Mira Calix, who died suddenly at the age of 52, was a composer, electronic musician and installation artist who began working for independent record labels and hosting club nights in the experimental outback of the 1990s rave scene. Upon arriving in the UK from South Africa in 1991 (then known as Chantal Passamonte), she made connections and changes in the music world.
In 1996, she released her first album, the EP Ilanga, for Warp Records, becoming one of the first female artists to be signed to the label. She rose to prominence in 2003 when the London Sinfonietta premiered her work Nunu at the Royal Festival Hall, as part of the Warp Works/20th-Century Masters concert, a collaboration that was instrumental for her and the label in the expansion beyond electronics. From then on, Calix was unconstrained by the medium, creating works of sculpture, spoken word and conceptual art as well as musical composition and performance.
Nunu – for which Calix used the sounds of insects recorded and live on stage as part of the performance – was his first commissioned piece for orchestra. She went on to produce theater and opera, including the multimedia opera Elephant and Castle (2007) with composer Tansy Davies (and libretto by Blake Morrison), for the Aldeburgh Festival, and Dead Wedding, a remake of the Orpheus myth with puppets, commissioned by Opera North for the 2007 Manchester International Festival.
For the Sydney Festival in 2015 she created the installation Inside There Falls, a vast maze of rustling paper providing an immersive experience of music, voice and dance, and in 2017 she composed scores for the Royal Shakespeare Company productions of Julius Caesar and Coriolanus. With each commission or collaboration, she has produced intellectually rigorous, politicized yet accessible works that have reached wide audiences.
Perhaps his biggest audience came with his Armistice Day 2018 sound art accompanying Tom Piper’s Beyond the Deepening Shadow installation at the Tower of London, in which thousands of flames were lit. in the moat. It is a complex composition centered on a choral piece, set to a poem by war poet Mary Borden, illustrating the fragile and ephemeral nature of social and political alliances.
However, Calix never left his roots in underground club culture and continued to DJ around the world, while releasing records filled with echoes of his early years in the farthest nightclubs of London and also struggling with the new club sounds. His latest album, originally absent, was released at the end of 2021.
Calix was born and raised in Durban, daughter of Gabriele and Riccarda Passamonte. They were a middle-class, liberal family with English and Italian heritage, and they grew up learning ballet and immersing themselves in jazz and classical music — she credited her Zulu nanny for her commitment. Politics.
She moved to London to study photography, fleeing a culture that had been stifled by apartheid and international sanctions. Her favorite music at the time was the experimental indie rock bands Spacemen 3 and “shoegaze”, and in 1993 she found work as a publicist for the independent label 4AD.
She was also immersed in the electronic music scene, working behind the counter at the Ambient Soho record store in Berwick Street, booking numbers for the chill-out room at the psychedelic rave night Megatripolis and hosting squat parties in Brixton. She became a member of the Telepathic Fish collective, which held 14-hour ambient sessions; her first DJ gigs were under the name “Chantal Telepathic Fish”.
In 1994, she became publicist at Warp Records and began a relationship with the label that would last the rest of her life. When her first tracks came out in 1996, there was no career plan to be a musician – she considered herself a DJ – and it would take her two years before her next single, and two more after that before she could. make an album.
But this album, One on One (2000), was an extraordinary work, and marked the arrival of a serious creative force. Unfortunately, in the then male-dominated electronic world, she did not receive accolades from contemporaries Warp Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada and Autechre, with some fans accusing her of not making her own music (she was married to at the time to Sean Booth of Autechre – they later separated). The album Skimskitta followed in 2003 and Eyes Set Against the Sun in 2007.
After the Sinfonietta collaboration in 2003, Calix began to branch out. She toured with Radiohead in 2000 and continued to DJ, but she also built installations in tunnels and churches, exploring what it meant to be a hearing, seeing and feeling body in these spaces. For Opera North, with United Visual Artists, she created Chorus (2009), an audio-visual installation of light and sound emitting clocks, presented first at the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds, then at Durham Cathedral.
Nothing Is Set in Stone, for the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, was an interactive sound sculpture at Fairlop Waters Park in Ilford. It took the form of an egg-shaped cluster of “singing stones” (activated by the presence of people) whose music emanating gave instant pleasure and evoked an ancient mystery. The ease with which Calix explained her ideas and the same easy kindness that had allowed her to network so quickly upon arriving in London made her adept at navigating the art world.
Her records and artwork buzzed with the pleasure principle, and she was often found dancing at shows. Her latest album was both joyful and full of righteous anger, and showed her as creatively invigorated as she had ever been.
She is survived by her partner, visual artist Andy Holden, her mother Gabriele and her sister, Geneviève.