secrets: hidden london – nothing is set in stone – 21June – 9 September 2012

Composer Mira Calix creates a new musical experience for London 2012 celebrations

Mira Calix’s Nothing is Set in Stone is a musical composition set in a standing stone sculpture at Fairlop Waters in Redbridge on the outskirts of London. The award-winning composer and artist has created the musical sculpture from a striped rock known as Angel Stone (or Gneiss) and has been working with mineralogists from the Natural History Museum to find a way to push sound through the rock – something that is usually difficult to achieve – which brings with it a surprisingly physical experience of music. One has to imagine it passing through different kinds of material – waves passing through solid rock and into the air.
Though Calix’s composition is conceived as an entire piece of music, fragmentary passages will play from within the sculpture when activated by sensors, so that a person approaching it will not be able to hear the piece in its entirety. Calix’s aim is that one should only be able to construct the full score as the different melodic elements are collected together as one moves around it. Cutting edge technology is being used to create both the form and functionality of the musical sculpture. It’s interactivity is subtle, creating unique performance for every visitor, both mysterious and playful.
Nothing is Set In Stone is commissioned by Oxford Contemporary Music and is part of a programme of free events commissioned by the Mayor of London called Secrets: Hidden London, which aims make Londoners as well as visitors look at and experience the city in a new way.
The new work will be embedded into its environment – accentuating and dramatising its location. For passing dog walkers and golfers this surprising intervention into the landscape lends a cinematic quality reminiscent of classic scores, which often rumour, hint and circle around a main theme that is never realised until the closing titles. As the listener hears Nothing is Set in Stone, the melody and composition never meet, they are held within the rock.
This work can be understood within a rich history of experimental artists, such as Steve Reich, Bruce Nauman and Florian Hecker, who have explored the relationship between sound and form, though this work is also related to a recent interest in process-based sound sculpture, in which sculptural form and sound are intrinsically linked.
Calix has drawn on the rock itself, its location, and sounds related to stones and the environments in which they are found – pastoral, and ancient as the sounds of water on stone. Conceived and created together, the stone sculpture in its unusually upright position, and the piece of music are expressions of one another and, like the ever-changing dawn chorus of birds or the rushing of a river, it is embedded in the landscape. Calix has commented that the words of Heraclitus have been important to her in the conception of the piece: ‘Everything changes and nothing remains still… you cannot step twice into the same stream’. This work makes tangible that sense of temporal evolution and performs the passing of time, whilst also making clear that one can never hold the music or the work still or pin it down.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who has initiated the Secrets series as part of a programme of cultural events for summer 2012, comments: ‘In one of the most thrilling years in our city’s history we are going to create a summer like no other, hosting an unprecedented variety of free cultural attractions all across the capital – in high streets, town squares, parks and hidden gems like Fairlop Waters. With this musical sculpture Mira Calix has managed to wrest not blood, but music from a stone, putting the music into rock and creating an exciting new cultural attraction, which I hope will draw visitors as well as locals to the area.’