PINK FLOYD, THEIR MORTAL REMAINS

Having been born in the early 1970’s seven years before the release of the contemporary musical masterpiece, “the Wall” and bearing witness to the graphic depictions of human disfigurement with which it betokened association, an image pool that, in coincidentally representing the essence of my worst nightmares, self explanatorily, served to fuel their bluff, I became intrigued as to how what appeared to be an unorthodox scrawl of malign sentiment could retain any vestige of popular appeal.

Learning that such an apparel was in fact the design scheme for a music album by the rock group “Pink Floyd”, a boldly irreverent yet immaculately finished package of strangely compelling extraction I duly became intrigued by the band and, in proceeding to purchase a number of its records, discovered, to my surprise, that many of the songs which the group had composed were actually very good.

Subsequently becoming a devoted admirer of the band’s work, a predilection which frequently granted me opportunity to fraternise with my elders upon themes of both unorthodox and illicit persuasion, I was naturally delighted to learn that Kensington’s Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington was in the process of staging an extensive exhibition dedicated to the band’s music.

Presented, upon arrival, with a pair of headphones attached to an audio device, a relay which, in being adapted to automatically run through extracts of both music and spoken dialogue upon entering each respective chamber of the exhibition hall, I duly made forth towards the darkened entrance of the show in efforts to discover what may lie hidden within its sanctum.

Fashioned in the semblance of a London Taxi cab, a fibre-glass fascia, which, in extending through a kaleidoscope of psychedelic imagery towards a larger chamber distinctively wrought through with a black and white motif, the first part of the exhibition is devoted to the collusion of initiatives which were to prove Pink Floyd’s origin during the mid-nineteen sixties, a display that, in coincidentally resembling the many feats of temporal distortion ascribed to Doctor Who’s Tardis throughout the formative years of the British Broadcasting Company, succeeds in capturing a manner of nostalgia which, in becoming silvered with age, is inclined to bely retrospect.

As one progesses around the strange dimly lit tunnel of vortices which represents the exhibition’s entrance hall one enters a chamber devoted to the band’s early work, a selection of displays which covers the group’s origins in the early nineteen sixties.

Recorded to have been students together at London Polytechnic along Regent Street in 1962, the band’s founding members Roger Waters and Nick Mason were observed to have teamed up with Keith Noble, Sheilagh Noble, Oliver Metcalfe and Bob Klose to form a sextet named “Sigma Six”, a band which, in changing its name upon a number of different occasions to both accommodate the resignation of Oliver Metcalfe from its entourage and retain its appeal amongst young audiences, was recorded to have finally become “the Tea Set”, a fairly orthodox rythm and blues quintet.

Playing regularly at the Count Down Club on Kensington High Street, “the Tea Set” was largely devoted to performing for student audiences, a faction which, in being inclined towards psychedelia and acoustic experimentation, encouraged the band to experiment with a number of unusual acoustic effects.

Dropping Keith and Sheilagh Noble from its membership, a process through which Rick Wright was occasionally invited to play with the band “the Tea Set” continued as a trio through to 1965 before ultimately replacing Bob Klose with Syd Barret, a circumstance which, in inspiring the group towards further experimentation with psychedelia, witnessed its divergence from the conventions of musical recital towards an advocacy of the inter-active experience represented by modern progressive rock.

Adopting the name “The Pink Floyd Sound”, a title which, in easily being considered a reference to either the vocal range of the caucasian throat or the chromatic properties of Lysurgic Acid Diethylamide, was paradoxically observed to have been an adaptation of the names Pinkney Anderson and Floyd Council, two black American Piedmont blues musicians, “Pink Floyd” began to appear regularly at the U.F.O club along Tottenham Court Road, a venue which, in being equipped with a range of electronic amplification systems and a moving light show, was designed to represent an all pervasive sensory experience.

