Mira Calix is the kind of composer who manages to always be pushing the boundaries of the definition of what music is — while as the same time creating audio/visual compositions that are so lovely to take in that it is possible to forget she is trying to push anything at all and just get lost in her expert blending of light and sound.
When we first heard she was working on a new piece incorporating an MRI machine, we wondered how even the high sorceress of found sound could transform the grating, somewhat terrifying vibrations of getting your brain scanned into something we would want to listen to. Silly us, of course she pulled it off.
You can hear some of the soon to be released orchestral piece above. Calix also talks about how the connection between brain machines and music occurred to her in the first place. She was getting a scan herself, and was overwhelmed by the intensity of the sound.
“How the MRI machine works is that it creates a magnetic field in order to scan your brain, and when it does this it makes this incredible noise, 90 to 120 decibels. So it’s like sticking your head inside an engine,” Calix said. “I did have a brain scan for medical reasons, and the machine makes these incredible sort of rhythmic patterns. That whole experience was very emotional for me because I was there to check if there was something in my brain.”
In the piece, Calix warms the cold mechanical sound of the MRI with the soaring melodies of a string quartet. “One of the things I’m really interested in is how we retain memory of music," she said. "Even when we’ve lost memory – so people with Alzheimers or people with memory loss, but they still remember music. To me that’s so fascinating.”