Freakin’ Surround with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips Page 2

In the land of Sound & Vision, we're excited about the full-on surround-sound mix of Mars, of course. What were your goals with it? You're essentially the cutting edge as far as adventurous surround goes. My feeling is that most people who have access to surround sound are big-budget movie people. And they play it so conservative, and I understand that. Most theaters are set up so there's a loud front, and just a minimal amount of "junk" coming from the back.

I mean, even on the audio 5.1 things we've been able to do, I would be the first one to admit that we probably go too far. Only because… we can. In the way that we do our surround sound, we don't treat the fronts where the big power is and the back as simply being the little spices. When we set up our surround sound, all speakers are created equal. They're all big and powerful. So when we're mixing up at [producer] Dave Fridmann's, he set it up that way. You know, if you're sitting in the center, it's an onslaught. But when you're trying to tell stories [in film], people do talk, and there's machines and all that, which we found in the making of the movie, we easily overwhelmed all of that, and we had to go back several times to remix. What it let us do was that sometimes we could act as a "normal" movie where there are people talking and there's some ambient noise, and then we could intersperse a BLAM where you're assailed from all sides. I think there's time where Dave manipulates frequencies where they seem like they're coming from above you in really loud surround sound systems.

But that requires that you have the intention of giving the audience a bit of a freak out. People sitting in the theater watching a Ninja Panda movie are not really understanding why it's blasting them from the back, because they're unaware that it's possible.

We made the Mars mix with our giant sound system in mind. When we started showing the film at the beginning of the summer, we had this big circus tent that we painted the inside of black and we really equipped it with a monstrous sound system with a lot of subwoofers and some big, powerful speakers in each corner. You know, designed as a mega 5.1 system. We made it about as loud as we could without causing serious damage to people. To me, that's really the best way to experience this movie - with all of your senses being attacked.

I think it still has some "exaggerated" sound qualities even if you're watching it at home on your TV, with good sound quality. We made it for several different levels of sonic freakout. We know that there's the mega freakout we made it for, the decent freakout for a normal 5.1 system, and then a regular freakout if it's just coming out of a normal TV. That's a lot to fit in there. And I think people understand that. We're a rock band, and part of that is we want to experiment with sound and atmosphere.

We love those experiments. I often take what you do and have an audition fest whenever I have people at home who have never really heard 5.1, such as "Do You Realize" [from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots], with things like the drums moving around the room. For what you do, it totally fits. It's a fine line to walk. I agree. But there are times where you'll think, for example, do you really want a Miles Davis horn line flying all around you?

And yet there's a surround mix for Kind of Blue! It's kind of odd. Did we really need that one? I know what you mean. I think with a lot of groups and artists, it would seem like a gimmick as opposed to being part of the whole scope of what they do. We get away with a "silly" experimentation mentality. If it doesn't work, oh well; hey, we tried. Some people might be more offended. But you gotta have fun. I mean, what are the f---ing speakers for?

On the DVD, we even have a thing you can turn on to let you know that your 5.1 is working correctly. You would be amazed how many places I've gone where people seemingly understand surround sound, put the DVD in, and then the sound shoots out from left and right into a conglomerator into 5.1, and they don't realize that's not really 5.1.

We call that FAUX.1. [laughs] Sadly, that's the world. Many DVDs are so conservative with the surround sound. But on our DVD, it makes a lot of difference. It adds another dimension to our trip.

Do you see a future for surround music? A lot of releases have been scaled back. I think it works for us. Part of the Flaming Lips' appeal is that we like to experiment with sound. It's not just music, it's in an intensity level and a curiosity about what you can do. But the dilemma is that a lot of these 5.1 DVDs are a subtle experience, and to pay 30 bucks for one and 18 for the CD is tough. It's like quad; it's a struggle to find releases that are worthy of the format. If every group doing it were like Pink Floyd, it would be awesome, but most groups aren't. And, frankly, a lot of people are satisfied listening on those earbuds. It's a strange way to judge something. If you like the quality and have the money, you should pursue it. But maybe that's why it should be left to the artist. I know I like it, and I want to pursue it, and I should be the one to speak about it, and sell it, and say, "This is great."

What do you think of the vinyl revival? I have a nice old-fashioned-but-brand-new turntable sitting in the corner, and there are a number of records that I dig out and play because they're old and scratchy, and I like that. I've even taken some of my old records and put them on CDs with the scratchiness because I like it that way. But that's probably people like me who grew up with scratchy records. A 17-year-old kid is going to say, "Why would I want to f--- with all that? I just want to party." But there's some kind of authenticity or something that comes when DJs say, "Man, this is on some great vinyl." Some people may not know the difference, but if they think they're getting something different, they are. Reality is like that. If you think it's better, it's better. [chuckles]

Would you do a separate 5.1 audio release for Mars? Well, we do have a separate release in stereo, which we call the score, not the soundtrack. It follows the internal, psychological BS that the movie is trying to get across. As a group, we like that sort of stuff. I buy plenty of scores. They're not all great, but I like the idea of abstract music. So as a rock group, being able to do one is a great luxury. Not everybody will like it.

I think it's worthwhile. Yeah, but it's not in 5.1, though. The score is simply stereo, just left and right.

Would you consider doing a 5.1 mix for it? It's not really dynamic enough. I don't know. I think it would have such a limited audience. When we play the movie to people, they're getting a kick out of it, but I think that's because they're on acid [laughs]; the dimension of the music itself isn't doing that for them.

Is it too early to ask if there's another movie in your head? [laughs] I think there probably is.

Knowing that this one has been so well-received, there are plenty of other holidays you could tackle

I know one: Halloween on Jupiter, of course. [both laugh] Or Easter on Pluto, I know. I say that as a joke, but my fear is that I'll make the same movie over and over again.