Foreword from Serrano G. Sianturi (1960-2019) | with a slight adjustment.
Music can either be a remnant from our past or an attempt to answer our present and future challenges. While science and technology keep on progressing and reach a new level, the way we view and live our lives are prone to disruptions. Change has become a debatable arena. Some resist, others compromise, and the rest completely embrace the new ways. Arts reflect and address such reactions, and eventually find their new forms that suit the context.
Throughout the history of humankind, individuals within societies have always come to a consensus on how to convey their lives. Such concord shapes people’s views and thoughts then lays the common platform to respond to current and future challenges through art, science and technology.
We are already approaching the end of the second decade of the 21st century, and yet societies and nations around the world have not come up with viable and amenable thought and platform in facing the current technological, economic, political and cultural changes. None is certain whether we ever reach a common and global attempt, directives and solidarity to take on the 21st century.
In 2018, our sister web, Vox de Cultura, had an opportunity to interview a young experimental composer, turntablist, and electronic music artist who has been responding to her surroundings, may it be social, political, technological or cultural. Her exploration has gone beyond her Classical music training at the Royal College of Music; she has “re-visited” the ideas about musical instrument, sound, and composition. Her name is Shiva Feshareki, a British of Iranian heritage. She is the recipient of BASCA British Composer Award for Innovation, and “The Composer’s Fund” PRS for Music Foundation. In 2018, she performed across Europe including at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art (VAC), BBC Proms and London Jazz Festival. She is also a radio presenter at NTS in London, UK.
Thanks to Shiva Feshareki who gives the permission, Listen to the World had a chance to transcribe and re-publish the interview. It’s an important interview not only for Listen to the World, but also for the parent organization, Sacred Bridge, because it represents the very spirit of regeneration as well as corresponds to what Sacred Bridge is focusing on – Environment.
Alongside Shiva Feshareki, the interview involved individuals coming from a variety of backgrounds; Christopher Roberts, one of LttW’s UK correspondent and Tri Prasetyaningtyas (Tyas), an Indonesian dance school teacher of Namarina Dance Academy.
Without further ado…
Vox de Cultura (Gerry): Hi everybody, I’m Gerry [and.Ed] I’m going to be the interviewer for today. Hi, Shiva, how are you? Do you mind introducing yourself, like what do you do, what kind of music do you play?
Shiva Feshareki: So, my name is Shiva Feshareki, obviously, and I’m an experimental classical composer. So, I guess I’m experimental in the sense that I try and reshape and redefine everything I do, so I’m trying to find a new perspective to the one I have now. And I’m classical in the sense that I have been classically trained so I use that sort of meticulous training to work on my experimentation. And my experimentation goes across genres as well, from classical music to improvisation with dance music producers, jazz musicians, etc. So, yeah, I work very collaboratively across different disciplines and genres in order to collect new perspectives, really.
So, what got you into the music in the beginning?
I think I was just always interested in sounds from the word go. I think as a child I’m always trying to make sounds with different household objects around the house. I played a lot of keyboard…we have the keyboard. And then once I was in secondary school, so in high school, I really got into composition when we started learning about it for our GCSC (General Certificate of Secondary Education. Ed), so that’s what you do when you’re 15 and 16. Since then I’ve just continued composing.
What about the sounds? Do you like the character of the sound, the timbre?
…I am really interested in the physicality of sounds; how sound interacts with other physical phenomenon such as with light, space it’s in, and even gravity.
Yea, I think with sounds, I am really interested in the physicality of sounds; how sound interacts with other physical phenomenon such as with light, space it’s in, and even gravity. So for me, sound is about a bigger picture of how we exist physically. For example, as a car motor slows down and the movement of the car slows down you hear the pitch of the motor, descend and get lower. That’s the sort of sound I’m interested in. Sounds that relate to other things, everyday things.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I know this sounds like a cliché, but I genuinely listen to all sorts of music from club and dance music to classical and folk music. I really love the music that comes from the early ages of electronic music, when electricity was first being used in music. I think the music being made then was really exciting because it’s almost like this new form had been invented. They were working with synthesized sounds instead of natural sounds and were free to make some really radical experimentations. A lot of music I like comes from the 50’s and 60’s, from the avant-garde composers who were working with the first forms of sound synthesis.
