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Sennheiser partners again with V&A for Pink Floyd exhibition

Ahead of the official exhibition opening, Installation attended a preview of Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains – the latest music-related exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum to feature Sennheiser as audio partner. Like in 2013’s David Bowie Is, the company’s contribution is in two parts: it has created a 3D audio upmix of a classic recording, and it delivers a soundtrack to the exhibition. As you enter, you are given a body pack and headphones, and as you move around the exhibition space, the relevant audio fades in on the headphones – synced to any video that is playing.

The audio zone around each exhibit is bounded by a loop laid in the floor. As a visitor walks into the zone of an exhibit it triggers the transmission of the relevant audio stream. Audio is sent from media players to guidePORT transmitters – located in two control rooms that also house the central guidePORT PC – which send it to antennas in the ceiling and elsewhere. Small trigger units, placed near the exhibits, known as identifiers, tell the bodypacks which audio stream to receive or play.

Audio – in the form of music and interviews – brings another dimension to the exhibition, which is a chronological tour through the band’s career, from their origins in the psychedelic scene of the 1960s through to their mid-1990s albums The Division Bell and Pulse. A broad range of exhibits are on show: documents include early photographs, diaries, letters and contracts; there are also musical instruments, and audio technology, including the Quad Panner built for the band by Britannia Row to handle live quadraphonic sound. Pink Floyd’s visual identity is also given full rein – including classic cover artwork by Storm Thorgersen and Hipgnosis, and the inflatable characters, developed from Gerald Scarfe cartoons, that were used in the stage show of The Wall. There is also a 3D rendering of the iconic cover of the Dark Side of the Moon album, where a triangular prism diffracts a ray of white light into the colours of the spectrum.

Dotted throughout the exhibition are telephone boxes decorated with newspapers, magazines and other printed media – giving a social historical context to the band’s catalogue.

Pink Floyd were renowned for being experimental in the recording studio. Visitors get the chance to appreciate the different elements of the song Money by playing with the levels of eight different channels: two guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals, saxophone and cash register! A number of Formula Audio Que 18 mixers are provided for this purpose, with the output sent to the individual visitor’s headphones via guidePORT.

The climax of the show is a performance of Comfortably Numb from Live 8 in 2005, the last time the band played live. This has been upmixed by Sennheiser using its AMBEO technology to an 18.3 mix, and the feeling of immersion is increased by projection on all four walls of the room, and lighting that both adds to the live ambience and also at times nods to the liquid light shows that accompanied the band’s earliest performances.

Victoria & Albert Museum