During the summer Calix will also be involved in another London Festival 2012 project as she will write a new orchestral score for Hitchcock’s 1928 film ‘Champagne’. It is part of ‘The Genius of Hitchcock’, for which the British Film Institute has restored nine silent films from The Master of Suspense – something that can build on the revival of silent film recently inspired by the success of ‘The Artist’.This month, the innovative American music ensemble, ‘Bang On A Can’ performed Calix’s most recent work, ‘Field Recording’, at the Barbican Centre. ‘Bang On A Can’ commissioned her to make a composition based on an environmental recording. For the piece Calix decided to use a recording she once did whereby she hid a digital recorder in her handbag as she progressed through an airport, taping the sounds at security, to boarding, and flying on, an airplane. Previously, Calix has used field recordings in her work, like birdsong, the sound of melting ice, or wood in contact with stone. She grew up in a rural situation in South Africa and currently lives in the Suffolk countryside. It feels natural to her to record, and use her environment. She spends considerable time outdoors collecting sounds that she will use in the studio environment. Does she believe that her music, based on sounds of nature, will touch the listener somehow more emotionally deeper? “Digital media is very precise, and whilst nature is in a way even more so, it’s also idiosyncratic,” she replies. “It can be random and warm. There is no ‘air’ in a completely electronic process. I like to incorporate that air into my work. I love that combination of the digital and the organic, the best of both worlds”. The sounds for ‘Nothing Is Set In Stone’ are also based on field recordings for which she traveled to her country of birth to obtain. Her idea is to compose a song that is fractured through the stones. “It is an interactive piece as the audience moves around the monolith so they can construct and shape the composition”, she explains. “For everyone who visits the composition will be slightly different depending on where they stand, move, or rest their ears. The piece itself has movements or episodes, but it’s loosely constructed as a Rondo, with a recurring refrain”. 200%: How did the idea originate to make a musical composition set in a standing stone sculpture? MC: It’s so hard to pin point. It was a combination of thoughts and ideas about place, time, and the only constant being change. I guess, the germination was that there were linked, but disparate, thoughts, whose connections are very clear to me. 200%: Can you be a bit more specific? MC: I’m aware that’s the vaguest of replies, but it’s so often the way with a piece of work: that you’re not quite sure how you got there; it can be a slow process, then very suddenly it just is what it is. There is no deviation and there are no real words to explain. That’s why I make the piece, I don’t have the vocabulary to articulate my thoughts. 200%: Okay, then why a stone? MC: Stone is the antithesis – so solid, so tangible – of music, so apparently light and ephemeral. I really love stones, and I’m one of those people who collect stones wherever I go. I put them in my handbag or pocket. I live near the beach and when I go there I always leave with a pebble memento – naughty I know. I’ve given a lot of thought to how time slows down for the pebble I keep in my home, but speeds up for the ones left behind. They are eroded more quickly. Really these [the pebbles] were the germination for the piece – this paradox of time speeding up and slowing down. My fascination with stones is an ongoing one. Previously, I’ve used pebbles ‘sonically’, on my album ‘Skimskitta’. The wonderful aspect about working on this piece, is that it led to meeting other people who have an interest in stones. 200%: Do you have a spiritual connection with stones? MC: I’ve never really questioned it. I’m just drawn to them. I notice them. 200%: Can you describe the stone sculpture? MC: The sculpture is made up of approximately five tons of Gneiss stones. They vary in size, effectively large to small pebbles. The height is just under four meters, and the diameter just under two meters. 200%: What made you choose Gneiss stone and not pebble stone? MC: It was an instinctive and aesthetic choice. I went to the stone suppliers yard in Essex and was confronted by hundreds of stones. The Gneiss stone caught my eye, and I fell in love with it at first sight. Fortunately they were suitable for the build, so the decision to work with this particular stone was very simple. 200%: Boris Johnson has commented on your project: “With this musical sculpture Mira Calix has managed to wrest not blood, but music from a stone”. Excuse me for editing the words of the Mayor’s quote, but what makes you interested to ‘wrestle’ music from a stone? MC: It’s this thought of the light leaking – and I’m referring to weight – out of the heavy, the solid. The sound seeps out of its stone envelope. 200%: How are you going to push sound through the rock? MC: With some very beautiful speakers and some great engineering, for neither of which I can take the credit. 200%: To whom can credit be given? MC: I have a great team, which I pulled together: people whom I know, who are not only talented, and on whom I can count. I have worked with them all before and they are all wonderful – it’s a pleasure to work with them. The design team includes Overcraft, a company of architects/engineers; the sound designer, David Sheppard from Soundintermedia, and the fabricator, Broa Sams. The producer is Keri Elmsly. 200%: What would you like the visitors to take from your sculpture? MC: That they’ve seen a song; that nothing is set in stone. 200%: Could you clarify what you mean by ‘seen a song’? MC: Probably not but I’ll try. I view this work as a physical manifestation of a piece of music. I’m hoping people take away something of this idea once they have experienced it. The only place it really exists is at the core of the stones, or in the audience’s head. I hope it’s something of which they can enjoy the physicality. Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers Pictures: visualization of the sculpture (above), Mira Calix visits Broa Sams workshop in South London to review the structural scale model and discuss build phase. Secrets: Hidden London: Nothing Is Set In Stone 21 Jun 2012 – 9 Sep 2012 www.nothingissetinstone.info
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