What about avant-garde that you like?
I think I just like the experimentation. Those are time especially in western cultures, especially maybe even in America where composers were working a lot with electronics and acoustics together in a really experimental way, such as James Tenney, [Iannis. Ed] Xenakis, Éliane Radigue and Daphne Oram. So, yea, I’m just interested in the experimentation and moving out of one perspective and gaining another one.
Eliane Radigue – Jetsun Mila (1986) excerpt – via Youtube
Daphne Oram – Pulse Persephone – via Youtube
So, why turntable, then?
Turntables have played a massive role in my compositional practice since I started composing more or less. I became fascinated just seeing DJs work with turntables. But then I got more fascinated in a different way by them, and started composing music for turntables in acoustic instruments.
The reason that first I like turntables was because I could manipulate electronically acoustic sounds and do it quite intuitive manners. Because you’re not clicking buttons on computer screen, but you’re moving the turntables in quite specific way, manipulating sounds quite musically and intuitively with other instrumentalists. As my turntabling practice progressed over the years – I’ve been doing it for about 10 – 12 years now – but as it progressed now for me it’s more about the movement of the turntables themselves as the record spins. It’s about how I manipulate the sounds based on the speed which the record is spinning; are they spinning backwards, forward, slowing down and speeding up. So I work with again very physical movement in order to make my musical choices with my turntables. I do a formal scratching, but I don’t actually take much influence from Hip Hop “turntablism”. It’s more I just made up my own techniques as I improvise. The more I improvise the more new techniques I found that I wanted to use with my turntables. So, it’s a very tailor-made technique to myself.
You wrote your own notation for the turntables when you collaborate with people. Do you come up with that yourself or how does that work?
So, now any music that I compose and perform using my turntables, the basis is no longer notation but the physical circular movement of the turntables.
As I’m classically trained I do a lot of orchestration and musical notation. That’s first when I work with turntable, when the first piece I wrote is a turntable concerto. And for that I notated the turntable parts, very similar to where I might notate for percussion or piano parts. And that works in interaction with the full orchestra. However, as my practice has developed I no longer notate the music because I think having a visual score takes away from the physicality of the turntabling.
So, now any music that I compose and perform using my turntables, the basis is no longer notation but the physical circular movement of the turntables. I’m using motion and dance to make my musical choices rather than following my musical score. At first I used to have a conventional notation, sometimes graphic notation, but now I just have that physical feeling of playing turntables.
Because we were wondering you collaborated with Haroon Mirza recently. How did you manage that?
A lot of the time when you’re experimenting it can be the other extreme way where you’re just sort of like “Wow, I think I’ve just tapped into a brand new perspective for me as an artist” and then you grow with that new perspective and it feeds into the rest of your projects.
So, that’s one of the reason I love collaborating because I’m always working with people who come from different cultures, genres, ways of thinking, and personalities. And by working together perhaps through improvisation or collaboration I learn a new perspective and new way of working. For example, when I work with Haroon Mirza, he’s an installation artist, I learned a lot about using space rather than just time. So, it’s about thinking of sound is occupying a space rather than just that linear movement in time and duration. And then when I worked with Kit Downes, he’s a brilliant Jazz pianist and also organist, we did a lot of improvisations together with turntables and organs. I learned a lot about free improvisation by working with him because I felt so much trust, faith and freedom in his existence.
An improvisation piece by Shiva Feshareki and Kit Downes, performed at St. John at Hackney in London. (An audio excerpt from the original interview).
Have you ever been criticized by anybody for doing these experimentations (whether from classical musicians or from people outside)?
