Frank Bowling at the Tate Britain

by Jason Noghani

When I decided to write about the Frank Bowling exhibition at the Tate Britain in London, my assumption was that it was going to be a relatively short article, where I would talk about the Guyana-born British artist’s work and the various influences that inspired him, although when I arrived at the exhibition, I immediately knew that there would be a lot more to say. An artist as stylistically diverse as Picasso, with a life and charisma as colourful as the vibrant and ecstatic works he has created, the challenge now is to make sure I don’t write too much given that each of the works on display were a universe unto themselves.

Silver Birch (No Man, No Vote) (1985)
Beggar No.6 (1963)

Frank Bowling was born in Guyana (then British Guyana) in 1934, and moved to London in 1953 where he eventually studied at the Royal College of Art alongside artists such as David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj. However, particularly unlike the former, his name remains relatively foreign outside of artistic circles, as his single minded and uncompromising approach focused on genuine expression rather than on kitsch or fashionable fads that seduced many of his contemporaries. However, history has shown how the greatest artists either receive recognition posthumously or later on in life, and in response to the notion “better late than never,” it feels as if Bowling’s time in the sun has finally arrived. Furthermore, Bowling continues to furiously paint every day at 85 years young, which means we shall continue to be blessed with these miraculous creations for the foreseeable future.

Initially, I only wanted to focus on roots and culture and did not want to bring the discussion of race into this article, given that our pandering to identity politics and political correctness has limited the actuality of individual potential, and due to the fact that art transcends all the limitations and boundaries that human beings impose upon one another. However, I realised that this would not be case given the various issues Bowling had to contend with in his lifetime, such as living in New York in the 1960s at a time when racial tensions and discrimination were prevalent, and having to make his mark as an artist in a predominantly white society less tolerant than ours today; thereby making the issue of race integral to his creative impulses. In his own words, “I feel very political about a lot of issues, and I’m certainly political about what it means to be an artist, an artist who happens to be Black” (read also “Music is Art because it’s Political”).

Mirror (1964-66) (L) | Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman (1968) (R)

However, what was on display was not mere political art with overt propagandist messages. The political reactions merely served as impulses to create something that transcended the limitations of political dialectic, whereby the soil of the brutal past and disconcerting present blossoms into the wondrous, utopian future, of which in itself is an abstraction; the ideological foundations become a vibrant expression of free thought so to speak. Bowling’s penchant for abstract expressionism becomes the ideal vehicle for actualising this; the subversive political undertones of which are made even more explicit by the fact that he began utilising abstract expressionist techniques at a time when its popularity was fading. Truly a singular and unique figure, who confronted that which afflicts many, and transfigured it into something truly authentic; an empowering lesson for our time!

Middle Passage (1970)

The art was displayed in nine rooms in chronological order, roughly categorising Bowling’s life as an artist into nine phases. Several works paid homage to the artists that inspired him throughout his career, such as Jackson Pollock (e.g. Silver Birch [No Man, No Vote], a work which was also made in reaction to the apartheid practices of then-South Africa), Francis Bacon (Mirror), and Barnett Newman (Who’s Afraid of Barney Newman), and made these influences apparent in his work, although it became quite clear that his work became more unlike anything else as time progressed. Bowling was also vividly inspired by his native Guyana and African heritage (e.g. Beggar No.6), as could be seen by the use of the maps of Africa and South America in his map paintings, and the distinct, effervescent colour palettes that he utilises.

Tony’s Anvil (1975) (L) | At Swim Two Manatee (1977-8) (R)

To provide a thorough overview of what is on display would not serve justice to what one could see, as words cannot merely express the awe-inspiring experiences that these paintings aroused, in the same way that the exhibition merely scratched the surface of the true testament to Bowling’s achievements. In short, the political impulses and exotic colour schemes remained integral throughout his artistic career, although his earlier works were predominantly motivated by figurative practices (all however with hints of what was yet to come!).

