“I could have sat for hours, hypnotized by the final crystal chord of the spinning oscillators.” —Live Art Magazine (UK)
An indescribable experience, UK sound artist Ray Lee’s bewitching sonic sculptures are an extraordinary chorus of mesmerizing drones and whirls of light that build into immersive, carefully choreographed spectacles. An unlikely hit of the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Lee’s Siren will be performed on Friday–Saturday, February 20–21, at 7 and 9 pm in the Walker Art Center’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater, and is presented in association with the Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Arts at the University of Minnesota. In addition, a special preview performance will take place at 7 pm Thursday, February 19. In near darkness, two “performers” enter a space filled with 30 large metal tripods of varying heights; mounted on each is an arm with sound devices. With the audience free to roam the stage, the sound arms are set in motion to create a dramatic environment of movement, light, and sound.
For all its inherent drama, Siren is based on a very simple idea, says Lee. In 2000, he was working on a project in a defunct English textile mill dating to the early Industrial Revolution. “I was interested in making a sort of factory of sound that evoked the industrial experience,” he says. The result was Siren’s core element: the tripod with its rotating arm and sound device. “As soon as it started to move and the sound came out,” Lee recalls, “I thought, ‘I need more.’”
Lee was eventually using 16 such structures in art galleries, but remained unsatisfied: “I wanted a huge forest, a choir of these things,” he says, and the scope of Siren grew from there. Lee’s word choices—forest, choir; one visual, one aural—indicate his multidisciplinary bent as an artist. He has created visual art installations, sound art, theatrical performances, and musical compositions, but finds such labels irrelevant: “Over the past 25 years I’ve tried to find ways to synthesize these art forms.” Siren, he believes, best embodies that mission.
Siren’s industrially inspired simplicity makes it adaptable to a range of settings, which have included a Gothic church and an empty, Victorian-era swimming pool; the setting, in turn, gives each performance distinctive characteristics. For instance, on the Walker’s McGuire stage, the 70-foot “fly space” overhead will no doubt affect the harmonics and the overall feel of the piece, which the audience, also onstage, will directly experience. Moving around and within Siren, says Lee, “You’re aware in a way that you’re not when you’re sitting and looking at a stage. And in this type of soundscape, you can move six inches to the left and hear something entirely different. I want people to have a physical or emotional response to this work without knowing why,” he says. “It’s very difficult to come out of Siren saying ‘I know what this means.’ But people tell me of their responses—they mention sadness, feeling reflective, thinking of the universe—and I think all those are fantastic.”
“I want my work to be an intensely visual and live experience. Siren is the absolute antithesis of the laptop music performance. It is a piece that has to be experienced live. The sound is physically pushed around the space by the rotating arms; audiences will feel as if the very air itself is spinning.”
Lee’s work investigates his fascination with the hidden world of electromagnetic radiation and in particular how sound can be used as evidence of invisible phenomena. He is interested in the way that science and philosophy represent the universe and his work questions the orthodoxies that emerge and submerge according to the currently fashionable trends. He creates spinning, whirling and pendulous sound installations/performances that explore ‘circles of ether’, the invisible forces that surround us. Lee lectures in contemporary arts and music at Oxford Brookes University.
Special Performance of Siren
Thursday, February 19, 7 pm, Free
William and Nadine McGuire Theater
Free tickets available at the Hennepin Lobby desk from 6 pm
Join UK sound artist Ray Lee for a preview of a mesmerizing sound and light performance created with sonic sculptures.
Tickets to Ray Lee’s Siren are $15 ($12 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.
For one week each year, the Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Arts gathers creators and performers of new media arts from around the world to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul to showcase their work to the public.