In May, 2007, I was in Paris, in Monmartre, at the Basilica du Sacre Coeur with my girlfriend. We ascended the stairs alongside the side of the church and so we snuck up on the edifice, only gathering its measure after having been inside. Upon entering the building, we were presented with a musical performance of asture and patient beauty from the house organ and our eyes grew larger and our smiles wider as we breezed, slowly and clockwise through the ancient church. It was only after having left this place that we could admit to one another that what we were hearing was actually the pipe organ being exactingly tuned so that this exciting and moving musical performance was purely accidental. Those pipes made our insides quiver as the air around them was pushed in and out of phase and, though we knew it to be an un-performance, we treasured it and still do. However accidental it may have been, it remains one of the greatest musical experiences of my life.
Ray Lee’s Siren, if the two clean-shaven men with screwdrivers who tinkered amongst the contraptions are to be trusted, is in no way accidental. This attribute – the sheer intention of it all – is, regrettably, the source of all criticism. I’ll leave that unsavory business to others. Instead, I’d like to ask a question and provide a bit of advice for the uninitiated.
Why did these machines require to be tuned in the first place? There are sound-sources that can reliably reproduce a particular tone over and over again without variation. I would guess at least half the people in the audience have the appropriate software already on their laptops. Don’t misunderstand – I love the screwdrivers and the brutal intensity of the performers’ ”tuning face.” The choice to rely on analog devices speaks much towards artistic intent and, I suppose, these decisions are where performance is made. The intervals as they were conceived had to, of course, be presented correctly and so they were.
To those who will see this over the next couple of nights… don’t be shy and keep moving. You will find your favorite locations within the space. Some tips: for those partial to shimmering, suspended dissonance, try upstage right. For those who enjoy flatulent expression, stay downstage left. Step back to take it all in. Step forward to promote some tones over others. Watch out for the dancing guy or girl. They are harmless and probably high. Just watch out for them, because they aren’t watching out for themselves. Enjoy your time on stage.
Enjoy it as if it’s accidental.