MIRA CALIX: The Elephant In The Room: 3 Commissions (Warp Records)


Posted on Nov 29th 2008 01:43 am

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Mira Calix: The Elephant In The Room: 3 Commissions

The Elephant In The Room: 3 Commissions
Warp Records 2008
09 Tracks. 56mins46secs

Four years after the first 3 Commissions EP, which collected a handful of site-specific performances recorded at London’s Royal Festival Hall and Barbican Centre, and a piece created for the Museum D’Histoire Naturelle de Geneva in Switzerland, Mira Calix returns to Warp with excerpts of two operas, Elephant & Castle and Dead Wedding, for which Chantal Passamonte was commissioned the music, and two movements of a twenty minutes video installation entitled Memoryofamoment.

For some time, Passamonte’s work has developed from her original overall electronic compositions, based on miniature found sounds collected in the English countryside around her home to incorporate more orchestral forms. This was already the case with the first 3 Commissions release, and was developed further on her 2006 album Eyes Set Against The Sun, on which she collaborated with the Britten Pears Orchestra and a couple of classical vocal formations. For these new pieces, nine in total, Passamonte is more than even weaving electronics, found sounds, including urban noises, a first, into the Elephant & Castle pieces, and orchestral parts. Due to the nature of the operatic compositions, the human voice also occasionally occupies some of the spaces, yet most of the compositions presented here are either instrumental or only incorporate occasional vocals, but on Wedding Bat (Scene 4), it is the human voice that is the focal point for most of the piece, appearing at times stripped of any effect or trickery, and at other layered and more substantial.

The overall aspect of these compositions is extremely minimal, giving the impression that the sound sources have been rationed and dispensed with great parsimony. Hence, each iteration takes a particular dimension, especially on all four Dead Wedding compositions. The fragility of each of these contrast greatly with the overwhelming power of traditional opera, even in its more subdued form, but contributes of to generate a rather different set of emotions. For Dead Wedding, Passamonte relies on extremely delicate and rarefied elements to create a surprisingly effective and dense soundtrack. On The Cord Is Cut (Scene 6) and Death Below (Scene 11), she makes especially good use of found sounds, building a rough canvas upon which she then applies gentle acoustic brushes. Dead Wedding was commissioned to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the genre and was premiered in Manchester last year.

The three pieces taken from Elephant & Castle are bolder. Commissioned by the Aldeburgh Festival and named an area of south London famous from its giant roundabout in the heart of which sits a monstrosity of a shopping centre, painted bright pink, this has a very different context. Passamonte uses car horns on Roundabout, while on Laine, she evokes a similar notion of traffic by weaving layers of viola and cello increasingly tightly. The two extracts from Memoryofamoment are placed side by side and are the most purely musical compositions here. Priority is given to a string quartet, as wonderfully open and vast melodies provide welcome breathing spaces on an otherwise greatly experimental record. Only discreet electronics and found sounds occasionally come disturbing the smooth surface.

With 3 Commissions, or, to be more precise, the commissioned work which was collected on the EP, Chantal Passamonte had already stretched the scope of her project far beyond first couple of records. This second in the series, although not actually working superbly well as an album due to the diversity of the projects, is a further testament of her musical pedigree.


Mira Calix | Warp Records
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