Mira Calix is a fascinating musical personality.It’s the name by which South African-born ChantalPassamonte is known, though this is only half thestory, as her country Suffolk residence exerts astrong influence on her style.
This comes from a willingness to get out of thestudio. On the one hand are small melodies and motifsof a subtle beauty, orchestrated with a skill that hasled to work with the London Sinfonietta. But for thisalbum Passamonte spent as much time in her “other”studio – the great outdoors – using field recordings togive her music a pastoral clothing.
These musical landscapes are in a sense folk music,and coupled with Passamonte’s work in Aldeburgh, bringirresistible parallels with Benjamin Britten. One ofBritten’s legacies is the Aldeburgh Festival, whoseparent company has worked closely with Mira Calix insemi-classical pieces.
The classical sensibilities come through on EyesSet Against The Sun, the three spaces between thealbum’s title words at the request of the composer. Atfirst glance this smacks of pretension, but havingread the composer’s thoughts is anything but,emphasising the importance of silence in her music andwords.
All of which might lead you to think that the albumrequires a lot of effort on the part of the listenerto make any sense, but happily it operates on twolevels. Close listening is rewarded with the intricacyof scoring – careful placing of electronic andanalogue sounds, especially good on headphones orwidescreen.
It reveals parts of the eleven minutecenterpiece Way You Are When to be like a giantmachine lumbering into action, immediately flanked bydisembodied children’s choir and pizzicato stringsthat bring parallels to Britten once again.
Listening from a distance often brings a warmambience, with the soundscapes setting the electronicaagainst natural sounds from the forest, as in Protean,or in Belonging, which sounds like objects blowingsoftly in the wind, rather like a Cage piece forprepared piano.
This doesn’t mean the music of Mira Calix isderivative – far from it. And in the words ofPassamonte, Eyes Set has a yellow coloration. It’sin indication of the warmth she brings to her music onthis album, whose natural music proves most rewarding,regardless of the effort the listener wants to putin.