However, by the late 1960s following his stint in New York, his work became exclusively abstract, commencing with the map paintings (e.g. Middle Passage, a work that perhaps epitomises Bowling’s work more than anything else, given that the middle passage refers to the journey millions of African slaves endured during the height of colonialism), followed by the poured paintings (a technique whereby paint is poured onto a canvas, resulting in images that reflect geological phenomena, such as Tony’s Anvil), a period of atmospheric paintings aptly curated as Cosmic Space (e.g. At Swim Two Manatee), a period where he utilised various materials on canvas to create uneven textures such as beeswax and children’s toys (e.g. Spreadout Ron Kitaj, my personal favourite of the exhibition – a work which I continue to frequently think about and perhaps will continue to do so for quite some time!), and the later periods (rooms 7 to 9 of the exhibition) which have seemingly refined and synthesised all that preceded it, and where some of his very best work has been created (e.g. 1991’s Girls in the City, and the most recent entry with 2018’s Wafting).

Girls in the City, 1991

Bowling himself made an appearance during my visit, which made everything feel even more alive than it already was! A powerful presence, his personality filled the entire room, and as he evocatively spoke about each work to the cadre of people surrounding him, he spoke in a tender yet commanding tone that had a magnetic effect on all who were there. I had the privilege of briefly meeting him, and he kindly gave me permission to take his photograph (the one used here), although I did not want to disturb him given that he was already devoting his attention to several people. However, I hope he gets a chance to read this article, and would accept the request for an interview with LTTW in the not too distant future; it would be a great honour!

Spreadout Ron Kitaj (1984-86)

There’s barely any time left before this incredible exhibition comes to an end on August 26th. Any art enthusiast who is in London until then is strongly urged to see it before it ends – your experience will be soul enrichening!

Wafting (2018)

 

(JN)

 

Art Through the Two Eras of Indonesia, A Look at Dunia Dalam Berita

By Bramantyo Indirawan

Indonesia’s political history can be summed up in three eras; Old Order, New Order, and Reformation. The date was 21 May 1998 when President Soeharto stepped down from power and the New Order or famously known as Orde Baru was replaced by Reformation or Reformasi that brought promises and new light to the nation.

The transition and aftermath of Orde Baru was immortalized through multiple mediums with art being one of them. Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (MACAN) in Jakarta, Indonesia created an exhibition regarding this particular issue from 01 May to 21 July 2019 titled Dunia dalam Berita.

Taken from an Indonesian news show made by the state-owned television station TVRI, it used to be played every day during Orde Baru time of reign and lingered on to those who watched it. Artists Agus Suwage, FX Harsono, Heri Dono, I Gak Murniasih, I Nyoman Masriadi, Krisna Murti, Mella Jaarsma, S. Teddy D., the group Taring Padi, and Tisna Sanjaya showcased their works that tried to tackle issues in Indonesia from the end of Orde Baru to the start of Reformasi that still continue until the present day.

Two generation of artists from Dunia dalam Berita that can be translated as ‘World in the News’ shared their works that signify the social and political conditions of Indonesia’s transformation. Repression and limitations of creativity are present in the Orde Baru, which is why most of the art was created or shown after 1998 when Orde Baru was finally abolished.

Tisna Sanjaya (second from the left) and Mella Jarsma (right from Tisna) with guests and Museum MACAN staff.

Mella Jarsma, said to Listen to the World that when Orde Baru was still in reign, she didn’t want to exhibit her political art and only limited herself to anthropological works.

“In the era of Soeharto, who am I as a Dutch to criticize,” said the woman in front of her creations including Shameless Gold IV (2002) that presents a woman standing still in a gold colored costume.

Shameless Gold IV and a refugee costume in the background by Mella Jarsma.

When the dawn of Reformasi created democratization and accepts globalization, Mella began creating and exhibiting her more political works. On the third of July 1998, she made her first political art titled Pribumi Pribumi, a performance art that cooked and served people frogs for free in the streets.

“I use food as a way of communication . . . to open up a dialogue about what happen to the Chinese people living in Indonesia. I use frog legs because it is a Chinese food and it’s unclean for Indonesian Muslim,” said Mella on the performance video that was also shown at Museum MACAN.

There are a few works that was created before 1998 in the exhibition, one of them is the 1992 titled Hoping to Hear From you Soon by Heri Dono that depict expressive and wild figures that tried to communicate with each other. Bermain Catur (1994-1998) also showed similar figure, but with little characters that has faces similar to powerful people in Indonesia.

A figure similar to Soeharto in Bermain Catur (1994-1998) by Heri Dono.

