Album: MIRA CALIX – The Elephant in the Room: 3 Commissions (Warp WARPCD169 2008)


I’ve been a fan of Mira Calix aka Chantal Passamonte ever since her first couple of albums. Her brand of home-listening electronica fitted well into the Warp brand, but perhaps wasn’t distinctively hers enough to really stand out.

The Elephant in the Room is a long way from those earlier Warp-works. It’s a collection of nine pieces taken from three separate commissions. The programming is mixed up, so the three works don’t sit together. I’m not sure why – it doesn’t really make that much difference either way.

There are three pieces taken from Elephant and Castle, written by Mira Calix and Tansy Davies, and performed at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2007. “Roundabout” and “Bowling4Strings” both juxtapose a string quartet with mashed up field recordings of, respectively, car horns and traffic noise, and the hubbub of a bowling alley. The third extract, “Laine”, is a lengthy cello piece played by Oliver Coates. All three are interesting, but rather coldly experimental tracks.

In the middle of the CD, the two parts of Memoryofamoment, an installation piece, are collaborations with cellist Coates. Both are fragile, emotional and longing, with bird song and the sound of wind in grass adding to the feeling of summers lost.

The final commission is Dead Wedding, created as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations of Claudio Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo. The four extracts presented here are the most extreme in mood and sound. “Wedding List” has a delicate, ghostly dissonance about it, but then ends with an unexpectedly lovely viola and cello coda. “The Cord Is Cut” drowns the strings with radio static and hiss, whilst “Death Below” sounds precisely like incidental music from a piece of experimental theatre – which is what it is. The twelve minute “A Ribbon Forgotten” is the real gem. Rich and varied, Amy Freston’s soprano lights up the first half while the second is dominated by the doleful clarinet of Peter Sparks. It’s a stunning piece of music.

In some ways, The Elephant in the Room is a bit of a hodge-podge. The music wasn’t originally created to be heard in this way. Not all of it is strong enough to stand outside of its original setting. Some, though, is utterly beguiling. The whole works well as an album because the weaker pieces act almost like bridges between the stronger material, some of which is among the best stuff that Mira Calix has put her name to.

1 Roundabout 4:43
2 Wedding List (Scene 4) 5:04
3 Bowling4strings 8:06
4 The Chord Is Cut (Scene 6) 5:06
5 Memoryofamomentcertain 1:59
6 Memoryofamomentlost 4:12
7 Death Below (Scene 11) 4:32
8 Laine 10:12
9 A Ribbon Forgotten (Scene 12) 12:56



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