Last night Thomas Dolby came to Albany, NY to put on a performance of The Invisible Lighthouse. Appearing at the Egg in the Swire Theater, it was an intimate experience as Dolby took the stage with Blake Leyh to create a remarkable live show.
Part historical documentary, part autobiography, part exploration of creativity, part demonstration of what technology can do, part homage to a part of England off the usual tourist tracks, there's no single label to apply to this.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
The Invisible Lighthouse is the name given to a project Dolby had developed
It's a film that I made over the winter -- English winters being rather miserable, I decided to try something a bit different, and close to where I live on the English coast, there is an old lighthouse that's been there since 1792, and it's closing down later this year -- partly because there's less need for lighthouses now, because of satellite navigation. And partly because the coastal erosion is eventually going to undermine it, and it'll fall into the sea. So they're shutting it down, and it's a very emotional thing for me, because I grew up around here, and I fell asleep with the flash of the lighthouse on my wall.The stage in the Swire theater is on the small side. On the left side of the stage, Dolby was set up with several keyboards, lights, mikes, and a laptop. Over on the right Blake Leyh had assembled a hodgepodge of mysterious objects whose purpose would be revealed as the show progressed. Above and behind them was a movie screen. Shortly after 8:00pm the show began.
It's got an interesting history, which, among other things, it's on this island which was formerly a military testing zone for experimental weapons. And you're not allowed to wander around out there, because there are unexploded bombs.
The spark the film centered around is the lighthouse at Orford Ness; it had always been a constant presence in Dolby's life growing up in the area. When he learned it was going to be turned off, he seized upon the idea of capturing its last flash and the space it occupies within his life and career. Part of the urgency comes from the fact that this part of England is slowly being washed away - some day in the not too distant future the sea will consume the lighthouse, as it has already eaten away much of the coast.
This was not, however, a simple documentary film. While the images appeared on the film, Dolby by turns narrated, reminisced, and performed music while Blake Leyh provided sound effects to back up the action on film and/or the words of Dolby. Ranging from a UFO incident, the desolate yet haunting landscape of the area, family history, the dangers of a landscape used for weapons testing and littered with fortifications designed to repel German invaders in World War 2, and more, the show was in a way something of a confessional and a virtuoso display by a man who continues to surprise with the range of his creativity.
The show is live - each performance is unique. After the conclusion of the film (to much applause), Dolby and Leyh settled down to do a question and answer session with the audience, adding (as they've been doing through the tour) a local connection in the form of Mark Dery, whose own review of the show is here. (There are some photos as well.)
One of the things that Dolby went into was the extent at which technology has enabled so much now; someone with some new music can put it out on the Internet and be heard round the world. He contrasted this with how it used to be, hoping to attract the attention of an agent, getting a demo tape to those who might lead to bigger things, and so on. He was marveling that it's now possible for someone to make a full length feature film of high quality with relatively inexpensive equipment (as he did.) He got some dramatic shots for example using a quad-rotor drone with a camera. While he'd started with some video taken with an iPhone, he was directed (by his son, he said) to a high quality camera made to be used in all kinds of environments, with all kinds of add-ons.
After some interesting back and forth, Dolby and Leyh closed out the show with some classic Dolby tracks and a new one. It's incredible the music Dolby can put together with the equipment at his disposal; for several of the numbers the big screen shifted back and forth between the multiple tracks running on his laptop, and the music videos. Several people were up out of their seats as he played Hyperactive and She Blinded Me With Science, dancing enthusiastically.
There is as yet no DVD version of the show, no 'final cut'. Someday there may be, but for now if you want to see and hear it, you'll have to catch Dolby somewhere on tour. (Tour information here.) You can hear a long interview with Dolby here, including a clip from the movie at the end.