Shiva Feshareki is an internationally acclaimed experimental composer, NTS radio DJ and turntablist. Here she is interviewed by Koichi Samuels for his guest-edited series on The Sampler.
- What disciplinary boundaries do you work across and how do they crossover and interact?
I compose music for a variety of instrumental formations such as orchestras, ensembles, voice, and also my own form of electronic music with methods I’ve slowly sculpted through experimentation with turntables, live-sampling and various other live “in-the-moment” treatments. My acoustic and electronic works are either linked tightly, for example when I merge live electronics and turntables with orchestras, or they are linked loosely, for example when I create a turntable performance based on manipulating and sampling the recording of an orchestral composition I’ve written. Another example is when I spatialise orchestral music and create a sculpture of sound as if it is spinning in space the way a disc spins on a turntable.
I also collaborate with a variety of people from different disciplines to gain a broader perspective. It is the variety of collaborations I’ve had with artists and scientists who are very different to me, that became the initial catalyst for my experimentation. For example, when I collaborate with installation artist Haroon Mirza, I cross into fine art realms with the way I approach sound, or when I improvise with jazzer Kit Downes, it crosses into free jazz in the sense of the methods (as opposed to a jazz ‘sound’).
I often also play in clubs or electronic music festivals which is primarily DJ or producer territory. I also work in music research and academia, with a focus on uncovering a more accurate history of music especially in terms of classical and electronic music, finding music that adds new dimensions and enriches the canon (such as working on the first performance of Daphne Oram’s Still Point written in 1949, which displays the earliest form of live electronics in music, using turntables and orchestra). In this way, my research, compositional practice and turntabling merge, but also I first came across Still Point when I was doing research for an NTS Radio show, so then it merges with my work as a radio DJ too. When I was doing my doctorate in music, I always said that being an NTS Radio DJ was my most significant research method!
I actually cross over into many disciplines and cultures as it is part of my wider curiosity to experiment with methods but also interact with a wider cross-section of cultures and people in order to feed my exploration into perspective and create important cross-dialogues. As an artist, I feel it is really important to think what purpose your work has to the broader relevance of the world. And the idea of perspective has many different angles in my work: I’ve already touched on collaboration, but there’s also sonic perspective in the sense of how I often use pre-existing sonic material and transform that into a variety of forms (my turntabling practice). Or perspectives in terms of how my music engages with space and depth (my acoustic spatialisation techniques). Finally, there’s also perspective in the sense of opinion and dialogue on a social level. They are then all linked because they become a symbol for each other, or strengthen the argument for each other.
What kinds of scenes and venues has your performance work taken you to?
Off the top of my head, Jazz, dance/club cultures, festivals/raves, electronic/noise, classical concert halls/orchestral/ensemble, academia/research/education, psychology/physics, music theatre, fine art, installation, film, opera, even pop. All of it is the more cutting edge or experimental fringes, but the reason for this merging is because I see such an importance in today’s world for communication and bridges. But it is also the output of my work that found me these contexts, and people approaching me who relate to my work: it wasn’t a preconceived plan. Sometimes I am truly stunned to see the sheer variety of people inviting me to be part of their projects or to perform, and understanding how they relate to my work. This fills me with reassurance that I am achieving that connection that I long for. I am constantly being presented with interactions I had not predicted. But also as an experimental artist I feel it is my responsibility to experiment with methods and contexts as well as the sonics or music itself. So I am always re-contextualising and re-thinking, starting from scratch with every project. This is all at the heart of experimental music, and we need to reacquaint ourselves with what it means to write experimental music and its importance to society: it has become a lazy trope.
Additionally, I have found it really inspiring performing in a variety of countries and being able to interact with such a variety of people and cultures, such as artistic hubs in squats in Italy, to fine art or classical music realms in different countries and observing the similarities and differences – it is fascinating and informative for me, and I sculpt my performances based on what I learn about a space or place. When I was performing for the VAC Foundation in Moscow, I felt quite a powerful energy that I can’t really describe, but it fed my performance so much. I am baffled how I even performed the way I did, like I never knew that side of me before. I’d say it was my best performance to date, but incredibly intense.
And then because of these interesting interactions it feeds the music I make in the sense that I start to collage my experiences. For example my composition GABA-analogue at Printworks was informed by the installations I’d make with Haroon Mirza, merging acoustic instruments, voice, video glitch, LEDs and sculpture (I scattered the orchestra around the space in an octaphonic cube). GABA-analogue was also informed by my training and experience in orchestral composition. Then in the centre of the piece there’s a kind of “dance music break” where I use turntable-improvisation and it is in a club, so you see all the links and explorations coming together. The interactions come in the form of process and method and playing with context: I’d never arbitrarily mashup a variety of styles, and I try not to engage with organisations or people who try to “market” something like this: the thoughtlessness of it all ruins everything. I am very academic, and this is because there is nothing more precious than education, after good health and wellbeing.
With the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, I was giving the world premiere performance of Daphne Oram’s Still Point, and this was an interesting dialogue because Oram composed this visionary piece in 1949 when working at the BBC Proms as a mix engineer, and the techniques of using discs and turntables with orchestra was informed by her work here. This composition is so undeniably important to 20th Century Music history yet was left unperformed for so long. It felt very important that contextually it was premiered at the BBC Proms…. just 70 years later than when it was meant to be.
Your practice doesn’t conform to disciplinary definitions, it’s experimental with technology and musical structures and styles. Can you share you thoughts on any political or conceptual considerations underpinning your work?
It’s all about the importance I see in creating dialogue and communication, to create understanding, or at least demonstrate the challenges and complexities of it. That’s why I experiment with contexts and styles. I also experiment with how I present my work, for example, I create live compositions on the spot for my NTS Radio shows, and I use the technology for the radio broadcast (turntables, CDJs, talk-microphone), as my instruments. This is because I want to invite the listeners into the process of my music and the insight and perspective that can bring, not just presenting a polished form where the musician controls what is presented. I am happy for my music to be a mess sometimes, if it means I am not hiding the truth, or controlling the information, albeit sonic information. It is symbolic too. Furthermore, the turntabling techniques that I have created for myself have grown over time with this in mind, for example, transforming pre-existing music on vinyl into different perspectives and basically exploring the sonic dimensions of an already existing idea, in as many forms as I can. But I am also manipulating sonic information, so what does that mean? It is a demonstration of a wider social commentary. It also comes down to being truly experimental and understanding the importance of re-shaping and re-thinking models which exist in a strive to move forward, to develop and make breakthroughs… this is the heart of experimental music, we must not forget what it means to create experimental music. It is not a sound world, it is not a genre, it is a responsibility.
What’s coming up next for you?
So much! But I will focus on a few of them for now: Going to do a turntabling performance at PLX Translunar Festival on a small island in Sweden, which is my last electronic music festival of the summer, before I start on work for a commission by the BBC Concert Orchestra: a piece for Turntables and Orchestra for the London Jazz Festival at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. A new string quartet of mine will be performed in a tour of planetariums with the Ligeti Quartet, next month. I am also releasing an album of my turntabling experiments, like a variety of snapshots into my electronic deconstructions. It’s called NEW FORMS and is being released on RESIST, a Belfast-based club music label.