A 3-meter-tall, wind-powered musical sculpture made of galvanized steel pipes, it stands high above the English town of Burnley. The pipes swirl to form the shape of a tree bent and blown by the wind, and produce an eerie, melodious hum as the constant wind on Crown Point drifts through them.
The Singing Ringing Tree’s pipes are used for both aesthetic qualities as well as for tuning, with their sound varied according to length and added narrow slits on the underside of specific pipes. The sound produced by these twisted metal trees covers several octaves and is said to be simultaneously discordant and melancholy, and intensely beautiful.
Completed in 2006, the Tree was designed by award-winning architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu as part of a project created by the East Lancashire Environmental Arts Network to build a series of landmarks over the countryside. The site at Burnley was once that of a re-diffusion transmission station, complete with a run-down brick building and unused telegraph lines. The station was dismantled and the lines cut down to be recycled, to make way for the Tree that was to stand out against the stark, rolling landscape of the Pennine mountain range.
The Tree is one of four “panopticons” scattered throughout Lancashire. The chosen panopticons (a term coined by late 19th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham meaning “a space or device providing a panoramic view”) include the Tree; The Atom of Pendle, designed by Peter Meacock and Katarina Novomestska; the Colourfields in Blackburn, designed by Jo Rippon Architecture and artist Sophie Smallhorn; and the Haslingden Halo, designed by LandLab architect John Kennedy.
In addition to the name describing exactly what it is, its nomenclature is also a nod to the 1960s/early-1970s BBC television series of the same name. The rather uncanny noises extracted from the pipes seem to match the mood of the TV series.
Described as one of the world’s weirdest and creepiest shows for children, the Singing Ringing Tree was an East German import program that followed a princess, her prince, a six-foot-tall dwarf, and myriad talking, magical creatures. Done in a Brother’s Grimm style, it became a cult classic that both terrified and obsessed a generation of British children.