Ask most electronic producers about their hardware choices, and you'll typically hear a rundown of keyboards, laptop devices, plug-ins and programs. But some bolder souls manage to carve out sounds on their own turf — literally. Mira Calix favors rocks. That's right: rocks, stones, pebbles, boulders. Whatever this former publicist could get her hands on is what she used on her second full-length Warp release, Skimskitta (2003).
“I used a lot of stones on Skimskitta,” Calix says from her home in the Suffolk, England, countryside. “Just banging them on wood. Stones against each other or on wood or walls or throwing them around or putting them in a bag or standing on them. They are special to me, but they are not special stones. They are from the beach here in Sussex.”
Like the Prickle (Warp, 2001) EP before it, Skimskitta is alive with nature sounds whirling against a balmy breeze of ambient keyboards, farting trolls, creaking trees, disguised guitars, ethnic stringed instruments and the rupturing cacophony of old Roland drum machines. “I make a lot of the sounds myself and put them down using a sampler and a Mac G4,” she explains. “I don't have lots of posh gear. When you start talking gear, sometimes people put too much emphasis on what you are using; they are just tools. Saying that, I have a Roland SH-101 that is really cranky and moody that I love. It does lots of odd things, often at the wrong moment. I like having old boxes like the Korg MS-20, too. Those are my favorites because they are so quirky. It is like my Fender Stratocaster guitar: It is very standard.”
Calix counts Aphex Twin's Richard D. James, Jimi Tenor and Seefeel's Mark Clifford among her best friends, but her sound is her own. Her 2000 Warp debut, One on One, and previous EPs Llanga (Warp, 1996) and Pin Skeeling (Warp, 1998) bubbled with ambient-glitch fare, but Skimskitta is a more personal vision. With its sparse arrangements and gentle mood, Skimskitta is as joyous as a voyage to Bali on the Kontiki but as meditative as an orbiting Skylab flight.
How to arrive at a singular, colorful sound that you can call your own? Calix believes in the DIY method — whatever the cost. “I learned on my own,” she says. “I am one of those people who reads the manuals, which was really boring and awful and so unclear. I thought I had to make my own mistakes and really learn things. I made a point of taking things very slowly, and I started off with only two pieces of gear: I had a Roland R8 drum machine and a Power Mac 6100 computer, which eventually just blew up. I wrote my first album with that, and I can't believe it now. I was doing a remix, and I pressed record, and it exploded. It went bap! And, literally, smoke came out. It was bizarre — the computer just died. It didn't fade away; it just popped. I was in tears: My baby!”