Bizarre "Siren" buzzes at The Walker

A flock of hummingbirds, a swarm of dragonflies, a gathering of mini-helicopters -- Ray Lee's "Siren" inspired a mixed bag of emotions, burning attendees ears with a sound so bright they couldn't help but squint.  "Siren" was performed throughout the weekend on the Walker Art Center's McGuire Theater, and there were three rules before the performance: no flash photography, no talking and no re-entry.  

Thirty metal tripods, ranging from short to nine-feet tall, were speckled about. No one dared speak and only a low hum of an electronic presence could be heard. The door closed and and two men in simple black suits began to move about the forest of metal. Standing over one of the tripods, one of the men tinkered with its controls until suddenly a low buzzing tone filled the space. A siren. A grainy tone that reminded me of the sound a Mac makes when turned on, only indefinitely extended. With a quick glance and a small nod, the men began walking to through the garden of metal, one by one, adding another siren to the symphony.  

On each of the thirty tripods, a fourth metal rod balanced horizontally with a siren at each end. At first the two men simply turned on each tripod's set of sirens. A hair from obnoxious, the room hummed simultaneously as if warning the entire state of a severe storm's approach.  The ridiculous amount of sound continued to build as the hour presentation continued, becoming more and more audacious. Keep in mind this is not the easiest show to describe in words.

As soon as a collection of sirens were screaming their song, the performers began setting a select few into spin mode. Audience members were invited to walk around the space during the show and if you stood in front of a spinning tripod, one could hear the two different pitches coming from the set of sirens. Some sang low like a tug boat while others resembled sounds found in the brass section. Eventually all 30 sirens were turned on and set into motion. Crouching down or slowly turning in your spot could completely change the sound experience, and cupping your ears brought in a more concentrated harmony of tones that somehow began to develop into a song-like combination.


Audience members were pretty expressionless, perhaps stunned by the odd experience or in awe of the magic Lee created. I personally giggled a bit, thinking about the room of whirling metal, blinking red lights, slight wind and vibrating noise. I kept wondering if the men in suits ever hit their head on the fast moving objects. I even had a slight urge to bend over the line and touch the crazy machines but resisted.



Nearing the end, the sirens began circling even faster than before. One of the higher pitched set of sirens began to sound like a trumpet melody as the shadows on the nearly dark room stretched and spun. Then the lights went out. Each siren had a little red light on its end and when the lights went down, red trails and glinting metal were all one could see. It began to feel like a bad trip, like a scary movie with a creepy carnival scene; the red lights flashing and the sirens honking. If I thought about it too hard or closed my eyes too long, "Siren" really began to freak me out. Before it got unbearable, the sirens began slowing down and turning off one by one until the room lay silent once again. The people filed out and no one made a peep -- maybe because to hear more noise would just be too much.