SUNY Fredonia's Mason Hall has seen many great musicians roam its rooms and play its pianos. This past weekend, however, Mason Hall played host to some of the highest caliber musicians it has ever seen.
International rock superstars The Flaming Lips were on SUNY Fredonia's campus to put together a music video for an upcoming album release.
The Flaming Lips were recording with SUNY Fredonia Professor Dave Fridmann at his Tarbox Road Studio in Cassadaga. The band and Fridmann have a long history together. Every Flaming Lips album since 1990 (with the exception of "Transmissions from the Satellite Heart") has been recorded or mixed by Dave Fridmann. The band itself formed in 1983 in Norman, Okla., and has been touring and recording ever since.
Photos by Pat DePuy
As a mass of students began to gather in Mason Hall, The Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne directs their efforts for the video shoot.
The band's studio recording session with Fridmann was basically a live release of certain tracks from the band's 1999 album, "The Soft Bulletin." Upon recording the tracks, The Flaming Lips and Fridmann enlisted the help of SUNY Fredonia students in completing a live video that would complement the tracks.
On Saturday, Fridmann asked some of his Fredonia students to contact their friends and have them sit in on a live performance of a few Flaming Lips tracks. Fridmann's Sound Recording Technology students started calling friends and soon the rehearsal room in Mason Hall began filling up. Once word got out that a famous rock band was performing on campus, the news spread like wildfire. Within 15 minutes, the majority of the medium sized room was full of eager students, who were all ready to witness something great.
Studio lights, sound equipment and electric wires were spread intermittently throughout the room. Band members were tuning their instruments and getting proper sound levels. The camera men were setting up their shots and making sure everything was going as planned. Packed rows of sitting students lined the room. Everyone involved was ready for The Flaming Lips to start their live performance. There was, however, one primary problem: no music was going to be played live.
According to Wayne Coyne, the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, it is commonplace for professional musicians to stage live performances for the sake of video. Coyne chuckled when he explained what exactly was going on. Basically, the band played "live" along with the actual tracks that they had recorded earlier with Fridmann. As the backing track blasted over the PA and Coyne rocked out with the rest of the Lips, two camera men moved about the room in an attempt to perfectly film the essence of the moment.
Despite the fact that no music was actually being played live, there was an overwhelming amount of energy in the room. The band seemed to ooze a spirit that, when coupled with the sheer volume of their instruments and backing tracks, engulfed the entirety of the room. Coyne was at the forefront of this liveliness and found a way to interact with the crowd at all times. Part of this crowd interaction included Coyne running around with a drum mallet while pretending to beat students over the head with it.
"It was interesting because even though it wasn't, like, an actual show everyone was still captivated," said Griffin Smith, a sophomore SUNY Fredonia student who attended the filming. "Everyone was super amazed like it was a real concert."
The band recorded two songs for the video shoot: "Race for the Prize" and "What is the Light?" The former was an energetic song with a synth-driven lead line that had the crowd rocking. The latter was a slower song that focused on Coyne's Neil Young style vocals in the beginning and centered on an instrumental breakdown at the end. Throughout the course of the shoot, the magic that a famous band was performing never wore off for the students.
"I think it's great," said Smith. "I think it's something exciting for the students that doesn't happen often."
Even though the filming was completed after two or three takes for each song, Fridmann and the Flaming Lips weren't done with the Fredonia students. After the video shoot was finished, most of the students stayed to record applause for the band's live record. Although the Lips did record the album live with Fridmann at his studio, no actual audience was involved. It was just Dave Fridmann, The Flaming Lips and their songs. In order for the album to seem like it was performed for actual people, some recorded applause was needed. Yet again, SUNY Fredonia students were there to save the day. Fridmann recorded the applause of the students in attendance while Coyne "conducted" the crowd. When production of the album is finished, the recordings of the crowd will be spliced at the beginning and end of each track so as to give the appearance that it was performed for an audience. If this seems too contrived, think of it like a television sitcom. Most audience sounds in a sitcom are actually a laugh track that has been pre-recorded; usually, there is no actual audience present. Despite this, it doesn't detract too much from sitcom itself. The same can be said for The Flaming Lip's "live" album.
After the entire video and recording session was over, students had the opportunity to meet and briefly speak with the members of The Flaming Lips. Most students flocked to Coyne for pictures, likely because he had the biggest impact on the crowd.
After they are done recording with Dave Fridmann, the Flaming Lips will head to Memphis, Tenn., as they continue to tour the U.S. and the world. Although this past weekend's recording session is already in the rearview mirror of the band's tour bus, the students of SUNY Fredonia won't likely forget the weekend the Flaming Lips came to town.