How Invisible gets their sound | Instrumentalist | Indy Week

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How Invisible gets their sound



Location: Greensboro, N.C.

Formed: 2006

Who they are: Mark Dixon, Jonathan Henderson, Jodi Staley, Bart Trotman

Philosophy: "Invisible has always worked with old junk that we find on the side of the road or thrift store instruments—the cast-off objects of society. That's a practicality because it's cheap, and it's also something we did because we didn't want to fire up the factory too much so we could do our art." —Mark Dixon

See them: Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m, at Nightlight in Chapel Hill

Elsewhere's Roof: the water-driven drum machine

Mark: Invisible did a residency at Elsewhere, the living museum in downtown Greensboro. We were up on the third floor; when it rains, the roof leaks. I was building a machine up there, and the roof started dripping. It was this percussion symphony. Each drip fell into a different bucket that was on the floor already, so there are these different sounds and different tempos all melding together. That residency and our performance involved hoisting blocks of ice up to the ceiling on the first floor so we could have uncontrollable dripping and place different objects under to tap that and make it into sound. Elsewhere's Roof is kind of the portable version of that: It's a 10-foot-tall tower with a spun aluminum hot rod gas tank full of water and a bunch of scientific labware that allows me to increase and decrease the rate of dripping on five different valves. I take the drips and turn them into signals that I can send to any of 30 different instruments.

The Selectric Piano

Mark: Jodi types legal depositions for a living. I was in the living room one day, listening to her type and realizing that she's got this skill with her fingers that any musician is praised for having. But a typist, that's a humble profession. I thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting to create an adapter for those unsung skills and put them onstage and see what they could do in that context?"

Jodi: My absolute first introduction to the Selectric Piano was Mark asking me, "If I make this, will you play it?" I didn't believe that anyone could or would really ever get around to making something so ridiculous, so my immediate reaction was, "Sure. Uh, whatever." Two months later, it was finished.

Jonathan: My primary role in the creation of The New Obsolete was writing countermelodies and harmonies, and helping to create musical arrangements that would offer context, make sense of, and support the deeply counterintuitive melodies that the Selectric Piano draws out of the text.


Bart: I've limited myself to antiquated technology as a means for sound-making, and I'm experimenting with the noise side of things. I don't mean abrasive noise, I just mean non-music sounds. For example, in one song, I use a Commodore 64 data tape. It's the startup disk, and it sounds like a fax machine. It's a sound that we remember from the time when data was sent on landlines, and I use that as a musical instrument. Sometimes it sounds like a dying fax machine, but it also sounds like it's singing when the Selectric is playing.

Four-hour setup

Jonathan: Have you ever had the experience of living in a house that has been rented and passed along by friends for years and years; then, all of a sudden, everyone moves out at once? And you're the sucker who has to deal with all the orphaned furniture and bicycles and organs and blown speaker cabinets and old hot water heaters that somebody had planned to turn into a biodiesel processor or shower or liquor still? That's basically what it's like to set up The New Obsolete each time.

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