Indeed, the majority of the art that shown in Dunia dalam Berita is made or presented after the collapse of Orde Baru. Freedom of expression burst out when Reformasi created spaces for them, but when repression is at the highest level, there are those who still fearlessly create art as criticism—along with its own cost and consequences.

Although we didn’t find a case similar to the poster child for criticism through art in a regime of repression like the one that happened in Germany.

In the 1930s, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party spread its beliefs in Germany that eventually took charge in the country. A man with the name of Helmut Herzfeld or John Heartfield (1891-1968) is a courageous artist that criticized an era of repression. Creating photomontage art pieces such as Adolf, der Ubermensch (1932) that depicts Hitler orating with an x-ray showing gold coins in his esophagus, and Göring: Der Henker des Dritten Reichs (1933) that showed Nazi German leader Hermann Göring as a butcher that wielded an axe with blood all over it.

In April, the paramilitary organization Schutzstaffel or SS attempted to assassinate John Heartfield, although he left Berlin and moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia. The man who was number five on the Gestapo’s most wanted list moved again to England in 1939 and finally settled in East Berlin for the remainder of his life.

In Dunia dalam Berita, the largest work that can be seen when walking through the exhibition is a rather huge art installation by Tisna Sanjaya titled Visit Indonesian Years (1999). It seemingly mocked Indonesian tourism through the past conflict and repression.

The props that represent Indonesian army and the International Force of East Timor (INTERFET) was burned not on purpose by the artist, but by people who think it mocked the army in 2003 at Bandung. “In court, Satuan Polisi Pamong Praja think the art was trash and the mayor of Bandung Dada Rosada think that the work has no ethics,” said Tisna in front of his work.

Tisna Sanjaya criticism to the past eras with Visit Indonesian Years (1999)

Although Orde Baru was abolished, the shadow of an era still exists in Reformasi through cases like Tisna. We beg the question of ethics, is it wrong to expose the dark past in Indonesia? How can we grow if we do not acknowledge our roots, bad and good, all of them that shaped the here and now?

Krisna Murti’s Makanan Tidak Mengenal Ras (1999)

Other works that can be seen in the exhibition includes a war machine named Viva La Muerte (2000) by S. Teddy D. (1970-2016) and a purple room filled with the same toilets but different food drawings in the bowl by Krisna Murti titled Makanan Tidak Mengenal Ras (1999). Seeing the past and making sense of the present, Dunia dalam Berita invites everyone to see art works that tried to define the two eras and the transition in Indonesia.

*Featured image: Viva La Muerte (1999) by S. Teddy D.

(BI/JN)

A “Tribute” to 2019 Ocean Day

By Bintang Perkasa

Today, summoning pop culture to respond to many of our current issues is perhaps one of the best ways to get us together to answer major problems such as internal and external conflicts, overpopulation, war on plastic, rising ocean level, and on top of it all is our comprehension toward these problems. Movie series ‘Game of Thrones’ and box office ‘Avengers: End Game’ (to name a few) wrapped these issues excellently.

Perhaps the most similar thing both stories have shared was to travel to the past. Yes. To comprehend issues around us (to predict and find solutions) is not only about looking forward towards the future, but also to look back to where we were and contemplate what we have done so far. After all, our history is related one way or another.

Game of Thrones: End Game | 2019 | by Bintang Perkasa, Rhendi Rukmana and M.R. Rizkiawan

Hostages | 2019 | by Bintang Perkasa, Rhendi Rukmana and M.R. Rizkiawan

Soulmate | 2019 | by Bintang Perkasa, Rhendi Rukmana and M.R. Rizkiawan

Stockhausen – In Light of our Time

By Jason Noghani

The music of Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) occupies a certain (sacred) space in our time. Stockhausen was unique in the postwar avant-garde, in that there is no simple way to categorise him, given that he was a truly single-minded figure who unceasingly reinvented his practices to continuously discover new possibilities in music. His contributions to electronic music have been unparalleled, given that not only did he pioneer several techniques that required new technological demands (were it not for him, surround sound and the synthesiser would not have come into fruition), but that he also searched for new ways of experiencing music thanks to the possibilities that technology opened up, and used this as a medium for connecting to the divine. His music has inspired countless numbers of revered artists, including The Beatles, Miles Davis, The Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Bjork, Sonic Youth, Aphex Twin, and pretty much the whole of the electronic dance music scene (most particularly psytrance when the psychedelic and spiritual elements of Stockhausen are acknowledged!), which has blessed him with the title of “Papa Techno!”

