Mira Calix, 1970-2022

Cover of album Absent Origin

Mira Calix, who died in March 2022, was a much cherished contributor to our community. Her given name was Chantal Passamonte, and she was a highly successful electronic musician, composer, and contemporary artist, first known for her role as producer for Warp Records. Her art projects often explored ecological themes, such as Mantis & Bee. Read more about her life and work in this by Jude Rogers

This tribute to Mira is shared on the anniversary of our launch, 3rd April, from those who worked with her on our launch procession in London three years ago and on other projects. For the procession, she composed and designed a score with bells, providing a subtle sonic declaration of emergency.  

Lucy Neal, artist with Walking Forest and founder declarer of CDE

We’d never collaborated with anyone in such a spirited productive dash as with Mira Calix and I’m sad we never will again. She was alive to possibility and working with her was fun. 

We were thrown together at the suggestion of XR’s Tamsin Omond in April 2019. Culture Declares Emergency was to be launched on April 3rd. We had flags, banners, heralds, grass coats, a white horse, letters to the Earth, a route over the river along the South Bank and permission to enter the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern. We needed sound to hold our promenade together as it took to public highways, and over bridges and roads. A sound to help us command attention with silence as much as declaring out loud the need to Act; To Tell The Truth; To Declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency.

Within a day Mira was back in touch ‘I’m thinking bells…..hand held, acoustic…And a digital sound track on a loop, on speakers you can carry or people can download onto their phones’. She was so instant, generous, practical and open.  We had snatched conversations here and there (she was preparing for a large scale project in Brussels). I followed exact instructions for buying memory cards, speakers and small inexpensive silver bells. I’d never collaborated so fast with someone I’d never met!  She was utterly committed to Extinction Rebellion and Culture Declares. I never heard a ‘no but..’, she was an ‘and…and…’ person. Within days, she’d written Sonum Vocis Magnum Parvo’ – translated from the Latin means Small Sound, Big Sound.  And ‘therein lies the voice’ she said ‘voices of people’. 

On a tight schedule, on her way to the Eurostar, she dropped into the National Theatre Studio, wheelie suitcase in tow, to download her soundtrack onto a multitude of memory cards and give the Culture Declares crew a brief but precise rehearsal in walking whilst holding and ringing small silver bells at our sides. And then left as quickly for a prestigious engagement at the Centre For Fine Art in Brussels. She’d gifted us a magic sonic cloud –  for us to perform ourselves as we walked along the Thames to launch Culture Declares, accompanied by the clip clopping sound of the horse’s hooves. 

I was in touch again last Autumn to request we use Sonum Vocis Magnum Parvo as part of Coventry City of Culture’s Walking Forest 2 day Performance Action: 40 women would be carrying a birch tree felled by HS2 through the streets of Coventry – ‘an act of endurance and love for the planet.’

Mira had just launched her album Absent Origin, but was generous with her time all over again. We talked about holding space for grief and loss in the public realm: about lamenting, women’s keening and marking death. We posted late night youtube videos on how to ululate. She wrote a whole new piece, Circling, as a companion to Sonum Vocis Magnum Parvo. She was astute in her understanding of what could work. And it did. Her soundscape filled the streets of Coventry, as we carried the dying birch tree, bearing witness to Earth’s losses one day and celebrating life, and planting seeds of courage the next. She’d added bird song in at the very end of Circling, which played at dusk in the Old Cathedral. Her music felt like a layer of protection and support, emboldening us to bring focus and connection to the two days, walking through a whole city. 

She thanked us for being ‘brilliant humans’. She was the brilliant human: a creative creature with a gifted activist spirit. She thanked us for inviting her, when she was the real gift.  

Go well Mira. May many silver bells ring for you and your big kind heart.

In Mira’s own words

“This score comprises of both an amplified through composed piece of music and accompanying acoustic bells to be performed as a promenade. Shifting, phasing, moving like a sonic cloud. Bells are traditionally used to call communities together, to mark the passing of time, to raise the alarm, I wanted to use these modest handbells, intrinsically a small sound, but when multiplied, the gathering of a small sound makes a big sound. Compassionate, compelling – we will be heard! Sonum Vocis Magnum is a play on words, the literal translation to Latin of Small Sound, Big Sound, but therein lies the voice – voices of the people, culture declares…” 

Mira Calix, about Sonum Vocis Magnum Parvo, written and produced by Mira Calix and Ed Handley

Ackroyd & Harvey, artists and founder declarers of CDE

“Mira with silver bells in each hand, walking purposefully, ringing as she moved. This is the abiding image we hold of Mira Calix. She gave generously of her visionary talent and gifted a mesmerising soundcloud for the launch of Culture Declares Emergency three years ago.  She remains in our thoughts, a luminous woman and artist who understood the power of sound and solidarity. All too soon departed and sadly missed.” 

Kelly Hill (Pawlyn), photographer and founder declarer of CDE

“Mira was an amazing talent and it was truly inspiring to have witnessed her wit and brilliance. I was totally blown away by her creativity and generosity…In the months after the launch she was so encouraging and positive on social media chat…always contributing and making suggestions. Such energy and light…so sad.”

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