Into the Music and Mind of Shiva Feshareki
by Jason Noghani
The music of Shiva Feshareki addresses some of the most pressing questions concerning music and culture in our time. She is a highly versatile and diverse composer whose musical output encompasses a wide spectrum of resources and influences ranging from classical music, mid-20th Century experimental electronic music, and electronic dance music genres such as drum n bass and jungle. Her oeuvre includes orchestral music, chamber music, solo instrumental music, conventionally notated music with memorable and sublime harmonies, and cutting-edge electronic music which pushes conventional boundaries to unchartered dimensions.
However, it is unarguable that she is perhaps most in her element and most clearly defined as an artist when working with her trademark turntables, which alone have formidably established her as one of the foremost musical innovators of her generation. The turntables themselves, and the performance practices of which she utilises throughout her performances, are what most accurately describe her both as a musician and as a human being, and the implications underlying this are both mesmerising and profound; something of which is evident when engaged in conversation with Shiva, whose rigorous dedication to her art transcends far beyond the conventions of an archetypal DJ.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of Shiva’s turntabling practices is her ability to make something seemingly outdated remain fresh and relevant in light of the rise of digital technology. Throughout history, musical evolution has been in congruence with material evolution, so the evolution of sound has similarly correlated with technological evolution, hence why digital technology most clearly represents our time, and analogue technology is now perceived in a more specialised and niche manner, despite having been the musical tour de force up until very recently. Shiva’s predilection for analogue technology largely has to do with the quality of the sound produced by vinyl, but also due to the human touch it offers, which largely explains her love of mid 20th Century electro-acoustic music such as Daphne Oram, Eliane Radigue and James Tenney.
These underlying motives seek to address the dehumanising aspect mindlessly produced digital music can create nowadays, and also invite new possibilities for a seemingly outdated musical practice. Shiva’s single-minded and unceasingly innovative approach to her chosen medium is largely inspired by the electronic pioneers of the mid 20th Century, and the techniques she incorporates and even invents for the turntables always produce new and exhilarating outcomes, which sound both relevant today and for times to come. Through this radical approach, she has both reasserted the importance and relevance of early electronic musicians, and emphasised their necessity in musical progress in today’s world. Furthermore, she has also increased the sonic possibilities of the medium whose cultural stereotypes would have posed limitations on less imaginative artists who perform on turntables, and therefore she has helped transform the perception of something once seen as being merely functional to becoming an instrument of colourful and diverse cosmological proportions.
The experimentation does not just end with the turntables however, even though they are integral to Shiva’s musical decisions and underlying musical philosophy. This is evident in her approach to spatialisation, where the acoustic space is treated in a similar manner to the turntables. No two acoustic spaces or two turntabling sets are ever entirely alike, which means new outcomes are inevitable each time a work is performed, as can be seen in her works GABA-Analogue and O; both for turntables and orchestra, and both being made of exactly the same materials, yet programmed and experienced differently due to each being tailored appropriately to the acoustic space of a performance.
Shiva is also one of the few composers to have emerged out of the contemporary classical music establishment, who has addressed issues of a cultural relevance to our time, without pandering to pastiche or kitsch impulses. Having been particularly inspired by electronic dance music and culture (most notably drum n bass and jungle), she has always been involved in dissolving the cultural boundaries between conventional and experimental artistic practices, and subsequently inaugurating the audience of both extremes without a compromise of integrity. Her influences stretch far beyond sole musical inspiration, and fields such as psychoacoustics and cognitive psychology have a considerable impact on the musical decisions she makes. With such consideration of detail, she has been able to subtly invite audiences into situations they may have once been unfamiliar with, and through imaginative means, she is able to create music that stretches the minds and imaginations of listeners. This evolutionary approach to music-making is of seminal importance in our time, in our day and age of sharing information at a previously unforeseen scope, whereby her substantial musical knowledge and innovative practices have exposed larger audience numbers to new musical possibilities at a time where cultural stagnation has made the evolution of music a potential ecological crisis.
One thing that Shiva has managed to achieve beyond most other experimental artists of her generation, has been the emergence of a growing and dedicated fan base surrounding her and her work. Most particularly, she has been a considerable role model for young up and coming female artists, who may not have had the confidence to pursue their art had it not been for the positive influence of artists such as Shiva. Although we live in a time when gender equality is almost rectified in the developed world, there are nonetheless still obstacles to overcome the conditionings and perspectives of a male-dominated past, and it is through the integrity of the work of someone like Shiva that this outdated perception can gradually be laid to rest, as we grow to realise that great art is beyond gender, race and cultural boundaries; something of which is of paramount importance as we emerge in the dawning days of the Aquarian Age.
New Forms, which came out on February 22nd 2019, is the first official release of Shiva Feshareki’s music. The album consists of original material composed specifically for the album, material derived from and remixed from a variety of sources including her own instrumental works, and highlights from a performance that took place in Moscow in the summer of 2018. The underlying principle which defines the record poses several questions regarding particular issues and queries relevant to our time.