Last night the Wexner Center hosted the first of three chances to experience a highly unusual bit of sonic performance art. Ray Lee's Siren is an installation, not a concert. It reminded me of the immersive funhouses of sound I once read about on Pitchfork (can't find that old Mark Richardson column at the moment) or those Flaming Lips parking lot experiments that I wish I could have witnessed.

Lee explains his 45-minute piece in the interview embedded above, and I'll walk you through my experience with it after the jump. But neither one of us can really do justice to Siren, so consider checking it out for yourself tonight or tomorrow. (Tickets cost $12 for each 8 p.m. performance.)

Last night the Wexner Center hosted the first of three chances to experience a highly unusual bit of sonic performance art. Ray Lee's Siren is an installation, not a concert. It reminded me of the immersive funhouses of sound I once read about on Pitchfork (can't find that old Mark Richardson column at the moment) or those Flaming Lips parking lot experiments that I wish I could have witnessed.

Lee explains his 45-minute piece in the interview embedded above, and I'll walk you through my experience with it after the jump. But neither one of us can really do justice to Siren, so consider checking it out for yourself tonight or tomorrow. (Tickets cost $12 for each 8 p.m. performance.)

Most of the music I tackle on this blog could be described as "rock" or "pop." Whether it's Kanye West, Bon Iver or The Unholy Two, I tend to stick to pop culture and the subcultures bubbling underneath. So Siren is more avant-garde than my usual fare. Yet thanks to its innate simplicity, the piece actually seems more universally relatable (and therefore agreeable) than the latest hit from any particular pop faction.

Nonetheless, my indie rock-fried brain sought some reference point from my record collection. I found myself recalling the inner depths of Radiohead's Kid A the soothing synth sounds that usher out the title track; the clamorous glut of horns that overwhelm "The National Anthem"; the screeching strings that swallow up "How to Disappear Completely"; the pastoral bliss of "Treefingers"; the heavenly ascension of "Motion Picture Soundtrack." It's by no means a perfect comparison, but Siren elicited some of the same sensations, and just like Kid A's most intimate moments, it had the feel of secret ceremony I was lucky enough to be privy to.

When I arrived at Mershon Auditorium, some 50-75 people sat waiting for the show to begin. After a rundown of the rules (no cell phones, no talking, no coming or going, please move around at your leisure...) the Wexner staff led us through back corridors into what seemed like some secluded room buried deep in the caverns of campus. Not having listened to the Lee interview, I didn't realize we were simply on the Mershon stage; they did a good job of disguising it, and making us enter through the back added to the air of anticipation.

We entered the performance space to find an array of tripods of various heights, with bars attached to the top like propellers. Each propeller had a siren attached at each end, and each siren was equipped with a tiny red light, all of which remained unlit at first. Everything stood still. The lights were down, but spotlights on the ground illuminated the room.

Two men in wool suits, credited in the program as Harry Dawes and Mike Rugnetta, stood silently at the center of the installation, awaiting our arrival. (One of the guys looked like a famously creepy actor, but I couldn't figure out who. Sam Neill? Ray Wise?) Once we were all inside and the door was closed, the performance began.

The Ray Wise guy approached the central tripod and adjusted some circuitry on top of the propeller, using a miniature flashlight to guide his work. Suddenly, the red lights on the ends of the propeller lit up, and the sirens on that tripod began emitting tones single notes carried out into infinity. The performer used his screwdriver to tinker with the tones until the sirens settled on a drone to his liking. The sound was on; we were off.

The duo began approaching the tripods one by one to initiate the sirens, building, as Lee puts it, one giant chord. Some stood easily accessible at waist level; others required the top rung of a ladder. Gradually, the sounds converged into one droning mass that floated thick in the air around us. Had the propellers merely stood still, it would have been serene but static. Ultimately, the sound probably would have bled away into nothingness. But in the midst of all the sound triggers, the performers also began flipping switches on the floor that sent various propellers spinning, creating a wall of sound that whirred and shimmered with each new rotation.

This was a highly interactive experience. The various tones around the room combined into one massive entity, but certain sounds were emphasized depending on where you stood in the room. Essentially, you made your own composition, dictating the sonic experience with every step around the performance space.

Once every siren was blaring and every propeller was spinning, the performers pulled off their game-changer. The spotlights went dead, leaving the room in utter darkness save for the swirling red lights attached to each whirling propeller. At first, everybody stopped cold, disoriented by the darkness. But little by little, our eyes adjusted and we got back to swimming through the sounds around us.

As Siren wound down, the performers, still cloaked in darkness, began deactivating the propellers, then the sirens, one by one. They stripped down the sound layer by layer until only that first, isolated tone remained. Suddenly, the last siren went silent, and we were left with a few seconds of extreme sensitivity night vision activated, ears attuned to every passing room sound.

Within a fraction of a moment, the serenity stopped. The lights came up, the performers bowed and the ushers led us back to the auditorium. I struggled to make sense of what I'd seen and heard, but after some contemplation I came away fascinated by what a complex experience was built on such a simple premise. Siren left me satisfied, if not moved. It wasn't quite heavenly, but it was certainly out of this world.