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Lim_Liza_original photo by Klaus Rudolf.

Liza Lim


Sex Magic (2020)

for contrabass flute with live electronics and installation of kinetic instruments 


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Liza Lim (b.1966, Australia)

Liza Lim is an Australian composer whose music focusses on collaborative and transcultural practices. Ideas of beauty, ecological connection and ritual transformation are ongoing concerns in her compositional work. Her four operas: The Oresteia (1993), Moon Spirit Feasting (2000), The Navigator (2007) and Tree of Codes (2016), and the major ensemble work Extinction Events and Dawn Chorus (2018) explore themes of desire, memory, and the uncanny. Her genre-crossing percussion ritual/opera Atlas of the Sky (2018), is a work involving community participants that celebrates the emotional power and energy dynamics of crowds. 


Liza Lim has received commissions from some of the world’s pre-eminent orchestras and ensembles including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Ensemble Musikfabrik, ELISION, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern, Klangforum Wien, International Contemporary Ensemble and Arditti String Quartet. She was Resident Composer with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2005 & 2006. Her orchestral cycle Annunciation Triptych (2019-21) is jointly commissioned by the BBC SSO, Bavarian Radio Orchestra, Westdeutscher Rundfunk orchestra and Orchestre de la Philharmonie de Luxemburg. Other projects include Sex Magic (2020), for flautist Claire Chase, and quartets for Sigma Projects and JACK Quartet. Her music has been featured at the Spoleto Festival, Miller Theatre New York, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Venice Biennale and at all the major Australian festivals. Lim is Professor of Composition and inaugural Sculthorpe Chair of Australian Music at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Her music is published by Casa Ricordi Berlin and on CD labels Kairos, Hat Art, HCR and Winter & Winter.



Program Notes

Sex Magic (2020) is a work about the sacred erotic in women’s history. 

This is a work about an alternative cultural logic of women’s power as connected to cycles of the womb – the life-making powers of childbirth, the ‘skin-changing’, world-synchronizing temporalities of the body, and the womb centre as a site of divinatory wisdom and utterance. 

  1. Pythoness

  2. Oracles
    i. Salutations to the cowrie shells

    ii. Womb-bell

    iii. Vermillion - on Rage (for contrabass flute, pedal bass drum, Aztec ‘death whistle’)

    iv. Throat Song (for ocarina & voice)

    v. Moss - on the Sacred Erotic

    vi. Telepathy (silent meditation)

  3. Skin Changing

  4. The Slow Moon Climbs



Relates to the Pythia, Ancient Greek name for the high priestess of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, also known as the Oracle of Delphi. At this seat of prophecy, the pythoness or priestess entered a trance in order to channel the voice of the Divinity. More generally, a ‘woman with the power of prophecy.’


Oracle, (Latin oraculum from orare, ‘to pray’, or ‘to speak); divine communication delivered in response to a petitioner’s request. Oracles were a branch of divination but differed from the casual pronouncements of augurs by being associated with a definite person or place.

Cowrie shells

Cowrie shells have been widely circulated as a form of currency, particularly in the Arabic and African worlds taking on a raft of symbolic meanings including associations with fertility and pregnancy. Amongst their many uses, cowries have been employed in rituals for increase, for divination and healing, as amulets to ward off the evil eye, to pay for the passage of the dead, in dowries and love magic.


The womb chakra – creation energy of the Divine Mother.


Vermillion (usually spelled ‘vermilion’ but this more uncommon spelling is used to emphasise a sense of an outpouring of innumerable forces)

Deep scarlet-orange colour originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar (mercury sulphide). Costly and highly toxic due to the mercury content, it has been widely used in the decorative arts in Ancient Rome and in India, in European mediaeval illuminated manuscripts and Renaissance paintings and in the art and lacquerware of China. In Chinese culture, this intense red is associated with blood, life force and eternity.


Connected to the pure primal power of the great destroyer Goddess, Kali.


Aztec ‘death whistle’

Double-chambered skull-shaped clay whistle that produces a howling or screaming sound. Archaeological studies associate the instrument with Aztec sacrificial, death and war rituals.


Seat of communication, creativity and truth-telling.


‘Vessel flute’ often made of clay used in both Mesoamerican and Chinese cultures.


The ‘amphibians of the plant world’, ‘mosses and other small beings issue an invitation to dwell for a time right at the limits of ordinary perception’. True intimacy involves an intertwining cross-modal sensory exchange.


See: Robin Wall Kimmerer. Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Oregon State Uni. Press, 2003.


Sacred Erotic

Connected to Tantric practice in which sexual energy is cultivated as a pathway to the Sacred.



Direct communication between people involving extrasensory perception.



Taught as a component of Vipassana (‘insight’) mediation, Metta is a practice of opening up a capacity for loving kindness, directing this love to ourselves and radiating it to others.

For instructions for this meditation, see:


Skin Changing

I was intrigued to read various ‘myths of matriarchy’ which tell of the original usurpation of women’s power by men. Women’s power in these stories is not primarily focussed on their life-giving role as mothers but rather, on menstruation and women’s ability to synchronise their cycles with each other and with the moon. Stephen Hugh-Jones in his ethnography of the Barasana of northwest Amazonia says, ‘women are semi-immortal: through menstruation, they continually renew their bodies by an internal shedding of skin’ (1979). During menstruation and childbirth, women come into the most intimate contact with the mysterious ‘skin-changing’, season-changing, rain-making and life-making cosmic powers.

See: article by Camilla Power,


The Slow Moon Climbs

A line from Tennyson’s Ulysses and the title of a book which looks at the science, history and cultural meanings of menopause. The book examines the ‘grandmother hypothesis’ which asserts the importance of post-reproductive women and female wisdom to human evolution. See: Susan Mattern. The Slow Moon Climbs. Princeton Uni. Press, 2019.


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