables was something I’d never really considered before. Being 24 now and heavily into pop punk as a teenager, I’ve been to gigs with inflatable legs, spaceships hovering above the audience, and light shows that just keep getting better. It was fun to see where some of the inspiration for these stage designs came from, including the giant flying pig over Battersea power station and the gross nuclear family for their 1977 tour, In The Flesh.
The actual experience of the exhibit walks the line between intimate and isolating. If you choose to lose yourself in the audio guide, the talking head interviews peppered throughout the rooms are quite inviting. However, I found that if you step back for even a second – maybe your shoes aren’t totally comfortable, or a man decides to elbow you in the back (not an imagined scenario, I’m afraid) – it can be quite difficult to get that connection back.
Maybe this is intentional. Maybe this is supposed to mirror the distance the band kept between themselves and the audience. There’s not a lot of new information here to an old Floyd fan, and there’s not enough deep context for someone who knows nothing about the band. If the exhibit is supposed to be an experience primarily, the experience is one of slight discomfort and detachment. Quite like lying down in a dark room and listening to Dark Side of the Moon, really.
The best part of the experience came at the end for me. You step into a room and listen to three tracks, two studio recordings and a live performance. I won’t spoil which ones. Sit in the middle of the room, and it’s perfectly balanced. You’ll probably wish you were high; the wash of sound is a truly luxurious feeling. Enjoy the music, and then stay to listen to the songs again.
The second time, get up and WALK AROUND! I swear to you, it’s so much fun and really feels like a necessary part of the exhibit. Depending on which wall you stand next to, you get a completely difference balance of sound. It’s like being inside a mixing desk. Technical and playful, it was my favourite part of the exhibit and I’d recommend it thoroughly, purely based on that one room. I’m listening to Pink Floyd right now, and I just wish I was there.