Thomas Dolby shines a light on ‘The Invisible Lighthouse’
By JEFF ELBEL For Sun-Times Media November 3, 2013 10:48PM
Pop music maverick Thomas Dolby champions an English landmark in his new documentary "The Invisible LIghthouse."
Featuring Blake Leyh
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse
Tickets : $35
Info: (773) 381-4551;
Updated: December 5, 2013 6:12AM
Thomas Dolby is familiar to many as a pop music maverick. He pioneered synthesizer music when the tools were still cumbersome and prone to failure, crafting a string of memorable singles topped by 1982’s “She Blinded Me with Science.” Later, Dolby experienced success in Silicon Valley with his Beatnik ringtone engine for Nokia cellular phones. He recently stepped down from a 12-year role as Music Director for the influential TED Conferences focused on cutting-edge technology, entertainment and design.
Although constantly pushing forward, Dolby recently found a nostalgic bone in his body when he learned about plans for the English lighthouse that had stood watch over the Suffolk coast and shone across his bedroom wall during his childhood. With its foundation under threat by the encroaching North Sea, the Orfordness Lighthouse was slated for decommissioning. “I very much took for granted that the lighthouse would always be there, flashing every night as it has done since 1792,” says Dolby.
Dolby decided to make a documentary. He received stern warnings from authorities against pursuing a project to film the lighthouse’s final days of service. Dangers in the vicinity included “multiple unexploded warheads,” for starters. He proceeded, of course, and “The Invisible Lighthouse” won multiple categories in the 2013 DIY Film Festival.
The film is actually less directly about the structure itself, incorporating autobiographical subjects and universal concepts. “The lighthouse ties together several themes,” says Dolby. “One of them is the unreliability of memory.”
“In the neighborhood where I live, you can see buildings that were built by my ancestors. One of them is Snape Maltings, which is now used as a concert hall. There was a terrible fire there in 1968. I can remember staring across the marshes as the roof burned — a horrific fire lighting up the sky. Years later, my mum said, ‘I hate to break it to you, but you were nowhere near Suffolk that night. We were hundreds of miles away.’ And yet, when I tell that story, it’s as if I’m replaying it from memory.”
“The Invisible Lighthouse” will be screened at Mayne Stage as part of what Dolby describes as a “trans-media event.” The soundtrack will be performed live as the film runs. “I play the score and songs, do the narration and sing,” says Dolby.
Blake Leyh, a respected sound designer with film credits including “The Abyss” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” will accompany Dolby. “He’s slumming it with me on the road doing live sound effects,” says Dolby with a laugh. “Blake is using conventional techniques like footsteps on twigs and leaves and stones, and the flapping of bird wings, and the sound of the ocean surf using a tray of ball bearings. But he’s processing them in real time to create a more dreamy, mesmerizing effect.”
The show also includes special guests each night during an interview segment. “We’re shooting episodes for an Internet series called ‘Inside the Lighthouse,’” says Dolby. “It’s very TED-like, with people taking the lid off their craft. We’ve got a couple of pretty interesting guests in Chicago. Dane Davis was the sound designer on all of the “Matrix” films, among others. With Blake Leyh, we’ll have a little panel talking about sound in films. The second part features Joanne Manaster, a former model-turned-scientist who does a weekly podcast called Joanne Loves Science.”
If Dolby doesn’t use his biggest hit as walk-on music for Manaster, his audience may not forgive him. In addition to the film and interviews, Dolby also promises to give devoted music fans what they want. “The last portion of the show is just songs,” he says.