Nowadays however, Stockhausen is relatively unknown in relation to the impact he bore, and amongst many who know of his name largely just remember him for the contributions he made to electronic music. However, the true testament to Stockhausen’s greatness lies in what he was able to do with sound, as his rigorous explorations with electronic music drove him to devise new possibilities for harmony, rhythm, time and structure, all of which are in congruence with the organic properties inherent within synthesised sound. The end result is a music that directly corresponds to the charismatically fractal patterns of nature within the cosmos. A music that feels so astonishingly far ahead of its time yet also feels as if it always existed. A music that one would either admit was utterly incredible, or that it would fly over their heads given that its alien complexities were beyond comprehension by conventional standards. Indeed, it is by conventional standards that Stockhausen’s music is misunderstood, given that we are heavily conditioned by our upbringing, our environments, our musical education, our experiences, our beliefs, our understanding of music etc., which would mean that only a modest number of people would genuinely cherish it. Those who wholeheartedly do however, act as gatekeepers of holy secrets, given the revelatory nature of what they had just experienced.

By no means easy listening, Stockhausen’s music challenges the listener to open themselves up to new possibilities within and outside of themselves, and the result is rewarding beyond comprehension. The alchemical transfusion of art and science of the highest standard create transcendental and divine experiences, that open up states of consciousness that reflect those described and experienced through the major religions. Indeed, Stockhausen was a visionary as an artist, scientist and spiritualist, and the harmonious amalgamation of this triangulation was deeply rooted in all of his musical creations.

Stockhausen in Kyoto in 1977. Photo courtesy of Suzanne Stephens

The spiritual aspect of Stockhausen is what critics scrutinised him most for, what the media misinterpret most, and what the majority of people misunderstand him most for. He was always open about his beliefs and experiences, and consequently this was taken out of context, given the misunderstandings many had through their lack of knowledge of the practices behind Stockhausen’s efforts. Initially a Roman Catholic, Stockhausen’s fascination with gnostic philosophies of Christianity lead him to explore other cultures, religions and spiritual practices, of which he subsequently expressed in his music. Examples of this include the philosophies of Sri Aurobindo inspiring Aus Den Sieben Tagen, Native American traditions inspiring the song-cycle Am Himmel Wandre Ich, works inspired by Japanese culture (e.g. Japan, Der Jahreslauf, Inori), a homage to world religions and deities conceived through a Mesoamerican perspective in Stimmung, the zodiac inspiring Tierkreis and the alien music drama Sirius, several works inspired by the Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan, and the New Age Judeo-Christian doctrine The Urantia Book which inspired the Licht and Klang cycles. These inspirations were not mere reflections either, as Stockhausen entirely devoted himself to practices and tenets of each culture, in order to pay homage to these lineages in the sincerest manner. This not only consolidates the breadth of his spiritual devotion, it also reiterates the notion that he was truly a universalist in all senses. It is through this acknowledgement of the higher implications of his work, that Stockhausen was able to provide concrete possibilities for the future. When one takes the time to explore his music, one sees within it the future evolution of music, which in turn catalyses the evolution of consciousness, and subsequently us as a species to become a divine humankind. The implications really are that overwhelming! Licht serves as the celestial blueprint of this actuality.

For those unfamiliar with the Licht cycle, it is a monolithic work consisting of seven “operas” (I put operas in inverted commas because by calling them that limits the possibilities of what they really offer) totalling about 29 hours of music. Thematically, the work is based on the seven days of the week, drawing upon the creation myth and the esoteric connotations of the seven-day week, and this is symbolised through the three protagonists of the cycle (who are described from a Jungian perspective): Michael (the divine masculine), Eve (the divine feminine), and Lucifer (the shadow), of whom are represented as singers, instruments and dancers, in adherence to the ritualistically symbolic nature of the performance. Each of the “operas” either focuses on one, two or all of the characters, making up all possibilities within these permutations: Donnerstag (Thursday) specifically focuses on Michael. The concert took place at The Royal Festival Hall in London on May 21st and 22nd 2019.