Yea, all the time. I mean, I think with anything that has some sort of impact you get both positive and negative feedback. I do find one thing that does happen a lot is that everyone has something to say about my music. I mean you can’t call yourself an experimental artist if everything you do turns out to be brilliant or everything you do is well received by the general public. Because in order to experiment you have to have some areas that don’t work and some areas that do, because you’re not really experimenting unless those issues occur like ‘Well, that didn’t work at all.’ That’s the learning experience. You use that to develop yourself artistically. And then, you move onwards and upwards from there.
We’re very curious about this, actually. Mas Chris, what do you think when you listened to Shiva’s music? Because almost all of us here, when we listen to Shiva’s music, we needed some kind of instructions.
Chris Roberts: Hello, my name is Christopher Roberts. I’m half English half Indonesian. I’m not a composer or anything like that, unfortunately. But I have been blessed to have lived in many different countries and experienced many different cultures throughout my life, which have allowed me to have a unique perspective of how I perceive my environment and the world.
From my first opinion, when I’ve been introduced to any type of music – it doesn’t matter what style, what genre – whether it’s something I’d be interested in or not, I don’t like to perceive things as I need a manual to understand it. I like to listen to it and I allow the music to create how I feel about it. Because there are several types of music, there are always factors in a genre or in a song that you won’t necessarily like, but there is always be other factors that you will like, if you know what I mean. That’s why I’m a big fan of classical and electronic music, especially electronic music because if you are to break down electronic music and you want to just take one sound, that sound doesn’t sound very nice; but when add all these layers of sounds together, it creates a completely different feeling.
Just like sound and music and art, it’s all perspective and perception. The sounds, if you’re talking about, if you were to relate it to English for example, I’ll say the sounds that she creates in her music, they’re kind of like metaphors. But instead of metaphor in written form, it’s more in a sound form, right?
As I’m going back to…we all have our individual experiences and perceptions in things. And yea…I guess…Shiva expresses herself how she feels through the sounds. And she’s getting across how she feels but at the same time she allows anyone else is listening to her music, to have their own perception of it. And if it happens to link then it’s an amazing thing because you can get connected. But if it doesn’t, it’s also an amazing thing because it gets more perspective and more possibilities. Because we have our own way of expressing ourselves, right? You have…Shiva through music, you can have an artist through painting, you can have poet through words. But the underlining fact is the perspective and self-expression and the feeling and meaning behind it.
Well actually, Tyas here has a question for you.
Tyas: Hi, Shiva. I have a question for you regarding your profession as a composer and experimental musician. Have you got any critiques or can you share your ups and downs? Because as far as I know, nowadays there aren’t many women exploring serious music.
Shiva: I’ve had a wide variety of experiences because of the nature of the music I write. It both includes a lot of technology and it includes a lot of experimentation. I think especially I do live stream performances, overall it’s extremely positive but I think you do get one or two people who want to objectify you because you’re a woman and they won’t necessarily do that if you’re a man. But there’s really easy ways to push them out of the picture. You only give attention to people who are interested in the music itself.
So, if there’s a live stream going and then this conversation is occurring I’ll often happily converse with people who are asking me and say, “How did you make that sound?” then I’ll let them know. But if there’s someone trolling, you know, they get pushed out of the picture quite quickly. But I have noticed as a woman in this field you do get a lot of – especially in electronic music, DJ-ing and production – you do get a fair few discriminatory comments. But you just find ways of pushing them out of the picture, there’s ways of doing that. It’s a minority of people who are like that and you just push them out of the picture.
Tyas: About your identity, do you consider yourself as British or do you have other roots?
Shiva: I was born in London. I was brought up here, but I’m Iranian. That’s my heritage. So, I’m Persian. Yes, that’s my background. When you have a heritage, a cultural heritage that’s different to the culture that you live in, you have two perspectives on culture, two very deep perspectives on culture and that affects me as an artist a hundred percent. Just being able to compare and to contrast Iranian cultures and mannerisms with English ones in London, you just become more observant of picking up on culture when you have a background that is different to where you are also brought up.
