Siren by Ray Lee
Guess what? It was a protest. 630 truckies were jamming up the CBD and the Harbour and Anzac bridges. It was a go-slow. With horns honking. It was fucking magnificent. Instead of cacophony, which you might expect, there was extraordinary harmony. Amazing tessitura. Rising and falling tones. Rising and falling volume.
The whole thing reminded me of the story of Richard Wagner smuggling a string orchestra into his home to serenade his sleeping wife, Cosima, on the morning of her birthday, not long after the birth of their son Siegfried. (The Triebschen Idyll it was called. Later the Siegfried Idyll.)
Ray Lee’s Siren is a little like the Truckies Symphony on a puny scale. It’s endearingly retro -- like a musical happening from Germany in the 1960s -- and calculatedly unambitious. It’s a Noah’s Ark of tweeters, little Dalek-like speakers at each end of short poles which spin on stands of varying heights in tight little orbits.
Audience members are encouraged to wander the space.. and sternly asked not to speak to anyone for the duration of the event. About 45 minutes.
Pursuing the Noah’s Ark metaphor... there’s a small clutch of unloved (and unlovely) mid-range speakers making coarse honking noises. No-one wants to loiter around them, like ugly critters at the zoo.
I wanted to limbo dance under one of the taller towers, but the space is roped off. (Lying down is discouraged too. Shame. A travelator would be kick arse.)
At its best, Siren is reminiscent of the closing moments of Supertramp’s song Fools Overture, where the orchestra tunes up. I was also reminded of the watery synth keyboards (maybe a mellotron?) used in the (very) early New Order single Procession. (Hell, I was also reminded of Henry Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary... so best not to read too much into any of this!)
Spoiler alert. Skip this paragraph if you’re booked in but haven’t yet seen the show. When the lights go off, maybe ten minutes before the end of the installation, the orbiting LEDs are like fireflies or retarded electrons! The flicker of the closer lights leaves a trail of dots in space.
Like the show, the moment is memorable. But a long way short of magical.
Siren, a sound installation created by Ray Lee. With Harry Dawes. Produced by Simon Chatterton. Stavroula Kounadea, technician. At the Meat Market, 5 Blackwood Street North Melbourne, until October 25. A part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.