Monday, May 20, 2013

At arm's length - review of Chorus, by Ray Lee

Photograph courtesy of The Corn Exchange, Newbury

Chorus, by Ray Lee, in Newbury Market Place on Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27

THE LATEST presentation in The Corn Exchange’s Outdoor Programme sang in the new season with a more simple performance than many of its predecessors, as artist and composer Ray Lee brought his tripod-legged choir to the Market Place for six performances in dusk and night over the weekend.

As each performance began, speakers on rotating arms on top of the high tripods began to rotate, each emitting a pulsing drone at a different pitch, creating a changing and individual composition of sounds for the visitors who moved beneath and among them. The eye was drawn upwards to the rotating red LED lights on the end of each arm; all visually identical but made unique by their own tonal identities.

Unlike most past Outdoor Programme presentations, there were no fireworks, no live performers, and no real explanation for what was going on. And yet, it was mesmerising: the half-hour performance felt like five minutes, as the soundscape became immersive; so loud and all-pervading, yet surprisingly relaxing and meditative. Although moving between the structures created the most variety of sound, even standing still created its own orchestra, picking out the tones and pulses, each taking turns to come to the forefront of the overall wash of sound.

Chorus didn’t end with a climax, but with an eventual coming-together of the drones in a chord both atonal and harmonic, before each rotating arm began to slow, stop and fall silent at different times, and the Market Place fell back into stillness. It may not have been the most jaw-dropping of the Outdoor Programme’s series of performances, but it was provoking, transfixing, stunning in its starkness - and most certainly memorable.
  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 2, 2013

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