'Blastula': Flaming Lips documentary debuts at deadCENTER
By Gene Triplett
OKLAHOMA CITY — deadCENTER Film Festival-goers will be afforded a rare look inside the sonic laboratory of Oklahoma City’s mad scientists of psychedelic songcraft when The
Flaming Lips’ “Blastula: The Making of ‘Embryonic’” takes its first big screen bow at 10 tonight (Friday, June 11) during the Mixtape film shorts program in the downtown Kerr Auditorium.
An encore screening is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday at IAO Gallery.
The 21-minute film by George Salisbury and Lips leader Wayne Coyne documents the initial jam sessions that metamorphosed into the most experimental, over-the-edge album the band has recorded since 1997′s “Zaireeka,” which contained four separate discs designed to be played simultaneously on multiple stereos.
Thankfully, “Embryonic,” released in October, is a single-disc affair requiring only one player, but the free-form nature of the music — often lyrically dark and arrestingly noisy — can be challenging enough, particularly for fans of the more elegant avant-pop the band performed on “The Soft Bulletin” (1999) and “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” (2002).
So for some, viewing “Blastula” might seem like witnessing a musical train wreck.
“We were filming some stuff while we were recording at Steven’s house,” Coyne said in a phone interview Monday, referring to Lips multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd. “I guess it’s off of the Belle Isle district over there off of Northwest Sixty-third, when he lived over there. And it shows us in the house, kind of just (fooling) around, jamming around, finding some little nuggets.
“And we tried to find all the little bits that we played while we were there that we actually ended up using on the record. So for anybody who thoroughly knows the record, you know, you’ll hear little bits that we’re playing right there …. And, you know, it’s got little interviews, and just things about what we were thinking about, and the triumphs and failures, and just kind of the different way we approached it.
“For all intents and purposes, when we began recording, we were just jamming around. We really didn’t know, we didn’t think we would just do these freaky kind of low-fi jams at Steven’s house, and that they would yield so much, I mean, you know, inspiration.”
The eventual yield was a sprawling 18-track exploration of new sounds and cryptic poetry that more than reaffirms The Flaming Lips’ reputation as fearless experimentalists — or freaks, as they prefer. But as far as we know, no drugs were abused during the making of “Embryonic.”
In fact, a good bit of Coyne’s inspiration for the album’s music and lyrics came from repeated viewings of Liliana Cavani’s “The Night Porter,” an artfully sleazy Italian film made in 1974 and set in 1957, about a sado-masochistic affair between an ex-Nazi (Dirk Bogarde) and a woman (Charlotte Rampling) he used to abuse sexually in Auschwitz.
“I was singing about the dimensions of this movie that kind of shocked me or were interesting or whatever, and I started to sing about the nature of evil and the nature of pleasure and the nature of submission and dominating and all these things that I thought the music was kind of hinting at,” Coyne told me at the time of the album’s release.
He also credited the adventurous nature of “Embryonic” to a lot of late-night listening to Miles Davis’ music from the jazz master’s electric fusion period.
But Coyne, Drozd, bassist Michael Ivins and drummer Kliph Scurlock weren’t sure how their producer, Cassadaga, N.Y.-based Dave Fridmann, would react to their brave new music/noise inventions.
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