There were some impressively mighty, fearsomely mechanized sounds emanating from the Sepulveda Pass on Friday night, and not all of them were from the army of construction workers digging holes into the mountainside in anticipation of Carmageddon.
The local alt-rock trio Autolux were set up in the Skirball Cultural Center's courtyard, bouncing their towering, angular riffs off the museum's stone-and-glass surfaces and from the rocky faces of the surrounding hills.
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A fog machine sent wispy puffs of steam over the large crowd that had assembled in front of the low outdoor stage. Spotlighted in rays of deep blue light, the museum's trees resembled oversize stalks of coral, adding to the air of mystery that was augured by the show's title, "Into the Night: Music and Magic," a reception for the Skirball's summer-long exhibit "Houdini: Art and Magic."
Of course, as the footage from the exhibit made clear, the legendary magician Harry Houdini was a charismatic performer with a flair for the dramatic, whether peering intently through his makeup with fiercely focused eyes or tossing away his straitjacket with a grand flourish while hanging upside down from the side of a building.
Autolux were considerably less theatrical, saying little to the crowd as they hunched introspectively over their instruments and cranked up their spiraling soundscapes. Instead, they let the music speak for them, unwinding moody spells from their latest album, Transit Transit, which built slowly to create a dreamlike state. Tremulous vocals whispered over spare, empty sonic fields before Greg Edwards' guitars would thunder like erupting volcanoes. For all of the fragile intimacy of the quieter interludes on the album, Autolux sounded much heavier onstage, as Edwards and drummer Carla Azar exchanged solemnly spacey vocals.
Edwards laid glowing shards of guitar that evoked Sonic Youth and Radiohead over Eugene Goreshter's spiny bass, while Azar deftly adjudicated the divisions between the trio's quieter and stormier passages. Their music was a perfectly appropriate soundtrack to the construction carnage going on in the pass below them, with a late-night fog adding to the eerily apocalyptic atmosphere. It's hard to know what Houdidi would have thought of these experimental musical upstarts, but, like the great magician's daring feats, Autolux's shadowy, jagged symphonies plumb the barriers between life and death, ripping away the thin veil that separates knowledge and mystery.