‘Each one is seen to describe a most fascinating orbital whip’, Lye wrote. ‘[It] makes me think I am just another little atom imbibing the presence of other little atoms.’
As the outer ring is gently spun by the motorised base, energy is transferred to the three inner rings, which reflect light from their metal surfaces as they spin.
Although the motor and the rings generate their own sounds, Lye heightened the musical effect by incorporating a music box in the base that played in- and out-of-phase with the movement of the rings.
The original sculpture used Ann Lye’s golden wedding band as the centre most ring. Originally titled Rings, Lye later changed its name to Orrery due to its resemblance to mechanical models of the solar system, before settling on Roundhead, on discovering its likeness to the ‘Y’ male chromosome (also called a ‘round head’).