Breaking Your Sound Barriers #3: Zaireeka

Breaking Your Sound Barriers is a series of blog posts related to the upcoming Sound Edge Festival, which takes place from February 10th - 18th in locations all over Birmingham, including Seasick Records.

Sound Edge, Day 2, is important to me because, duh, it's at Seasick. 

This is performance that I personally curated. It's going to be everything I want in a music experience: it will be heady, fun, weird, dense, and you can dance to it. 

Everyone of these performances will be special. Each one these artists -- all of them indigenous to Birmingham -- is worthy of your attention. 

But I have to give a special shout out to Zaireeka -- The Flaming Lips' surround sound freak-out that requires listeners to play four CDs on four different CD players -- all at the same time. 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Zaireeka and I'm still surprised to meet people who've never done it. It's like synching Dark Side of the Moon to The Wizard of Oz, only it actually works... by the power of 4. 

Zaireeka meets all of the criteria of my perfect music experience, too. It sidesteps any pretension by being aware of it's grandiosity -- but it doesn't hide behind irony, rather Zaireeka wants you to revel in its spectacle. Besides, it was intended as a communal experience -- you probably don't have 4 boomboxes laying around, but by asking your friends for help in pulling it off and BAM!!! Instant party! 

Zaireeka was born out of the Parking Lot Experiments, where The Flaming Lips would arrange cars in a parking garage, give them each a cassette, and then the band wold conduct the cars via a megaphone. 

The Parking Lot Experiments soon yielded The Boombox Experiments -- a similar experience tailored for club shows: 

The band eventually took these experiments to the recording studio, recording Zaireeka while simultaneously recording their breakthrough album, The Soft Bulletin. Listening to both album, you can hear how they rubbed off on one another -- The Soft Bulletin's songs are more direct, but the production and arrangements call upon Zaireeka's time-space distortions.

The weirdness / headiness factor behind Zaireeka has a direct connection to composer Steve Reich, whose early tape loop experiments provided a template for the Flaming Lips. Reich's 1966 composition, "Come Out", is both simple and radical. He plays an identical tape loop on two different machines. Physics being what they are, the loops fall out of phase with each each other, creating sonorities that typically created by acoustic music... At least until Reich began approximating these sounds for his own ensemble, most notably on "Music for 18 Musicians." ("Come Out" is radically political, too, given it's ties to the Civil Rights movement -- as explained this excellent article, "Blood and Echoes"). 

Not immune to physics, the four boomboxes that play Zaireeka will never find themselves in perfect synchronicity but the music is preprepared for this -- there's enough space in each song for the drags and rushes of the players to create subtle variations each time you hear it. Furthermore, the songs create a warped sense of time. Some of it will be disorienting. Some of it will be annoying. Some of it will be beautiful. But, as a whole, it will be a listening experience like no other. 

Zaireeka will kick off our program, Excursions in Recorded Sound, at 6pm, which also features performances by Daniel Farris, Iron Giant Percussion, Byron the Aquarius, and more. No worries if you don't have festival pass: $5 will get you in the door. 


Daniel Drinkard