At the time Stockhausen begun the Licht cycle in 1977, music critics and the media had only just about ingested and comprehended everything he had done up until that point (which was already more than a lifetime’s achievement!), so it was unsurprising that the premiere of Donnerstag was met with disdain and scepticism from many of its critics. In the eyes of many, Stockhausen’s pandering to the mystical was absurd, the music was bland and meandering, and the overall experience was considered underwhelming given that Licht was expected to be the successor to Wagner’s Ring cycle (in Stockhausen’s defence, much of Licht is “light” as otherwise it would be pretty pointless namely the cycle after it! The alien nature of the music would also be too exhausting and would make the Ring cycle seem like a feather if it had the same density to it! The expectations from others also implies a lack of open mindedness on their part!). Luckily today however (May 22nd 2019), this myopic perspective seems to have withered away, as the wide-ranging audience who encompassed several generations and demographics seemed to thoroughly enjoy this brilliant occasion. Not only did they seem to enjoy it, but the jaded outlook seems to have been long forgotten, with a collective sense that Donnerstag is yet another classic Stockhausen masterpiece!

The four-hour “opera” consists of a Greeting, 3 acts and a Farewell. The Greeting was performed in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall, and was a delightful ten-minute fanfare in three sections, mirroring the three acts that follow. Musically, it set the scene of what was yet to come, providing an atmosphere that on one level sounded readily familiar, and yet on another sounded strange and novel. The noise in the foyer was not even a problem, as the hustle and bustle added a cloud of mystique to the performance, making it already seem like a memory before anything had occurred on a grander scale (musical time travel if you will!). After the greeting, we gradually made our way to our seats for the first act, Michael’s Jugend (Michael’s Youth).

Michael’s Youth is a semi-autobiographical work in three scenes (Childhood, Mondeva and Examination), although the narrative is far from linear, with events sometimes occurring simultaneously. Despite in many ways being the “lightest” of the three acts, Michael’s Youth also contains moments of jarring darkness (e.g. Michael’s mother dying in a hospital bed, eerily reminiscent of Stockhausen’s own mother’s death) and bizarre otherworldliness (Michael becoming acquainted with a basset horn playing creature with seven-fingered hands called Mondeva), although the experience in its totality is of a beatific nature. One of the common misconceptions of Licht is the lack of linear narrative, and seemingly tacky staging; again, another expectation of Stockhausen to recreate the Ring cycle. However, everything was created exactly as intended. The visual element occurs in a ritualistic fashion (not dissimilar to Japanese Noh theatre, of which hugely inspired Stockhausen), and its functions undertake a symbolic rather than a descriptive function, which underlie the esoteric impulses prevalent throughout the work. Particularly through his supreme musical mastery, Stockhausen’s exploration of esoteric realms is not only convincing, but it transports the listener into dimensions of consciousness not unfamiliar to those conveyed in the major religions. It should also be noted here that despite all the main visual elements remaining intact in this realisation of Donnerstag, the end result was more stripped down than previous performances to compromise with the limitations of the Festival Hall’s dimensions, although this actually served the music justice as too much visual emphasis could have been distracting. The iridescently divine architecture of the music becomes the story, and the visuals become the music so to speak, and Michael’s Youth convincingly affirms this, setting the precedent for the following two acts.

The second act, Michaels Reise um die Erde (Michael’s Journey around the World) functions as a concerto for trumpet soloist and orchestra, although calling it a concerto would be an oversimplification. Michael is represented by the trumpet, and a musical journey around the world occurs, with musical idioms and elements reflecting those of places Michael visits (such as New York, Japan and Bali). Other instrumentalists also demonstrate their flair, creating musical dialogues with Michael when they do, sometimes even appearing in a comical fashion, and these actions confirmed the brilliance of the performers taking part. The overall result was a surreal yet humorous voyage that traversed the terrestrial plane through extra-terrestrial eyes at light speed! Once the performance had finished, I could not believe that over 45 minutes had passed – it felt much shorter, Stockhausen musically defied quantum mechanics!

