FeaturedReviewSouth East

BRIGHTON FESTIVAL: Ray Lee Point of Departure- Shoreham Port

Reviewer: Simon Topping

Creator: Ray Lee

It’s ten oclock at night and one hundred or so people gather in a timber yard in Shoreham, masks on, the sweet smell of wood in our nostrils. In front of us are a series of tall triangular towers with speaker-like antennae on top. Slowly these antennae begin to spin horizontally as a deep bass note sounds. This is the start of Ray Lee’s Points of Departure; a journey through otherworldly sculpture and transfixing alien soundscapes.

Points of Departure is a collection of Ray Lee’s installations, in one place for the first time.

The odd tripod shapes standing before us are repurposed from his 2013 kinetic sound sculptures series called Chorus. The loudspeakers emit precisely tuned musical pitches creating a pulsating, harmonic drone. Red lights at the end of the arms create the effect of a whirling swarm of fireflies, or of planets in motion.

The resulting sounds could easily be placed on an atmospheric Bjork album, or used by an enlightened government on the streets of town and cities, to soothe the population in an apocalyptic situation. The tones resonate in the body in a deep and emotional way as we bathe in the sound, allowing the body to relax, but not completely. The tonality shifts just enough to also feel slightly on edge in places, leaving one wondering if the audience is actually being prepped for a Derren Brown style hypnosis experiment.

As the towers slowly come to a stop we are ushered around the corner by our silent guides, who simply wave torches to the next display. Here we are greeted by tall alien like robots who look like they are working away on accounting machines. Part of the beauty of the exhibition is that the simple shapes can be interpreted in any number of ways. They are striking, out of this world, or straight from a 1980’s Doctor Who set , depending on how your eye wishes to see them.

Continuing walking round the exhibit are a row of tall periscopic machines emitting beeps and whurs like the scutters from Red Dwarf, and then onto several ominous looking silver monoliths, the kind of which have been mysteriously popping up around the world in recent years.

The location of the Shoreham Docks adds to the unearthly nature of the installation. There is an uneasy beauty to the silent night time docklands. It’s not an unlikely setting for a Scandi-noir to begin. Dark imaginations can run riot as to the sinister nature of the place.

The spinning discs with neon lights, which appear next on our route, mesmerise our eyes and ears, like fixed flying saucers. There are plenty of appreciative mummerings to be heard from the crowd. Many people want to capture the awe inspiring sculptures on video via their phones, a way to take away something of the wonder for themselves as well as being able to share the experience with friends.

The final stop is the most spectacular of the exhibits: Ray Lee’s Ring Out. Commissioned in 2017 by Oxford Contemporary Music, this is a series of giant towers holding suspended bell-like speaker cones. It looks like a musical oil field, pumping out sound, rather than thick black crude oil.

A team of ‘bell-ringers’ start to operate the industrial machinery and make the pendulum arms swing to and fro, gradually swinging higher and higher until each arm soars up over the heads of the audience ringing forth with the electronic tones and transfixing harmonies. It is an outdoor alien cathedral of sound, which fills the air around us.

As the sounds die away we depart to the Shoreham seafront to look upon our very own “sea aliens”, the Brighton wind farm, in the distance and reflect on what we have just experienced.

Points of Departure is a sonic journey well worth the 45 minute visit; full of crazy creations and wonderful alien sounds which connect fully with the human soul.

Runs to 23rd May

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Transfixing alien soundscapes

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  1. A previous light and sound installation at the Brighton Festival ‘For the Birds’ (can’t remember who it was by) was amazing but this was a bit pointless.

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