Placed under the management of Andrew King, a directive beneath which Syd Barret both founded Blackhill Enterprises and acquired a fairly extensive selection of electronic equipment including the intriguingly named, “ Quadrophonic Azimuth Co-ordinator”, with which to produce novel musical effects, “Pink Floyd”, proceeded to stage a number of fairly large live events including “The Games of May” concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1967.

Earning a reputation for drawing an unusual association between fantastic fairy-tale imagery and mind expanding musical experimentation, “Pink Floyd” proceeded to release “Piper At The Gates of Dawn”, an album which, in including the psychedelic epics “Astronomy Domine” and “Interstellar Overdrive” within its catalogue, represented an unusual collage of both natural and electronic sounds super-imposed over a series of mysterious dialogues pertaining to both the Chinese “I Ching” and the Seasonal Solstices.

Receiving an amount of media coverage with the release of the single “See Emily Play” in 1967, Pink Floyd proceeded to court a degree of controversy, illegally broadcasting “Arnold Layne” on pirate radio, a song which, in referring to the closet transvestitism of an underwear thief, was notoriously banned by the British Broadcasting Company.

Subsequently signed to the Columbia record Label through Thorn EMI, Pink Floyd, proceeded to use the eight track recording facilities at London’s Abbey Road studio to produce “A Saucerful of Secrets”, an album which, in being of equally psychedelic extraction to “Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, included the mind bending musical odyssey “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” among its inventory, “Pink Floyd” began to become associated with excessive drug usage, a proclivity which was incidentally observed to profoundly affect Syd Barret’s behaviour.

Driven towards excess through association with the general hedonism towards which London’s passion for psychedelia was inclined, Pink Floyd entertained an increasingly extreme acquaintance with hard narcotics, a circumstance which, in both affecting Syd Barret’s natural charisma and challenging his ceaseless pursuit of individuality, led in some small measure to both the singer’s alienation from the public and subsequent monstricisation.

Replaced in 1968 by the guitarist Dave Gilmour, Syd Barret ultimately retired from Pink Floyd, a circumstance through which he yet achieved a degree of distinction with the band, being both recognised in the lyrics of many of the group’s later songs and affording technical assistance in the production of a number of its albums.

Placed under new management, an arrangement beneath which the group’s record sleeves were notably designed by Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson of the “Hipgnosis” art studio, Pink Floyd, began to produce a number of extended psychedelic masterpieces, a selection of works which, in including the soundtrack for Peter Syke’s and Max Steuers film “Commitee”, the soundtrack for Barbet Schroeder’s film “More” and a double album entitled “Ummagumma”, openly made reference to the canvas of pastoral themes and natural sounds which constituted the finer aspect of rural Cambridgeshire where the band’s members were observed to have spent their childhoods.

Producing the music for Michelango Antonioni’s film “The Zabriskie Point” in 1970, “Pink Floyd” proceeded to release “Atom heart Mother” an album which, in being distinguished by the image of a Fresian cow upon its cover was, although representing a fairly accomplished collection of songs and achieving a degree of chart success, reported to have been personally reviled by the group.

Subsequently achieving widespread acclaim with the release of “Meddle” in 1971, an accomplished album which retains a degree of mesmeric charm to this day, “Pink Floyd” proceeded to produce “Obscured By Clouds”, a collection of songs that, in containing the melody “Childhood’s End” within it’ track list, was notably incorporated into the score of Barbet Schroeder’s art house film “La Vallee”.

Although many of these albums are fairly impressive, granting some insight into the group’s potential as a globally renowned rock band, it was not until 1973 with the release of the universally acknowledged musical masterpiece “The Dark Side of the Moon”, that Pink Floyd started to evolve into the media sensation which it later became.

Making brisk headway forth into a darkened chamber which, in being becalmed with a peculiarly appealing ambient tonal motif, displayed a short film depicting the prism which appears upon “The Dark Side Of The Moon’s” cover rotating through a point of optical convergence, I fleetingly recalled my first experience of the rousing guitar ensembles which served to render the album so memorable.

