Siren Song - a city's emergency response sirens sing to celebrate the ritual of Art

Art Review from Australia. Published by Rebecca Gabrielle Cannon on Saturday 10 June 2017.

Siren Song - a city's emergency response sirens sing to celebrate the ritual of Art image Siren Song - a city's emergency response sirens sing to celebrate the ritual of Art image Siren Song - a city's emergency response sirens sing to celebrate the ritual of Art image Siren Song - a city's emergency response sirens sing to celebrate the ritual of Art image

There are cities in the world where public address speakers broadcast waking times and religious incantations to unify the public on behaviour and ideology. But what would happen if they were used to unify a city to ritualistically celebrate art and ponder the future of humanity? In Hobart, the Siren Songs audio installation encapsulates a city as it celebrates diverse creativity.

Siren Song is the result of a year-long collaboration between Melbourne sound designer Byron J Scullin and creative agency Supple Fox. Using the city-wide alarm system composed of 450 public address speakers atop 6 waterfront buildings, and a helicopter mounted with a tsunami warning system, the entire city skyline is twice daily, at dawn and dusk, soaked in a seven minute performance of “feminine incantations” about the future of humanity, featuring operatic vocalists Tanya Tagaq, Deborah Cheetham and Carolyn Connors.

Byron J Scullin controls the sound live, conducting the mix through various speakers to generate a new composition as the sound bounces off the city’s buildings and waterfront seeming to come from nowhere and everywhere. When the helicopter arrives for the dusk performances, it seems to sing to the city, and the city sings back.

The effect is engrossing and all encapsulating. Festival visitors and the town’s workers, pause for moments of reflection as the helicopter dances in the sky beckoning attention to the beauty and wonder of this spectacular festival and its incredible success at transforming Hobart’s status from a cultural laggard to a global leader of the arts.

Most Art Festivals are ordinarily created by a city’s governing leaders, but here at Dark Mofo we witness a festival which continues to build on its former successes – this year doubling the number of ticket presales it achieved last year, all of which came to fruition as a result of the cultural leadership and drive of one man – David Walsh, supported by his team at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). Now, with many festival partners including the City of Hobart, the city follows Walsh’s lead, the economic value and boom in tourism undeniable as the festival enters its fourth year. Dark Mofo is an excellent example of Autonomous Governance, where the specialists define what success looks like, and the government responds by meeting their needs – governing as an administrative process rather than a form of control.

A crowd of hundreds gathers at dusk to pay homage to the hovering messenger – all united across cultural and religious boundaries by one ritual that unifies us all – the ritual of Art.

The Dark Mofo festival has official partners in the town – cultural venues that host some of the events, and these buildings and streets are illuminated in glowing red lights as darkness falls. The feeling of welcome and participation is electric, and the entire CBD seems to become a red light district as other non-partner businesses also change their lighting to join the celebration.

In China, Red was used as a colour at New Years to protect houses from the evil dragon spirit, who was scared off by the colour red and loud banging noises. At winter solstice – Tasmania recognises it’s dark history, which includes a total annihilation of the local, indigenous peoples, and rendering extinct unique wildlife (such as the Tasmanian Tiger). But while the festival acknowledges our potential for darkness, it also signposts our potential for beauty.

Siren Song, uniting the residents and the town as one in a repeating ritual at dawn and dusk, is a reminder of our opportunity to celebrate creativity, courage and innovation, to collaborate and support one another as we ward off the evils of hegemony, fear and conformity.

In the words of Walsh himself, who says it reminds him of an Islamic call to prayer; Siren Song “is the counterpoint to a terrorist sound bite. It looks at cultures that make beautiful things.”

Yes, humanity can be dark mother-fuckers, but the first step to overcoming our fears is to acknowledge them. What cultural institutions like the Museum of Old and New Art, and the School of Life demonstrate, is that religion and ritual do not necessitate conformity to predefined ways of being, but rather can facilitate a continuous exploration of learning how best to live.