She has toured with Radiohead, performed at Glastonbury, constructed paper palaces, used insects as instrumentation in a piece that still tours the world, and created a singing structure in London that caused Boris Johnson to remark on her ability to wrest “not blood, but music from a stone”. Mira Calix is an artist, composer and performer, known for pieces and installations that integrate music, visuals and structures in her own unique style.
2015 began with Inside There Falls debuting in Sydney. The work saw Calix blend a kilometre of paper, ethereal dancing and a small ensemble of musicians in an immersive, highly sensory art installation. Perhaps this is why the Guardian referred to her as "the Heston Blumenthal of the music world" citing her ability to create "new boundaries, rather than working within old ones". She has won numerous awards, including a British Composers Award and a Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award for her opera, My Secret Heart.
She says she has longed to visit China since she was eight years old. Fitting then that she should be selected to travel to the country in December 2015 as part of the British Council and PRS for Music Foundation’s China Residencies programme, an annual endeavour which sees artists from the UK travel to China to soak up local culture and work with local musicians. Previous participants include Jamie Woon, Imogen Heap, Gareth Bonello, Sam Genders, Arun Ghosh, Matthew Bourne, Anna Meredith, Oliver Coates and Sid Peacock.
Mira took some time out of her preparations for her trip to China to talk to us about the residency …
You’ve said before that you were “infatuated with China” ... what is it that caught your imagination?
"My father travelled a lot to China when I was a child. He used to bring back music and fabric and dolls, all these things that seemed so exotic to me as a kid living in Africa [Calix grew up in South Africa and now resides in Suffolk]. In particular the music - which he’d always play in the car and was unlike anything I’d heard before."
As an artist, what appealed to you and made you apply for this residency?
"I’m so excited about China now. It seems to be a country full of energy and hope and change. Everything is accelerated and invigorated, and they’re finding a new way of being, both within their extensive cultural and industrial heritage and their place in the world."
What do you already know about Chinese music and artwork?
"I know quite a bit about Chinese Contemporary art, which has had a lot of attention the past few years, with artists exhibiting extensively in the U.K. and internationally. I’ve seen quite a lot of work, which I like and recently exhibited my own work alongside Zhang Huan in Sydney. I have to confess I know very little about Chinese music, beyond my father’s collection of traditional music ... My work has travelled there [to China, but] unfortunately, without me, due to other commitments. Most recently I had a mixed media installation exhibited in Beijing and by all accounts it was received well."
What do you expect to be the biggest challenges for you in China?
"Probably the language and food - I’m going to have to traverse the menus in search of vegetarian sustenance! So the same issues I have in any foreign territory. I’m a pretty sturdy and adaptable traveller, so I’m sure I’ll find my way through those issues and I look forward to the new."
Are there things you are particularly looking forward to doing or seeing?
"I am of course interested in China’s rich cultural history but mostly I’m looking forward to seeing how rapid progress and change are being [handled] and finding out more about how contemporary art, the fledgling gallery, museum and concert spaces are being used and embraced by curators and public alike."
What music has particularly inspired you as an artist?
Igor Stravinsky – Firebird
Benjamin Britten – Sea Interludes
Kaija Saariaho – Sept Papillons
My Bloody Valentine – To Here Knows When
Die Antwoord – Rich Bitch
Mira Calix on Soundcloud
Inside There Falls