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One word: Zaireeka

My friend Jared, who you might remember as the loud, drunken guy at one of my parties or from this very blog, recently turned his life around. He’s on the wagon, and we’re all very proud of him. I don’t know if this is related, but he called me up on Tuesday and I heard The Flaming Lips’ Soft Bulletin playing in the background – this from a man whose musical tastes are as distantly removed from my own as any human’s, or at least it used to seem that way. Not only was he listening to the Lips during the phone call, he called me back an hour later with a proposition: Zaireeka, that very night. I couldn’t say no.

To recap, Zaireeka is an experimental album the Lips made a few years back. It comes on four CDs which you play simultaneously in four CD players, giving you eight channels of sound. For the math-challenged, that’s six more channels of sound than you usually get. I heard the mixed-down version on mp3 a while back, and at the time the thought of hearing the real, four-system version of the album thrilled me so much that I declared it an edict of our divine Lord. Little did I know how soon His plan for me would come to ecstatic fruition.

I showed up at Jared’s house around 10:30, carrying my CD player and computer speakers, my contribution to the party, on my back. Inside, Jared, Dash, and Joe Jansen were already preparing for the performance. It took a good twenty minutes or so to get all four systems set up to our satisfaction, and then the event began in earnest.

Make no mistake: listening to Zaireeka is not a passive experience. It is an event which engages faculties you didn’t know you had. Getting all four systems to start playing at the same time is a trial all to itself. We would position ourselves at each CD player around the room and place our fingers on “Play”, and then one of us would count off, “Ok, one… two… three!” Nine times out of ten, this was immediately followed by “Dammit! Ok, try again!” It’s a serious exercise in teamwork. Because each CD player has different delays between pressing play and actually playing, true synchronicity is basically impossible, but we got quite close on most of the tracks. Yes, we had to repeat this process for every track of the CD.

And it was worth it.

Listening to Zaireeka in its intended format evokes a joy not easily put to words. All of us stood in the center of the room for the first half of the album, listening to the sound from each speaker surround us and fight for our attention. Surprisingly, it’s seldom too much to take in – a very manageable level of chaos. Jared and Joe were actually leaping up and down in the air in pure happiness as Wayne Coyne sang “you’re invisible now” from all four sides of us. All of us ducked when, thirty seconds later, weird alien shrieks came at us from one corner. The bizarre lyrics match the auditory strangeness perfectly, and no track falls on its face, not even the 5-minute drum solo that is “March of the Rotting Vegetables”. In the words of Jared, “whoever tries to top that album had better have at least thirty CDs for theirs.”

Zaireeka is a lot of work, but it rewards you richly. I give it seven thumbs up.

Posted in Musings.

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