A pair of speakers whirs on a stand in a forest of such stands, at different heights, humming at different electronic pitches under the high cupola. Otherworldly.
We wander into St Mary-in-the-Castle in silence, as instructed. Guide ropes mark out where we can and can’t walk in the space. Giant tripods hold their thin rod-arms outstretched, doing yoga, ready for ballet. We gaze around at the circular galleries and up at the eye of daylight in the cupola’s peak. Then two men get busy, straight-backed and unsmiling. One twists a screwdriver (perhaps) in the workings on one tripod. Tiny speakers at each end hum their note, each under a pinprick of red light. The men cock their ears, make adjustments, nod to each other when satisfied, patrol off on soft rubber soles to the next station. For some, they have to crouch down, for others they climb step ladders. The arms circle slowly, later more quickly, humming a hypnotic blend of harmony and anxiety, the sound rising and falling when I walk between them but also when I keep still.
The two men stride silently, ever active. They remind me, in their felted grey suits, of electronic musicians performing in the 1990s. I may remember them most clearly of all, their performance of doing art, paying attention, modulating the notes.
The house lights fade, leaving us in a dark heaven of slow-circling red stars that speed up over time, as one with the sound.
I loved all of Siren, for its wondrous self and also because the experience seems to me like the essence of living in Hastings – a faint tang of sea air in the room, exhilarating performance within a few yards of an amusement arcade, all of that, yes, but more personally the unexpected depth and pleasure of what may seem simple, staying in one place, paying attention. Sound and light. Focus.
Composed and performed by Ray Lee, Siren featured on the 2017 Coastal Currents programme.