I’d seen Ray Lee’s SIRENS before (the work premiered in 2004) but I wasn’t quite prepared for how overwhelming the piece would be in a former church.
There is something quirkily Gilbert and George about the set up. Two men, high priests of sound and motion, in almost identical grey suits studiously play with sound and pitch, fiddling with glasses, torches and screwdrivers. They admire their work as they go. But within the ancient walls of St Clements Church (now Ipswich Arts Centre) the revolving, whirring, singing tripods bring a sense of science fiction to a heritage environment. Old style technology doing plain song. Like an alien choir the sound reverberates round the building. It’s nauseating, sickening, monotonous. It’s also beautiful, haunting and resonating.
When the church is plunged into an eerie darkness the sound wraps round you . As I move around the aisles I pick up tiny nuances – different fragments quietly rising above the general, hypnotic drone. Tuned into the state of Siren I start to pick out melody and rhytmn. I’m sure I hear the mechanical choir enunciate an ‘arhhhh’. As the pieces ebbs into silence I don’t want it to end.
In the Autumn gloom I’m asked to grab hold of a piece of a pink satin gown, the train of Giovanna Maria Casetta’s dress. This is a descent into glamour. It is perhaps rather a descent into Ipswich as we take the back streets from the dockside to the town hall. For half an hour Casetta’s bright train shone a spotlight on the route from the historic dockyards to the town hall, briefly joining two disparate parts which should really lead one to the other.
A man (Jamie Lewis Hadley) staples material to his arm. I feel slightly queasy, look away. But you can’t avoid the sound of hundreds of mouths fall silent as the material flies like a flag from the mast of his arm, in the breeze of a fan. And then – slowly – to utter gob smacked silence each staple is slowly, delicately unpicked. Blood seeps in geometric shapes down his arm. The flag becomes a shroud, quietly absorbing the harm of the wound, before becoming a flag again. A bloody, patterened flag fluttering in an artifical breeze.
As the crowd subsides, the hub bub begins again and the tension in the air eases I’m left wondering what to think.
And so to Bishi’s Albion Voice, which neatly counterpoints the sound world of Sirens. An icon sings a kind of modern day plain song beneath a projected crucifix form, only its more of a target. The image implodes into one of violence, but the icon remains unmoved. Transfixed.
Shirley Bassey would certainly approve – this is a one woman show with balls. The impressive projections providing the kind of flamboyant dress and costume changes that Bassey could only dream of. Live Art meets diva meets Glam Rock. Musically its an eclectic and potent mix of plain song, of traditional folk, Indian and Greek styles all with a healthy dose of electronica and computer wizardry. But for a reason I cant put my finger on I feel slightly alien to the material and have to dash for a late night train home.
If this is day one Ipswich has an amazing few days to come. Details of the full SPILL festival are here. Get down there if you can.