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Following the departure of Lips guitarist Ronald Jones and freak accidents involving drummer Steven Drozd (spider bite) and Michael Ivins (odd tire hitting his car), Flaming Lips leader Wayne Coyne decided he needed a new creative outlet for he and his fellow bandmates. Through endless touring over the previous three years, Wayne was becoming restless with the standard band format of music, whether it be four musicians on stage, or two channels of audio coming out of a stereo. The simple idea that music was becoming too passive for the listener and too trapping for the artist, he decided to do something about it.

In the spring of 1996, Wayne and Co. gathered thrity locals who had automobiles with tape decks at a local Oklahoma City mall's parking garage, gave them each a unique tape, and then had them start the tapes at the same time. Thus began the Parking Lot Experiments.

Wayne spent months conjuring up the sounds to put on these tapes, meticulously cutting and pasting music and found sound at his OKC compound. Eventually Wayne had amassed over 300 tapes. Each song or test required thirty-plus tapes, and there were two test tapes, three songs, and backups of each tape, just in case.

Here's how it works: At the events, Wayne directs the cars into position, wearing his now-ubiquitous yellow rain slicker with a ratty old patch on the back bearing his name, barking orders through his super bullhorn. Each car is given a "test" tape. If all goes well, and all tapes are started simultaneously, the garage should hear each tape count off its number. If done correctly, the numbers should be in order. Almost everytime, however, someone messes up and the count is off. After a second test, which works better as folks get the hang of it, the test tapes are then exchanged for the real thing. Finally, Wayne barks out one more instruction ­ mingle amongst the cars after your tape has started ­ and gives the countdown. Its do or be damned time. Once the decks start there's no turning back.

Soon sounds appear at one end of the garage, then slowly, it jumps around and the cacophony begins. Moaning, weird instruments, found sound, guitar, drums and bass all contribute. One tape may be nothing more than a drum beat, another, a woman reaching orgasm. Still another may have a few instruments and plenty of fuzz. Every tape is unique, but made in relation to the others. As you wander around, from one end of the cars to the other, stopping to cock yer ear to hear this sound or that, you realize that there is a song, a composition, eminating from the cars. Basically, you are hearing 60+ channels of music coming through well over 100 speakers. It is rather overwhelming at times, your pulse rate goes up, folks chatter and the song builds to crescendo. Everyone cheers at the end. After all, they helped!

After three such events in Oklahoma City, which primarily consisted of the band's friends and anyone else with a tape deck and car, it was time to take the show on the road. Wayne and Steven staged the next event in Austin, TX, at the SXSW Conference in March, 1997, on the fourth floor of a parking structure. The band was skeptical of how the event would go over, but on that Saturday afternoon, so many folks turned up that the event was delayed for ninety minutes as it was near impossible to move.

Estimates were between 1,000 and 2,000 folks in what was surely one of the best attended events at the conference. The write-up the next day in the Austin American-Statesman proclaimed the experiment "the event" of the Confab.

Though Wayne isn't one to get too excited about any of his band's successes, he nonetheless pondered the opportunity to present some form of this "new music-making process" to the record buying public. After much discussion with his record label, Warner Bros. Records, it was decided that Flaming Lips could deliver two releases with the money earmarked for recording their next proper album. Throughout 1997, the band trekked back and forth to produce Dave Fridmann's Buffalo, NY-area studio, determined to figure out how to committ Wayne's ideas to 8 channels of music to be played simultaneously.

The result would be ZAIREEKA, the 4-CD set released in October, 1997, by WB.

But before Zaireeka would be released to the public, some initiation for the record company and college radio were in order, so in August and September,1997, more experiments were planned. The first one, in Burbank at the record company offices, consisted first of a patio playback of a couple of Zaireeka's tracks, then a trek into the parking garage for the multi-cassette automobile gathering. The pictures from this event are presented here.

The next event for college radio programmers took place in New York City at the CMJ Convention. Since there was no access to parking garages in NYC, the band was under instructions from its manager to make stops along the drive from OKC to New York and buy up boom boxes that would work for the experiment. So, at a Lincoln Center bar, the band and a handful of conference attendees joined the band in the first Boom Box Experiment, another success for Flaming Lips.

A total of three such Boom Box Experiments have now taken place, the latest in December at a Norman, OK, theatre. You can find photos and a booklet explaining the evening's events (in .pdf format) at George's site.

joe's virtual home | music page | flaming lips page | zaireeka | parking lot experiments