commissions news

ode to the future – a collaboration with 6 humans in utero

ode to the future
composition, performance and sound sculpture








In 2018, Merck is celebrating its 350th anniversary. The theme of their celebration is “Always curious – Imagine the next 350 years. Mira Calix has composed two new pieces of music and a performative sound sculpture  drawing her inspiration from data collected from 6 human beings in utero.

to watch the documentary short

ode to the future documentary short

and for a free download of the music head to the Mira Calix Portal




The artwork itself is routed in the sonification of data gathered from the six unborn collaborators who ranged between 14 and 32 weeks in gestation. Working with sonographer Rick Miles from G.E. the unborn babies were individually scanned, the data recorded and then sonified. The process of sonification allowed Calix to map the data to multiple auditory parameters, adding greater context. It is the aesthetic choices made by the artist when interpreting this data that take it beyond the purely scientific realm, and translate it into a musical and visual experience. The original composition for both classical and electronic instrumentation was directly influenced by the sensory experiences and development of the unborn collaborators.

Just as Einstein points out that a Beethoven symphony has no meaning if we simply describe it as a variation of wave pressure, Calix was open to how the nature and intention of this work would be influenced by her collaborators.







Calix has created two compositions, the first: 16 weeks, is routed in the data of the 16 week old participant. The musical arrangement for the large ensemble remains very close to the data generated, with very little repetition and further characteristics that we normally associate with composition. The second work, Ode to the Future, takes a much more impressionistic view. Inspired by the collaborative process, Calix extrapolated melody from the data of a combination of the 6 participants and then built upon this freely using an impressionistic approach.
The accompanying sound sculpture brought the concept full circle. In his book Image, Music, Text, philosopher and theorist Roland Barthes, discusses the limitations of composition when confined to singular context stating that ‘the modern location for music is not the concert hall, but the stage on which the musicians pass, in what is often a dazzling display, from one source of sound to another’. Calix uses these ideas to further demonstrate the fluid and evolutionary nature of music among other time-based mediums. Using (ultra)sound to create a picture (baby scan), she transports data to sound (music) to picture (installation).


“My thought process behind visualising the music composed collaboratively with these ‘future artists’ has taken me back to the fundamentals of sound. In particular the movement of the ultrasound through the body – the simple yet mesmeric echo pattern of the waves, and our remarkable ability to transform those sound waves into image, to see our babies, our potential in the womb. I was inspired by the Ripple Tank, which for many of us was our first encounter with waves, (as children in the science classroom) a moment that sparked curiosity, opening up vistas and new ways of understanding sound. It is my own memory of those experiments and my experiences of nature, that has influenced the process of developing this artwork. It speaks to the foundation of my practice – the consideration of sound as material, as a sculptural form – it’s my desire to harness the movement of water and light to create a new and reactive sound sculpture”.

Artist: Mira Calix
Musicians:  Daniel Pioro – Violin/Eloisa Fleur – Violin /Oliver Wilson -Viola/Clare O’Connell – Cello/ Kathryn Thomas – Flute/ Stuart King – Clarinet Bflat and bass/Sam Wilson – Percussion

Installation Performers: Daniel Pioro/Charmian Bedford
Recorded and Rehearsed: Metropolis Studio/Goldsmiths Studio London
Sound Engineer: Soundintermedia
Fabricator: F. Portante
Sonographer: Rick Miles
Sonification Specialist: Shelly Knotts
Sonification consultants: Nick Ryan/Edward Handley
Musical Director: Daniel Pioro
Amanuensis: Emily Hall
Mira Calix Studio Manager: Alexia Menikou
Production Company: Radical Media
Directors: Builders Club
Commisioner: Merck Group