A SXSW Tribute: Flaming Lips' Parking Lot Experiment No.4

In the spirit of the SXSW music festival this week in Austin, TX, here’s a historical tribute to the art of live music experimentation as performed by one of its innovators: The Flaming Lips.

In 1997, at the eleventh SXSW Music festival, The Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne conducted what he deemed “Parking Lot Experiment No. 4.” Over a few pages, the experiment is intriguingly documented by rock writer Jim Derogatis (who was at the Experiment) in his Flaming Lips biography Staring at Sound: The True Story of Oklahoma’s Fabulous Flaming Lips.

Here’s a brief snippet:

“…word spread that the Flaming Lips would be putting on a different kind of gig, and fifteen hundred curious spectators showed up…Flaming Lips tour manager had recruited thirty volunteers in thirty cars equipped with thirty tape decks for the first “road test” of an automotive symphony that the band had first attempted in an Oklahoma parking garage…

…Several times Wayne had to remind drivers to keep their electrical systems turned on but their ignition turned off so listeners wouldn’t be asphyxiated by exhaust fumes… then Wayne screamed “..One, Two, Three!” and the weird symphony came together in a swirling circular fashion that filled the ramp with otherworldly sounds…”

Then a year later, in 1998, came the Boom Box Experiments. A concert experiment where, Derogatis says, “the band traveled with forty portable cassette players and forty tapes for each song on the set list. The band corralled friends and fans in each city to sit onstage with boom boxes in their laps, while the band conducted each group of fans.”

Derogatis goes on to say that the experiment wasn’t as nearly successful as the SXSW experiment, but I wonder what these experiments would look and sound like if they were performed today.

And what about using other technologies to expand the boundaries of the live music experience? Cell phones, Twitter, or ipods? Can we use these to perform new 21st century live music experiments?

I think so.

1997 SXSW Parking Lot Experiment No. 4 video:

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Boom Box experiment video:

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