Music Reviews
Eyes Set against the Sun

Mira Calix Eyes Set against the Sun

(Warp) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

I should be a lot fonder of this album than I am, for personal and musical reasons. Firstly, Mira Calix, pseudonym of the South African ex-pat Chantal Passamonte, formerly Warp's press officer, works round my neck of the woods, the Suffolk coast, quite literally in some cases, given her use of found and natural sounds, often picked up in the coppices and fields of my native county. Secondly, much of this work stems from collaborations based around the Aldeburgh festival, Aldeburgh being perhaps one of my favourite places on earth. She even recorded with the Woodbridge school choir (it's just a few miles from where my grandmother lives, if you need to know). Finally, a couple of years ago Calix was one of the artists who properly introduced me to the links between electronica and classical music with her work alongside the London Sinfonietta as part of the Ether festival.

I've got a fair idea what Suffolk sounds like, you see: quiet, mainly. As you walk out the back of my Nan's house, onto the Drift, you can just make out traffic on the A12 if the wind is blowing the right way. The wind will rustle the leaves as you walk down towards the playing fields, but the gnarled oaks don't move an inch. A man in Wellingtons walking a dog will nod a polite "Hallo" and you'll nod back. Sometimes you can hear George's tractor. Once we get to the other side of the village, down towards Flatford, some rather lonely looking horses whinny quietly; to the left a fat sow squelches muddily in its wet bed.

It's this quiet world that Calix is trying to capture: the pleasure of picking up a solid, felled branch that fits neatly in your hand; the well-drilled but slightly amateurish choir in the local church. Frost cracking under foot. Well, once upon a time, perhaps. But the question is, does this make for good music? Her previous work drew on the innovations of the UK dance music scene and the electric trickery of Warp artists, particular Aphex Twin and Autechre; other artists from the same stable, for example Squarepusher, work by chucking absolutely everything at the tape, creating a monolith of complexity. Suffolk, though, doesn't seem to have enough for Calix.

Things start as we might expect: there are scratchy noises, broken beats, what sound like animals and, of course, the Woodbridge junior school choir, having some possibly illegal things done to their voices. The result? Well, really just that: background noise for an art installation. The Way You Are When encapsulates the problem: at its best it's still no more than a pale imitation of Gavin Bryars' work; at its worst, well, you simply won't notice. Only Umbra/Penumbra really hits the mark and that's very much a return territory already covered in Skimskitta.

I'll try an experiment with this album - synch it to the MP3 player and then sometime over the bank holiday, when I'm next visiting the relatives, walk along the beach at Aldeburgh. As the waves hit the shingle, and in the background the kids scrap over fish and chips, I'll see which soundtrack I prefer. I bet it won't be ESATS: this is a disappointing, half-finished work.