Something strange is going to land in Bell Square. What are these giant machines, these futuristic creations from a bygone age? Where have they come from?
Towering high in the air, a series of metal tripods stand like three-legged giant insects. Their rotating arms have loudspeakers that create pulsating, harmonic music. Red lights on the arms whirl around like planets in motion, producing orbits of colour. These rings of light, high above us, combined with the hypnotic sounds, are really quite transfixing.
This strange thing that will soon appear is Chorus, a monumental installation of giant, moving sculptures with spinning sound machines.
I saw this installation at a festival last year. It was a bitterly cold January night with a biting wind and frost on the ground. I am a fairly hardy outdoor arts programmer and used to being outside in all weathers but the temptation of a hot cup of coffee in a nice warm café would normally have been too much, even for me, to resist that night. But then I saw Chorus in the distance, towering in the crisp night sky! Hot cups of coffee were forgotten!
Standing 5 metres high, each tripod turns at different speeds to give changing sounds and rhythms. Together, they sound like a celestial choir. You can wander amongst the installation, appreciating the different voice of each machine and its place in the 'chorus'. The music of these machines is absolutely beautiful - abstract, gentle sounds that draw you in, so you don't want to leave.
These amazing machines are the work of British artist, composer and performer, Ray Lee. He has created many large-scale music installations which have toured the world and won him many awards, including the British Composer of the Year Award in 2012.
His big fascination is with how scientists and philosophers talk about the universe, and his spinning sound sculptures are inspired by 'circles of ether', the invisible forces that surround us.
Long ago, early scientists believed that ether filled the whole of space. Even as modern science developed a new understanding of the universe, we still talk about 'the ether' - like something has 'vanished into the ether'. We think of the clear sky, the upper regions of the air above the clouds, or the heavens. The 'ether' has also been said to be full of radio waves - and that it is through ether that sound waves pass.
Ray Lee says, 'I am fascinated by the way science represents our view of the universe. I have a child-like fascination with radios, radio waves, magnetism. There is a magic in turning on the radio and receiving signals through the ether - or in holding 2 magnets in your hands and feeling this invisible force pulling your hands together or pushing them apart'.
Chorus is not only a sculpture or installation – it is also a performance. The sculptures, or machines, make sound. When the machines move, it changes the sound, so the idea of this being a live performance is important. There is a relationship between the audience, the artists, and the machines. Audiences talk about Chorus as 'an experience' rather than about it having a specific meaning.
The artist hopes that we find a space, a moment, for contemplation, that takes us outside our everyday lives. A place where we don't have to explain our experience, but that lets our minds drift off among the stars.
As darkness falls at Bell Square on Saturday, 2 December, the machines will start to sing their siren call. Come and see them at 4.30pm, 5.30pm or 6.30pm.