One of my favorite moments in Annabel Scheme is the party thrown by a mysterious musician known as “The Beekeeper”:
If you had electronic eyes and night vision—I had both—you would have seen slips of paper passing from person to person. On each slip was a phone number. Each one was different, and there were a dozen circulating in the crowd. Each wandered and blinked like a firefly as kids used their phones, torch-like, to illuminate the number, then passed it on. Here and there, then everywhere, they were dialing numbers, switching their phones to speaker-mode and pushing them up into the air like trophies.
The buzzing was coming from the phones. It was a low, rhythmic drone. At first you couldn’t hear much, but apparently, if you put enough phones on speaker all at once, it starts to get loud.
So that was the trick: There were no speakers because the crowd was the speaker. The bees did not sound so far-off now.
Scheme clenched her teeth. “This is hurting my face.”
Suddenly it stopped. The graveyard fell silent. It was a field of pale arms thrust to the sky, swaying like seaweed. Kids were bouncing silently on the balls of their feet. Waiting.
Then there was a count-off, a tat tat tat tat and then the music started and it was everywhere, megawatts of power flowing out of every palm and pocket. There was no focal point, so bodies were pointed in every direction, ricocheting and chain-reacting. Kids were losing it, jumping up and down, colliding and cuddling in the dark grass.
The music had a clear beat, but it was warped and scratchy, like someone was tuning a giant radio. Snatches of singing would ring out for a moment, then decohere. There was a trumpet that pealed from somewhere very far away…
The music was coming together as kids followed their ears. If your phone was buzzing with bass, you joined the bunched-up sub-woofer section. If it was sending high notes sizzling into the air, you joined the line that snaked around the crowd’s perimeter. The music worked its pattern on the crowd. It was both amazingly high-tech and totally pagan.
The first question I had after reading this was — I wonder if Robin knows about Zaireeka, the Parking Lot Experiments, or the other stuff that The Flaming Lips tried in the late 1990s?
I still don’t know. But I was reminded of that perplexity today reading this interview with Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson that’s all about the amazingly high-tech and totally pagan crap that the Lips tried before exploding with 1999’s The Soft Bulletin. Complete with YouTube videos, several of which were new to me.
If you were taken with either (Scheme or the Lips), try both.