9 July 2011

The Singing Ringing Tree

If you climb up in to the mountains away from the northern English town of Burnley you may come across something wonderful.  The Singing Ringing Tree is awaiting you and it has a song for your heart which may either chill or charm it.

Some have compared it to a wrecked spacecraft; others still associate it with the local folklore of the Pendle Witches, comparing the eerie noises that it makes to the incantations of the legendary sorceresses. Most, however, see it as a charismatic and alluring addition to the Lancashire landscape.

The remote location of the singing ringing tree is surely part of its charm.  Designed to look like a tree the curved and crooked shape of which has been determined by the wind, it is nevertheless very obviously made by the hand of man.  Art and nature come together in celebration as this 3 meter high sculpture sings its lonely song in the Pennine Mountains.

The concept is very simple – and therein lies the beauty. Designed by the Tonkin Liu partnership of architects, comprising of Anna Liu and Mike Tonkin, the Singing Ringing Tree is a set of galvanised steel pipes.  These pipes use the energy of the wind to produce a choral sound, discordant yet sharp.

Although some of the pipes are simply there to add to the impression of a tree, many are cut across their widths which then, when the wind blows, produce the sound.  The pipes have been tuned by the addition of holes on their underside, each according to their length and the note that they should produce.

The name of the sculpture comes from a cult and very scary German children’s TV series from the 1960s. The series told the story of a haughty princess who tells a would be suitor that she can only be persuaded in to marriage by his retrieval of the eponymous tree. 

Cue talking bears, wicked dwarves, scary forests and the like – the name itself is enough to induce a delicious shiver of fear in to those who were young at the time. Pictured left, imagine a fairy tale conceived by Wagner and directed by Fritz Lang, with nods in the direction of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and German expressionism, and you'd be close.

It was in full, glorious color, too, at a time when most TV in the UK was in black and white.  The irony that something so vivid originated from the then communist East Germany was completely lost on us kids, of course.

The sculpture has won a variety of prizes including the prestigious National Award of the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) for excellence in architecture.