Recorded to have been launched at the London Planetarium along Marylebone High Street during a period in which psychedelia was acceding a manner of minimalist decorum, “The Dark Side Of The Moon”, was notable for covering the themes of both insanity and drug abuse, topics which, in being of a controversial persuasion, served to grant the album a subversive appeal.

Featuring both the voice of the American Mezzo soprano Cathy Berberian and a number of incredible guitar solos performed by Dave Gilmour, “The Dark Side Of the Moon” was, in being unlike anything available on the market, further notable for including the brilliant progressive lurch of “Money” amongst its catalogue of songs, a composition which, in successfully capturing and refining the tempo of modern jazz, remains, in many ways, one of the best examples of its type ever written.

Proceeding forth into a room containing an extensive collection of musical instruments including a number of guitars, keyboards, Moog synthesisers, microphones and a drum kit emblazoned with images of the nineteenth centry artist Katsushika Hokusai’s “Great Wave of Kanagawa”, I observed that the commercial success of “The Dark Side of the Moon” enabled Pink Floyd to accumulate a vast reserve of equipment through which to effect an increasingly demanding schedule of live tours, an agenda which, in being undertaken during the mid 1970’s when stadium performances were estabishing premium as global entertainment venues, coincided with the rise of both hard rock and heavy metal in popular culture.

Entering the next chamber, I was confronted with the instantly familiar image of the robotic hand-shake depicted upon the cover of Pink Floyd’s classic 1975 album “Wish you Were Here”, a collection of songs which, in making reference to the automation of mankind and correspondently to the loss of the creative soul, appeared, in its fashion, to both venerate many of the themes covered in “The Dark Side Of The Moon” and prophetically preclude the bleakly dystopian aspect that served to distinguished much of the band’s later work.

Renowned for being victimised by John Lydon of the “Sex Pistols” throughout the rise of punk rock towards prominence during the mid 1970’s, an incident in which a number of T-shirts were apparently produced embellished with the words “I Hate Pink Floyd” written upon their fabric, the band began to adopt a harder more pragmatic attitude towards fame, releasing the semi-satirical album “Animals” in 1977, a collection of fairly unmemorable songs which, in making reference to Geoge Orwell’s classic science fiction novel “Animal Farm”, notably featured the image of an inflatable Pig filled with Helium and Propane tethered to the roof of Battersea Power Station upon its cover.

‘Animals’, album cover art, Roger Waters, 1977

Leading forth into a room distinguished by a large plasterboard replica of Battersea Power Station containing both photographs and television footage of the band during the 1970’s, the exhibition proceeded to cover perhaps Pink Floyd’s most celebrated work “the Wall”.

Released in 1979, “The Wall” was a truly vast undertaking, an exercise in stage craft which, through the employ of choreography, puppetry, artistry and draughtsmanship attempted to depict a dystopian post-holocaust reality populated by a monstrous retinue of archetypal caricatures.

Notable for featuring the work of the newspaper cartoonist Gerald Scarfe within its scheme, the stage adaptation of “The Wall” was distinguished by a number of large inflatable dolls including a red haired harlot, an overprotective matron and particularly disturbing psychologically deranged school teacher, an effigy that, in facially resembling a Citroen 2 C.V. was observed to leer accusingly down from the eves of the exhibition hall in proposition of tyrannical arbitration.

Exploring the topic of psychological barriers erected to deter persecution, the live performances of the “The Wall” revolved upon both the construction and demolition of a large white wall composed of painted cardboard bricks within an auditorium, a structure which, in ultimately being destroyed, was intended to represent the “humanisation” of the play’s central character.

Adapted into a film featuring Bob Geldof as the play’s central character, a faded rock star named “Pink”, during the early 1980’s, a mantle beneath which the production’s animated sequences of marching hammers and arial transformations still succeed in capturing the imagination, “The Wall”, entered the public lexicon as a portrayal of constitutional despotism and impending madness, a term beneath which the album’s signature melody was duly adopted as the rallying anthem of embittered school children throughout Britain.

