Creating a sonic art masterpiece

  • Creating a sonic art masterpiece

    Ray Lee

    Artist, composer, performer and lecturer Ray Lee uses research-informed sound sculptures to create performances which have been described as “breath-taking”.

    The Oxford Brookes lecturer was recognised as British Composer of the Year for Sonic Art in 2012 thanks to highly successful and critically acclaimed compositions such as Siren.


    Following its initial performance in 2004, since 2008 Siren has been performed more than 120 times at key venues across the world.

    It builds on The Theremin Lesson, a 25 minute performance made as part of a Year of the Artist residency in Derbyshire’s Masson Mill, one of the first modern factories of the industrial revolution.

    Using the disused top floor of the historic setting known as Arkwright’s New Mill, Lee created a series of sound machines that evoked the sense of spinning with sound. As part of this process a tripod with rotating loudspeakers was built, and working through iterations of the sculptural form the final Siren design was generated.

    A grant from the Arts Council of England enabled the work to develop into its final form and was presented at a former F1-11 Fighter jet hanger at the ex-US air force base in Oxfordshire.

    This distinctive location became a key aspect of the way in which the work developed, enabling the work to be influenced by the history and associations generated by the former air force base. It resulted in the title Siren which alludes to the nature of the sound generating material, the air raid warnings associated with the former history of the site and the sirens of mythology.

    As a performance it allows the audience to become more active in their participation, moving around the space and experiencing different sonic and visual perspectives of the work.

    The architecture of the performance takes the audience on an immersive journey through the increasing complex sound world to a period of non-literal experiential theatre when the stage lighting is removed and the audience are left in the darkness save for the red LEDs at the end of the rotating arms.

    As the performance ends and the tripods and their sounds are slowly stopped one by one, the listener's awareness of the sound of the space that they inhabit is intensified by the silence that is left behind.

    The impact of Siren will endure through the development of Chorus a new piece by Ray Lee first performed at Oxford Castle in 2012.

    This will continue the ongoing benefits of research-informed sound sculpture practice established through Siren in reaching a wider audience.

    Find out more

    Read more about the full Impact Case Study on RADAR. Further information on Ray Lee can be found on his profile page. An article on Ray Lee’s research can be read in the University’s Research Forum publication.