Creators of the Future: Do you feel that you and your contemporaries have intertwined technology and art to the extent that they are inseparable?
Mira Calix: I think that’s a fake notion. They both have this “looking for the new” aspect to them, but I also think both are much more than that. Artists can become so technology-based simply because of its existence. It’s the same in anything you do; if you remove everything but the technology, there’s nothing there. Technology is ultimately just a tool.
OK, but technology plays such an important role in your work. Is it necessary for artists and musicians such as yourself to keep up with the latest technological advances?
It’s important for me. I admire someone who does a craft or does something by hand without using technology. But for me, when I’m making music, I don’t have any other way to do it. My computer becomes an instrument, just like the 300-year-old cello sitting next to it. And that’s quite lovely.
Still, it must be more exciting for you because they nailed the cello 300 years ago. Computers are still evolving on a day-to-day basis.
Yes, and the fact I’m using a particular computer as an instrument means it’s already obsolete—there’s already something more powerful around the corner. There’s a constant chase to get something bigger and better and faster. And that’s the difference between the two machines: theirs is perfect the way it is whereas mine is constantly evolving.
Is there an aspect of one-upmanship among electronic musicians? Are people constantly bragging about their computers or new software?
Oh yeah! But I think we’ve been somewhat brainwashed into that. I wrote my first album nine years ago with less memory than my mobile phone has, and I can’t figure out how I did it. It’s constantly evolving.
A lot of your work seems to focus on marrying natural sounds with digital trickery.
Yeah, I did my second album, Skimskitta, using mostly pebbles. The beaches here are all pebbles, so I was able to experiment a lot and make loads of sounds. Then I processed them until they no longer sound like pebbles anymore. The speed, shape, and size of pebbles all affected the sound. I would record this very natural sound, then process it, and then use technology to make it into something else. Often they ended up unrecognizable from the original source sample. It is that process that makes something so simple become music.
How did you get the idea to mix up electronic production with organic sounds?
The reason I started this process was because I had very little equipment, very little money, and all of these noises are free. I’m not a purist in any way; if it sounds better I’ll use a drum machine, but I’m also not afraid to use the twig. Sometimes the twig is great because you have one distinctive sound that is all yours. It’s about using the technology to execute the thing you’re trying to do.
Now you’re playing with orchestras. Have you experienced resistance from those who play traditional instruments?
When I’m playing with orchestral musicians I’ll be on my laptop, with my face lit up in blue, tapping away. But people are really accepting of me using a computer. They’ve been exposed to computers enough that they accept it as an instrument.