Music: Now that's what I call garage music!

Tomorrow, the Flaming Lips treat London to a little sound party. Their instrumentation? Forty ghetto-blasters.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
On a spring afternoon last year in Austin, Texas, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips was pacing round a fume-filled parking garage yelling manically through a loud hailer. Manoeuvring through almost 2,000 onlookers he somehow directed 30 cars into their designated spaces. Each driver had been given a different tape of specifically programmed music, sounds and frequencies Coyne had put together for the last of the "Parking Lot Experiments" which he started conducting a year earlier in his hometown of Oklahoma City.

With 30 car stereos playing simultaneously, it was one loud experience, and a freaky one too, with samples such as a woman in orgasm and a pack of dogs howling bouncing round the walls. It had the effect of a Surroundsound of many different textures, but more than anything it was an event, and a fun one too. Even those not sitting in cars had a chance to mingle and catch different aspects of this mad room of sound.

"The parking lot thing started off for my amusement," Coyne says, "but as time went by I could see that people were really into participating. The weirdest thing about Austin was that no one actually got run over in the confusion."

After Austin, stage two was to take the experiment into people's homes, and the Flaming Lips released Zaireeka, a four- CD set that has to be played all at once to achieve the full aural effect (the title is a combination of the words Zaire and Eureka, which to Coyne sum up the feelings of chaos and creative breakthrough). The other important point about Zaireeka is that it does contain real Lips songs of sheer beauty as opposed to some noodly cacophony.

In retrospect, it's clear that the Lips are a band oppressed by the confines of traditional recording formats. There's also the conundrum that over their seven-album career they haven't received the recognition accorded to lesser bands. Sure, they were quirky and psychedelic, but what about fuzzed-up pop gems such as "Turn It On" and "Be My Head"? Then again, maybe it was because they rattled on about outer space, giraffes and brains and had song titles like "Guy Who Got A Headache And Accidentally Saves The World" that consigned them to the cult corner.

To hear Zaireeka as Coyne and company planned it is a pain, as it means getting four CD players and, preferably, four operators in one room at the same time, but Coyne's argument runs along the lines that, too often, listening to music is passive. "It's like when you go to the movies you sit there and shut out everything else. With Zaireeka, with all the setting up that's involved, I wanted listening to music to become an event. I think that sometimes people see rock as being a not very expansive territory anymore. I don't see why a rock band like ourselves, more interested in recording than performing, has to make a record and spend the next two years doing a typical roadshow thing. I don't have that bone in me that I have to be out there getting adoration, so I've always been looking for a way of taking the recording and the performing and trying to squish the both together. I started to see DJs just showing up with their records and I thought what a great way to be. They don't have to bring musicians and instruments with them to recreate sounds. I started to see that you don't have to do that anymore. A younger audience seems to accept that they can listen to recordings and it doesn't necessarily have to be a band in front of them."

So welcome to stage three - the boom-box experiment - which has its only scheduled European performance tomorrow in London. Instead of cars, there will be 40 ghetto blasters on stage, conducted and mixed by the three Lips members. Some of the operators are invited (members of My Bloody Valentine, Lush and the Boo Radleys are supposed to be coming along), but most will be made up of fans selected from a mad scramble at the start of the concert. At similar events in the US they've had problems as fans trip over cables, unplugging the speakers.

"Yeah there's a great deal of thought that has to go into it," Coyne says. "We've even timed the length of the show in line with the capacity of the average human bladder. All those volunteers aren't used to having to pay attention for an hour, and, since every tape is timed to play at a certain time, we can't have people going to the bathroom."

Technical hitches and involuntary bowel movements aside, it's certain that you'll won't see a band presenting great music in such a way this year. The "typical roadshow thing" may be in for a big wake-up call.

Zaireeka - experimental concert by the Flaming Lips, The Forum, London NW5, tomorrow (0181-963 0940); 'Zaireeka' is on Warner Bros.