Ray Lee (UK) Siren

kinetic sound installation, performance

Stupefying whirling sounds

Sounds are never simply something we just hear; we never just listen to sounds. We don't just listen, because there are no sonic objects for listening to. There are only sonic events.“ Niall Lucy

With screwdrivers in their hands two 'sound mechanics' move in their suits through a forest made of tripods of different heights. On each tripod is a bar, spinning like a propeller, carrying generators of electronic sounds, speakers and light-emitting diodes. They use their tools to regulate the oscillators and thus to tune the sound generating devices. In the case of the higher tripods, and some of them are up to three meters high, these characters have to climb ladders. They have to be careful not to be mown down by these 'rotating hazards', while they walk among them screwing. They do so for 40 minutes or so, as long as the performance lasts. One of the two is Ray Lee from Oxford and the other one his collaborator Harry Dawes.

In this kinetic and sonic installation named Siren thirty objects give shape to a sound landscape. Each one whirls at a different speed helping to produce the sounds that circle in the space in which the audience is free to position their ears, that is, to move around the installation. The elegant mechanical sculptures create an intimate sound space in which the participant is required to dwell a fairly long time, to get into the sounds. Since each part of the installation is turned on at a different time and moves at a different speed, the sounds that the individual tripods produce are out of phase, resulting in sound overlaps and interesting effects. The authors state that “these hand-built electronic tone generators power loudspeakers at the end of each arm, creating an extraordinary sonic texture of pulsing electronic drones”. Everything takes place in a dim setting in which, along with the audio quality of the piece, a powerful visual quality comes to the fore. The whirling LED diodes shape the thin lines of red circles, and in this analogue, mechanical choir, a space with a rich and pleasant humming and luminous drawing is created. Although sirens evoke a sense of danger and war, Ray Lee’s sound project almost conjures up an irresistible sound of mythological Greek sirens. This piece has a hypnotic effect leaving you feeling soothed and contemplative.

Ray Lee as a sound artist is first and foremost interested in the creation of sound in space, all the while creating a sound environment which, unlike surround sound, is characterized by unpredictability. Mobile antennas can present sound to a listener either slowly and gently as at the beginning of the performance or as fast and loud as an adrenaline rush at the culmination. The strategy of creating a musical piece in space, as well as of attracting the audience, entails dramaturgy in the performance.

In the fade out the artist leaves us to real and imaginary echoes that are slowly transformed into the sound of our nervous system and our heartbeat – to silence as we know it. Governing time and space his performance awakens a notion of sound as “merely a means by which energy, constantly alternating at great speed between potential and kinetic energy, is passed through air or other medium as pressure waves." (R. Taylor)

Ray Lee (UK)

Ray Lee is an artist, composer, performer and lecturer. Over the past twenty years he has made work that includes performance, installation, composition, and photography. Ray 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. He presented his work in Austria, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland, UK, with forthcoming shows in Spain, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. He lectures in contemporary arts and music at Oxford Brookes University.