Making waves through sound

Professor Ray Lee

Connecting audiences with the extraordinary experience of sound art is at the heart of Professor Ray Lee’s work. Regularly flagged as ‘a unique British artist’, whose work is internationally significant, Ray Lee’s projects combine kinetic art and sound sculptures to explore the physical movement of sound through space.

Ray’s installations have had a widespread impact on how the public engages with sound art and has influenced arts programming and events both nationally and internationally. His reputation in the field is longstanding - in 2012 he won the British Composer Award for Sonic Art. Since then he has continued to develop his research-based projects to huge effect. 

A shared experience

Ray’s research has led to three new public large-scale sound art projects playing to live audiences of more than 150,000 worldwide in over 500 performances. As well as boosting public engagement with sound art, the effect of his installations on audiences is profound, often creating a sense of wonder. 

For Congregation, commissioned in 2019 by Norwich and Norfolk Festival and Sea Change Arts, the audience arrives at various locations in the city. Here they are given a silver sphere emitting electronic sounds which guide them to a common destination. As they walk they are participating in the performance taking place around them. 

For many, it is their first experience of sound art, as one audience member explained. “When we all came together sonically at the end it was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like that and I’m inspired.”

Reaching disadvantaged areas

Having a real impact on urban regeneration is an important aspect of Ray’s work. Often featuring in festivals in economically disadvantaged areas, his performances are designed to be noticed. 

Chorus involves a set of 14 5-metre tall tripods with rotating arms carrying loudspeaker horns. When it was performed at Warsaw’s Autumn International Festival of Contemporary Music 2015, its Director described it as “an outdoor event in a place accessible for everyone, not just for the chosen and the initiated. It’s an attractive, spectacular event, extremely unconventional.” For the SPILL Festival of Performance’s Director, it was “an easy to understand invitation to engage... it cuts across age, social divisions and language, to be nothing short of transformative.”

Bringing change to outdoor arts events

The uniqueness of Ray’s work has had lasting influence on the outdoor arts sector. As the Director of the Stockton International Riverside Festival put it, “Ray Lee is one of the few artists producing original and interesting digital work for outdoor spaces as opposed to using digital technology as a superior replacement for analogue.”

Events programmers also note how Ray’s work has helped generate a deeper relationship with their target audience. Ring Out was initially shown in Hull for the 2017 City of Culture and then outside the Southbank Centre in London. The piece re-imagines the traditional English church bell ringing for the 21st century using towers and swinging speakers. When it was performed in at Soundlands Festival 2018, its power lay in being ‘instantly engaging and accessible’ said the festival director. “Ring Out also provided an intriguing eye-catching spectacle in a busy festival environment.”

International audiences have enjoyed Ray’s work, because it can be easily presented in non-English speaking countries, points out the director of outdoor performance promoters XTRAX. “All in all it’s very tourable internationally from a practical perspective as well as meeting the highest international quality thresholds.” So far the three projects have achieved significant international recognition playing to audiences in Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea and across Europe. 

Pandemic and beyond

While the pandemic caused widespread cancellation of arts activities it’s a sign of Ray’s standing that his works Chorus and Ring Out were chosen to be part of the Greenwich and Dockland International Festival in September 2020. The same month, Congregation was presented in Graz, Austria. By bringing together the highest quality of sound art performance with accessibility, Ray continues to have lasting impact - both on the creative form and on the communities he engages with.

“An easy to understand invitation to engage... it cuts across age, social divisions and language, to be nothing short of transformative.”

Director, SPILL Festival of Performance

“Original and interesting digital work for outdoor spaces as opposed to using digital technology as a superior replacement for analogue.”

Director, Stockton International Riverside Festival

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