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Congregation: the spheres are on the loose....

Updated: May 7, 2020

When the audience are given one of the Congregation spheres, they really have no idea where they are going to end up. They are told that the sphere wants to take them somewhere and if they carry the sphere in the right direction the sphere will sound ‘happy’…

And so it was when we tried out Congregation for the first time in a public preview via the Corn Exchange in Newbury, April '19. The audience collected their spheres at one of five locations around the town where they were met by one of my team of five ‘guardians of the spheres’ (as we started to call ourselves), dressed in their rather cool grey tunic coats designed by Stavroula Kounadea.

Steve Symons: 'Guardian of the Spheres' and tech wizard who made Congregation possible. Photo: Will Ord

I, on the other hand, was standing at the ‘secret’ final location waiting for the seventy or so spheres to appear from different directions. The location was by the bandstand in Victoria Park (I didn’t notice it at the time, but it was pointed out to me that the statue of Queen Victoria in the park has her holding an orb, remarkably similar to one of my spheres….). The first show was at 11.30 in the morning. I communicated with the team via a messaging app in order to coordinate the setting off times and then I waited. I had absolutely no idea whether people would turn up or not. Based on our extensive tests we felt they should… but how many of them and when was completely up in the air. Would they get lost? Would they get bored and want to give their spheres back?

Would they go off in the wrong direction and never be seen again?

I tried to imagine the different scenarios as I nervously waited for the sphere carrying public to arrive. Which direction would they come from first?

Image: Norfolk and Norwich Festival

And then I saw someone, striding confidently across the park, sphere glinting in the sunshine. Moments later, from a different direction I saw someone else, sphere in hand approaching from over the canal bridge. As they entered the final zone the sounds of the spheres changed signalling to them that they had arrived. The final zone is divided up into twenty-four segments each of which triggers a different musical fragment so that when the end zone is full of spheres a rich sonic texture is created. I encouraged each person as they arrived to move around the zone and find for themselves the different sounds. Before long there were streams of sphere carriers coming from all directions joining the congregating throng in what had become a strange sci-fi ceremony of singing spheres.

Image: Norfolk and Norwich Festival

My doubts were unfounded. The spheres did their job and directed the audience to the park and over the space of ten to fifteen minutes the end zone went from having just me nervously pacing around, sphere in hand, to a Congregation of around seventy spheres with their hosts. Eventually we brought out stands and began to take back the spheres from their temporary hosts. A remarkable number of people seemed genuinely sad to relinquish them. I was just infinitely relieved that it had all worked….

Congregation is a project by Ray Lee with software and hardware development by Steve Symons.

Congregation has been commissioned by Without Walls, Norwich and Norfolk Festival and the Out There Festival with additional financial support from Oxford Brookes University, OCM (Oxford Contemporary Music) and 101 Outdoor Arts Creation Centre.


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