An interactive, luminous tree made out of steel is currently on display in Melbourne at Federation Square. The Helix Tree, a hypnotising 3D sculpture, was created by renowned light artist Bruce Ramus and is the centerpiece of the annual winter program, The Light in Winter.

Inspired by the naturally occurring shape of the helix – such as a spiral or coil – the piece is 13 metres high and spans 17 metres wide, and each of the 21 steel branches is equipped with advanced sound-responsive technology that make the tree light up in response to the pitch and volume of voices.

Over the month-long program of free events and activities, every evening at dusk a succession of Melbourne choirs sing to the tree, bringing the light show to life. Following the choral performances, visitors are encouraged to sing their own tunes to light up the tree with their own unique light display.

Ramus, who previously worked on lighting shows for the likes of rock legends such as David Bowie, REM and U2, now expresses his art in luminous public projects. Some of his works include large-scale projections on the Sydney Opera House, visual displays at Melbourne’s AAMI Park, and design and visual content of the world’s largest interactive digital media façade in the Darling Quarter precinct in Sydney.

Constructed of 12 tonnes of metal – which was partly sourced from scrap materials – steel pipes have been cut, twisted and welded into 40 different radii to create the helical spirals. The branches are reinforced with steel ring beams and are entwined with over 1.5 kilometres of LED neon, which create a dazzling reflection in the pond of water at the base of the sculpture.

In collaboration with the Light in Winter’s diverse communities, Lou Bennett (Black Arm Band) has been commissioned to create an anthem. In an exploration of what it means to be Australian, this work will be performed en masse during the Solstice Celebration and feature during Singing Up the Helix Tree on various nights throughout June.

The tree is lit up by eco-friendly power at Federation Square, which promotes sustainability and carbon-neutral gas and electricity.

Running until 30 June, the nightly program features:

  • 5 pm – 5.30 pm: a selection of short films from the Melbourne International Film Festival
  • 5.30 pm – 6 pm: Singing Up the Helix Tree choirs
  • 6 pm – 7.30 pm: the public can sing to the Helix Tree and light it up with their own voices

(The Light in Winter, 2012)

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