Proceeding forth through the display hall, I was confronted by a number of first and second world war military uniforms, items which, in pertaining to Pink Floyd’s under-rated 1983 album “The Final Cut”, served to draw many of the themes covered in “The Wall” through to their natural conclusion.

Written to commemorate the death of Roger Waters’ father during the Second World War, “The Final Cut” represents a strangely traditional alloy of military music and poetic introspection, an apparel beneath which the dystopian elements of the band’s previous forays into constitutional oppression may be be observed to have presumed resolution through an equally grim portrayal of conflict.

Unproductive as a group for the following four years, a period during which Roger Waters was recorded to have formally retired from his role as the band’s creative center and Dave Gilmour to have converted a river cruiser into a recording studio, all four members of the original group proceeded to release solo albums, a divergence of interests which, in occurring at the height of the band’s fame, succeeded in raising questions over Pink Floyd’s future.

Returning back to the global stage without Roger Waters in 1987, “Pink Floyd” proceeded to produce the album “Momentary Lapse Of Reason” a series of compositions which, in being released through conjunction with an extensive program of live tours, easily served to restore the band to the top of the charts.

Distinguished by an immediately familiar circular projection screen surrounded by electric lights in the Museum’s exhibition hall, the sets for the stage performances of “Momentary Lapse of Reason” earned renown for their spectacular light shows during the late 1980’s, employing a range of both dazzling optical and acoustic effects to impress audiences.

Entering the exhibition’s next chamber I was confronted by a sculpture of two giant riveted steel heads locked in a state of perpetual conversation, an image which, in appearing upon the cover of the band’s last album “The Division Bell”, was recorded to have been devised by the long term “Pink Floyd” artist Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis.

‘The Division Bell’, album sleeve. © Pink Floyd (1987) Ltd

Released in 1994 “The Division Bell” was notable for employing a technologically sophisticated nerve operated voice synthesiser within its acoustic scheme, a device which, in being used by the Cambridge Professor Stephen Hawking to communicate after having suffered to the wasting effects of motor neurone disease, represented an unusual collusion between both high science and popular culture.

Briefly re-united with Roger Waters for the “Live 8” concert in 2005, a venue which, in being organised by Bob Geldof, betokened cross-reference with the film adaptation of “The Wall”, “Pink Floyd” subsequently gradually parted company, producing no further albums as a group.

In 2006 Syd Barret passed away, an occurrence which in betokening grief from both devotees and band members, was swiftly followed in 2008 by the death of the group’s keyboard player Rick Wright.

Signified by a short corridor featuring images from Dave Gilmour’s commemorative solo album “Endless River”, the death of two of the band’s founding members served to confirm the supposition that the halcyon era of Pink Floyd was at an end.

Picketed with a panoramic overhead screen depicting footage of the band and equipped with a concealed amplification system, an arrangement which, in resembling a live concert, presents an opportunity for people to sit upon the ground and listen to a number of classic Pink Floyd melodies, the last section of the exhibition is a strangely intimate reminder of the phenomenon which the group came to represent during the haitus of its influence, capturing the essence of both its stage performances and its music with a clarity ordinarily ascribed to domestic media.

Presented by Michael Cohl and curated by Victoria Broakes, Anna Landreth Strong and Geoffrey Marsh, The Victoria and Albert Museum’s “Pink Floyd” exhibition is, in drawing the initiatives of respected institution into alignment with those of rebellion, something of a contradiction, a paradox which although strange, ultimately serves to accentuate the show’s novelty.

Being one of the finest and most well conceived examples of its type that I have ever visited, “The Pink Floyd, Their Mortal Remains” exhibition represents both a concise account of the events which were to result in the formation of one of the most successful bands of the twentieth century and a thoroughly engaging immersive experience, I firmly recommend it to admirers of both Pink Floyd’s work and progressive rock in general.

For more information please contact.

@vam.ac.uk

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A Victorian man trapped in the twenty first century

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Tom Scrow

Tom Scrow

A Victorian man trapped in the twenty first century

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