The final act is Michaels Heimkehr (Michael’s Homecoming) which I feel for many was the highlight of the evening. The first scene depicts Michael returning to his cosmic dwellings and celebrating in a typically ritualistic fashion, resplendent with orchestra, choir, and deliciously menacing synthesiser providing a brooding and subterranean backdrop that the soloists perform over. It was here much of the magic occurred: exotic textures subtly drawn from the vast array of resources, a captivating use of lights within the performance, the murmuring antics of the choir providing an apocalyptic undertone, and unforgettable performances from the soloists, whose contributions I feel would have made Stockhausen proud were he still with us today. To describe what was experienced would not serve the music justice, nor would it in the preceding acts, but this was particularly felt in this act due to the myriad forms and dimensions unveiled through the substantial resources used here. In direct contrast to the first scene, the second scene is stripped down to the Michael soloists reflecting on all that had occurred, including projections of earlier events in the performance – something of which was done to great effect. The comparative starkness to the preceding scene actually made this “lighter” experience more intense than one would assume from three performers, as it drew the listeners closer into the essence of the work, in direct contrast to preceding events effortlessly flourishing over the listeners in all their grandeur. After the performance ended, it was safe to assume that we had all felt rejuvenated and purified from this remarkable experience! The Farewell took place on the stairwell outside of the concert hall, which functioned as an echo of what was experienced, and a seed to be implanted in the listener so they could retain its essence.

It must be noted that the performance was absolutely outstanding from all involved: Le Balcon, the London Sinfonietta, the Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble, and the New London Chamber Choir! The soloists were phenomenal, but even those who were individually less noticed such as members of the choir each performed with an equal calibre, and what seemed even more remarkable was that everybody genuinely seemed to enjoy performing the music, which shows how much of a long way audiences have progressed since Donnerstag’s premiere in 1981 (one of the worst aspects of creating contemporary art music is working with performers who evidently do not enjoy playing ones music – something Stockhausen even had to regularly contend with in his lifetime!). The praiseworthy dedication of the performers resulted in a stunning realisation of Donnerstag, and I can only hope that they do the entire cycle at some point in the not too distant future – it would be a divine week!

Once the concert had ended, everything felt more supernatural. The sounds of public transport, crowds of people and the fridge in my kitchen (where I write this article) all came alive, and the intergalactic ambiance of the performance transfigured the environment outside, evocating its divine qualities. I could hear and feel the essence of the performance throughout the rest of the evening (particularly from the 3rd Act), which far from being an earworm, merely unveiled the miraculous omnipotent hyper-reality surrounding us at all times but that which we barely take notice of – an experience I only wish more could people could witness if they were open to it!

We are in a day and age where not only are our ecosystems threatened, but also the ecology of listening. Technological advancement has correlated with worsening attention spans, the malaise of the pop culture machine has debased the true culture of fine art which has resulted in cultural decline, inevitably resulting in a lesser quality music, which can be seen in the overproduced music our digital age has churned out, and a lack of a universal high quality of music education has resulted in collective stagnation for the progress of further musical innovations. Technologically speaking, advancements are continually made within music, although the various development of the contributions made through the lineage of Western Classical music (and other indigenous music cultures of an equal tenacity) run the risk of being forgotten about due to negligence and ignorance from a cultural perspective (in particular the development of form instead of repetition: most music nowadays relies on repetition due to its lack of development! When one considers the possible implications, this could have on a neurobiological level as shown in various psychology studies; namely that the structural properties of Classical Music enhance memory, cognition and intelligence, it could make one wonder if today’s repetitive regurgitations are having a negative impact on us as a species!). It would also seem as if this day and age of technological immediacy and over-inundation of information have seemingly killed off magic and mystery, although the music of Stockhausen serves as a reminder that not only are there more possibilities out there, but coming to think of it, we have barely started scratching the surface!

The official website for Stockhausen for further information, scores and recordings: Karlheinzstockhausen.org

Personal Recommendations of Stockhausen pieces:

For those unaccustomed to radically unfamiliar music, a good starting point for Stockhausen’s music would be Stimmung, Am Himmel Wandre Ich, the Tierkreis (Zodiac) cycle, and Freude and Natural Durations from the Klang cycle, as they’re probably the easiest pieces to listen to. If one enjoys these, I would then recommend Gesang der Junglinger (one of his most renowned and famous works) and Mantra, and thereafter probably Gruppen. If you like these, you’ll probably like most other Stockhausen pieces!

My personal favourite Stockhausen pieces are Kontakte, Hymnen and Cosmic Pulses, which I feel are three of the greatest works of art ever created, and demonstrate Stockhausen’s true genius.

 

(JN)

Analogue Alchemy

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.

(Click here to read Shiva’s Interview)


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.

 

(JN/BB)