Asheville Art Museum interview with INVISIBLE ensemble member Mark Dixon

Friday, October 26, 2012

By Sarah Wall | October 25, 2012

The Asheville Art Museum is hosting four performances by experimental music ensemble INVISIBLE this weekend, October 27th and 28th.  This Museum event is a component of this year’s Moogfest lineup.  According to INVISIBLE ensemble member Mark Dixon, the performance will be “in the tradition of experimentation and innovation that the name of the (music) festival suggests.”  INVISIBLE will certainly bring a unique flair to the roster of this year’s performers.  Although the group brings the aspect of experimental music to the table, they also incorporate visual art into their performances.  Their sets, which take up to four hours to set up and another two hours to break down, become sculptures themselves.  INVISIBLE blurs the boundaries between visual and performance art.

Dixon, in an exclusive interview with the Asheville Art Museum, discusses the group’s unique performance style.  For starters, he comments, “INVISIBLE seems to stand out because of our broad spectrum of media and our invented electromechanical instruments.  I don’t think someone else will be there with a percussion machine that uses dripping water.”

Check out the transcript from the interview here:

Asheville Art Museum: INVISIBLE has been travelling together for six years.  What inspired Trotman and Dixon (or others) to come together to form the group?

Dixon: We started just getting together every week just to improvise but it can be hard to stay structure-less.  We picked up habits in our improvising; the habits became tricks and gradually compositions.  Little by little our interests found a home in the group: found sound, video, invented instruments.  Jodi Staley joins the group because the Selectric Piano (on which The New Obsolete is based) was built to translate her professional typing fingers into musical fingers.  She had no prior formal training in music.

AAM: You call your pieces “artstruments.”  Can you elaborate on why you selected that title?

Dixon: I think someone else made that up.  We like to think of our setup as sculptural though.  I love watching people explore it with their eyes.  Most instruments out there, freshly invented or traditional, are pretty expected from a visual point of view.  Our invented instruments are surprising.  The entire setup can be visually overwhelming.  We jokingly call it a landscape, an art term of course.

AAM: You celebrated John Cage’s birthday by creating a chance-performance birthday cake.  How has Cage’s view of music and performance shaped your own philosophy?

Dixon: Cage is one of many influences.  When I first heard his work performed and began reading his philosophy it changed the way I thought of music.  It put a lot more responsibility on the act of listening.  We use chance in our compositional process and do a lot of close listening.  We try to listen carefully and at length before judging.

AAM: How does the Asheville Art Museum provide an ideal or unique platform for a Moogfest event, and more specifically INVISIBLE’s performance?

Dixon: We have our roots in DIY house shows but we have tended to perform mostly at museums and galleries over the last few years.  Space is an obvious issue there.  Also most rock venues just don’t know what to say when you tell them your performance takes four hours to set up and two to break down.  So it’s kind of perfect to perform at Moogfest with support and space supplied by the Ashville Art Museum.

AAM: How might collaborations of this nature influence a person’s experience of the arts (meaning, a collaboration between a contemporary art museum and a contemporary, experimental musical performance group, or more simply, between the visual and performing arts)?

Dixon: INVISIBLE constantly has to deal with categories that we see as completely outdated.  “Art or music” is just the beginning.  We have to pick a side every time we seek a space to perform.  When we apply for funding we have to choose between grants intended for music, composition, art, video and performance.  We are all of the above but not an excellent fit for any one.  Contemporary practice has more line crossers, genre benders and experimenters than it does strict adherents to traditional media or category.  Our work is just one example.

AAM: Is this a trend you are witnessing in the arts industry – greater crossover between visual and performing arts, and between institutions that may be perceived as more “traditional”, such as a museum, versus those generating artistic output in a more experimental fashion, as does INVISIBLE?

Dixon: Any institution tends towards conservatism.  We have to struggle against that tendency in our project too.  But institutions are run by individuals and there are always at least a few in every case who are excited about strange things and ready to take a risk.  INVISIBLE has been very good at bringing new audiences into museums too.  That works for everyone concerned.

INVISIBLE will perform on Saturday, October 27 from 1pm – 2pm, with a second performance from 3pm – 4pm, and again on Sunday, October 28 from 1pm – 2pm with a second performance from 3pm – 4pm. The Asheville Art Museum is located at 2 South Pack Square/Park Place.  Contact the Museum’s front desk by calling 828.253.3227.

Tickets for Museum Members and Moogfest pass holders are $6, and $10 for the general public. Tickets may be purchased at the Museum’s front desk or by calling (828) 253-3227. To purchase specially priced INVISIBLE tickets available to Moogfest pass holders:

  1. Make a reservation by calling the Museum at 828.253.3227, and then pick up the tickets at the Museum’s front desk on the day of the performance (must show Moogfest wristband, limit 2 per reservation); or
  2. Purchase tickets in-person at the Museum’s front desk beginning Friday, Oct. 26 (must show Moogfest wristband, limit 2 tickets per purchase).