Invisible's The New Obsolete ends its run in Chapel Hill | Music | Indy Week

Invisible's The New Obsolete ends its run in Chapel Hill

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Just one part of Invisible's water-driven drum machine
  • Corbie Hill
  • Just one part of Invisible's water-driven drum machine

Invisible, Eros and the Eschaton
Nightlight
Nov. 16, 2012

It's a rare Nightlight show that starts at 9 p.m., especially on the weekends. Yet this special engagement did exactly that, and was over by 11:15—per the design of headliners Invisible. The Greensboro art-music outfit (band is a tricky designation for them) typically plays alone and in a gallery space, per their elaborate multimedia setup and sculptural or visual elements. This engagement, however, saw them share the stage with Greensboro newcomers Eros and the Eschaton. The opening duo injected romanticism into dreampop forms, resulting in a sort of cloudgaze that ranges from Beach House on a warm day to Jeff Buckley/Ben Gibbard-flavored electric folk.

Invisible finished its two-date Nightlight micro-residency to a small but engaged crowd. The headliner's stage show—and premise—involves elaborate homemade instruments and extensive A/V elements, used to perform art-music compositions like The New Obsolete. One side of the Nightlight was conquered by their contraptions, transforming the venue into a sort of Bill Nye-meets-Mr. Wizard wonderworld of gadgetry. The show itself featured the four members' elements occasionally conversing, but also gelling into head-nodding rock structures. Mark Dixon's water drip-driven drum machine, Elsewhere's Roof, punctuated the show, though he picked up a headless bass for the more song-like sections. Bart Trotman's projector screen and four Commodore 64 monitors showed homemade and found video, but also provided narration; several segments of the show, for example, were introduced by a text-to-speech voice describing some form of biological or technological obsolescence. Durham-based multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Henderson's samples provided texture (and more than a few chuckles), but his guitar work lent propulsion to the typist Jodi Staley's gorgeous accidental melodies. They're accidental because her instrument is the Selectric Piano, a keyboard she controls with a typewriter.

Yet the beauty of The New Obsolete was the coherence of its statements, even within the realm of interpretive art. Don't get me wrong: When Invisible is funny, or playful, they're lighthearted to the core. But there were moments of dense, brooding emotionality as well. An early segment on linguistic loss started with a video map of language families and a brief explanation of endangered languages before leading into an anxious rock section. Jodi Staley's typing set the tempo and feel. Often she repeats words or phrases that happen to summon neat melodies from the piano; these become sectional themes. The linguistics segment started with Staley typing the names of lost or fading tongues, yet she typed aggressively, with accelerated, angry strokes, and the band matched this sturm and drang. Then, at the section's climax, she repeatedly typed "NO CHILD LEARNS acheron," with the first three words typed with measured patience and the name of the language itself erupting in a frantic tumble of keystrokes. Given the power of her strange instrument, it's appropriate that she was the one to end the likely final performance of The New Obsolete by typing the name of the band and the name of the show.

Then Dixon stood and thanked the crowd, and Invisible started to break down their elaborate, Rube Goldberg-meets-Tom Waits contraptions. It would take three hours.

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