Vox de Cultura (Gerry): I think it’s really difficult, at least in my opinion, to talk about Iran and not talk about politics. Do you let that affect you in anyway? The whole politics with Iran and the US, stuff like that?
As a composer, it makes me want to find ways of showing what we all have in common.
Shiva: As a composer, it makes me want to find ways of showing what we all have in common. What I try and do instead is by using sounds that make sense to everybody using the physicality of sound. You know, everybody knows what the wind sounds like when it rustles in the trees. Everybody knows what bird’s songs sounds like. Everybody knows what the sound of thunder and lightning is. So, if I’m working with the physicality of sounds and being always inspired by everyday sounds, I feel like that’s my way of giving a political message that we are all in fact humans that experience the same things. That’s my way of being political is showing through my music what we all have in common. Just the physics of sounds and then where that could take us spiritually and metaphysically as well.
Do you see yourself being socially responsible as well? Because you’re involved in community developments as well, from what I know.
Well, I do a lot of internet radio work. First of all I think the people who follow my music especially on Facebook come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. But one thing that I guess I have done socially is…because it means a lot to me, I’ve taken a lot of inspiration by the female pioneers of electronic music who were composing in the 20th century and a lot of them were quite unknown due to the social barriers and now through my DJ-ing I try and promote their work and…yea. I think the best I can do as a musician, like I said before is to try and find the fundamental sounds that we all share and then work with that to create my music. Which is what I’m doing with my orchestral piece I’m writing in the moment.
What about music education? Because you do have some workshops for younger people. Can you tell us about that, what’s your motivation?
My motivation is that I just think education is the most important thing. Education could mean many things, it has many different concepts.
I do a lot of workshops. I’m doing a workshop with about forty or fifty children aged 10 to 11 with a variety of schools here in London. What we’re doing is I’m just setting up a turntable installation for them to go and experiment, and together we can come up with a group compositions using several… about six turntables or ten turntables and just give them a chance to experiment from an early age with any sounds they want and make it into a surround sound audio-visual installation [that. Ed] the kids come up with it. I’m just going to let them be free because I’ve set up this immersive experience and I just sort of like, “Now you go and explore the immersive experience. So…fingers crossed it will work out but I think it will be great fun.”
One of the biggest questions in classical music is – What’s 21st century music, what’s the next thing?
I think if I thought about it too much, it would inhibit me being free. I think…the best I can do as a composer is to communicate and express what’s real and honest to me. And if that relates to other people that’s what I’m looking for. But the best I can do is to present what I have and then other people…they will either relate to it or not. I think a 21st century music…I don’t know the direction it’s going in, but I do feel like you have to be aware of the broader relevance of modern society, definitely, when you’re composing. That’s the one thing I can do.
We heard that you like Indonesian music. Is that true?
Yeah, a lot. I mean…a friend of mine[Ed] actually introduced me to the Kecak a few months ago, which I found really inspiring. Just that idea of the sounds and the chants being passed around, and then as the flow increases you move from the physical to the metaphysical. And I just got really inspired by it and there’s actually a section of my orchestral piece which I called ‘The Kecak’ and it’s just all the orchestral instruments. Chanting in a way, but using instruments. I was really inspired, really inspired.
I recorded a brilliant instrumentalist Cathy Eastburn. She was creating a gong bath using different bronze instruments, chimes, and various other acoustic instruments. I recorded that and then manipulated it at a later stage using my turntables and the movement of my turntables. And I thought just it would be a good piece of radio, who knows…for taking you on a meditative journey and accessible to everybody online.
Performed by Shiva Feshareki and Cathy Eastburn, a British gamelan and gong player. (An audio excerpt from the original interview)
And a bonus track from Shiva Feshareki.
NEWFORMS – Evolution Loop. NEW FORMS is a debut album of Shiva Feshareki.
More on Shiva Feshareki “Analogue Alchemy – into the Music and Mind of Shiva Feshareki”