I have a confession. I’d never heard of Ray Lee when, late on a Friday night, I headed to Shoreham Harbour to see Ray Lee’s Points of Departure (part of the Brighton Festival). But I’d seen a preview and I was intrigued. And when someone waiting for the harbour lock to open said that he had seen his work back in the 1990s and it was one of the best things he’d ever seen, well, my expectations were high.
Ray Lee is “an award-winning sound artist, theatre maker and composer. He creates spinning, whirling, and pendulous sound installations and performances that explore “circles of ether, the invisible forces that surround us.”. He is also a Professor of Sound Art at Oxford Brookes University and an associate artist of OCM (Oxford Contemporary Music). His CV is impressive too with multiple awards and nominations dating back to the mid 1990s and his installations have been exhibited across the UK and the globe including New York, Canada, Australia, and throughout Europe with works such as Siren, Ethometric Museum, Chorus and Ring Out.
Catching up with him to ask about this particular project he said,
“Shoreham Port has been the most amazing and inspirational place to site my work. I’ve really loved the encounters that the audience has had with my work with the co-incidental arrival of the massive ships that glide through the locks. It’s really added something magical to the whole experience.”
I can never decide it’s better to know about the concept and process behind a piece of art before you view it or not. In any event, as Points of Departure is now fully booked and finishes on Sunday 23rd May, it’s probably not too much of a spoiler alert to let the artist explain more,
“As an artist I explore my fascinations with the world. I am fascinated by themes that include the emergence of the scientific method, the development of technology, and the way science represents our view of the universe. I have a childlike fascination with radios, radio waves, magnetism. There is a magic in the act of turning on a radio and receiving signals through the Ether or in holding two magnets in your hands and feeling this invisible force pulling your hands together or pushing them apart … Live performance is an important part of what I do. I am intrigued by the relationship that emerges between the performers as operators and workers of the machine and the machines themselves. As humans, we relate to other humans more than we relate to machines, but we also want to breathe life into inanimate objects. Combining kinetic machines with performers who work with, look after, monitor, control these devices enables the audience to start creating their own narrative about the work.”
(Credit to and more information about Ray Lee and his work at https://www.invisible-forces.com/)
Points of Departure was set in the heart of Shoreham Harbour, so much so that it was quite difficult to find the way in, if you arrived at the wrong entrance. Once through the gates, in the darkness, you walk in amongst warehouses, containers and shipping parts to find different parts of the installation that come to life and then fade. It’s “other world” stuff, and it’s atmospheric, mesmerising and haunting in no particular order.
There’s something immensely pleasing and beautiful about the metal forms and their symmetry, juxtaposed against the reality of the harbour, making this a perfect setting. The combination of movement, light, and rhythmic but eerie sounds is highly evocative.
Shoreham Harbour can be fairly described as gritty, fascinating and real, especially at night, with fishing vessels and dredgers in the background. And Ray Lee is spot on when, as an accidental backdrop to one of the Points of Departure installations, a huge tanker emerged silently from the mist and slipped through the docks and out to sea like an industrial ghost.
On the ground, hushed crowds merged and thinned from one area to another. And speaking to one of the volunteers from Shoreham who was operating a vast bell type construction, it’s clear that the volunteers and operators derived as much pleasure from the installation as the visitors. Without doubt, it’s a fascinating exhibition and a surreal experience.
If you did miss Points of Departure, there are video snippets on our Instagram and Facebook pages. But perhaps more importantly, make a note of Ray Lee, and if you ever get an opportunity to see some of his work, grab it with both hands. It’s different, thought-provoking, beautiful and wonderfully strange.
Brighton Festival runs throughout May so you still have time to enjoy some of the fascinating events and performers: https://brightonfestival.org