Journalist Andy Hamilton interviews composer Shiva Feshareki, the 2017 recipient of the British Composer Award for Innovation:
Shiva Feshareki, born in 1987, is an experimental classical composer, researcher and turntablist working with electronic and acoustic sound. Her work explores the physicality of sound in relation to light, perspective, movement and sculpture, focusing on analogue instruments and purpose-built hardware rather than computers. Recent projects include Still Point with James Bulley, for orchestra, treated instrumental recordings and turntables – a realisation for the Southbank Deep Minimalism Festival of a lost Daphne Oram piece – and a collaboration with Eliane Radigue.
She’s commented that she became obsessed with composing through GCSE music – “We learnt that you didn’t have to be dead to be a composer” – and she’s used turntables since she was 18. I began by asking about the attraction for her of analogue as opposed to digital hardware: “I like the physicality and malleability of analogue electronics especially in performance. You are working more directly with the intricacies of the sounds, the raw physics of it – digital means are often related to more rigid computer interfaces”.
Classical turntablism is a rare genre. The only precursor she knows is Daphne Oram, whose composition Still Point for turntables and orchestra was written in 1949: “It was one of the first instances of live electronics with acoustic instruments, and was never produced until James Bulley and I realised it in 2016”.
Shiva Feshareki also collaborates in improvisation, notably with jazz pianist Kit Downes, who plays acoustic organ while she manipulates electronics on her turntables. “We first tested it out live for BBC Radio 3 in concert, with no practice, plan or prep beforehand”, she comments. The turntablist samples Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram, M.E.S.H, Eliane Radigue and Photek, and Downes plays church organ. “It is creatively enriching to exercise different models of forming material”, she explains. “In improvisation, the more you do it the deeper you can go – improvisation often doesn’t work if you spring it on an orchestra out of nowhere. Anyone creating music should be experiencing this unconscious way of working where you focus on a sound in a moment of time, in a specific space with specific people”.
She’s taught in a variety of educational contexts from prestigious academic institutions to DJ and turntabling workshops with primary school children in Brixton: “If we introduce young people to multiple perspectives and give wider parameters to explore, the more engaged they’re going to be, both within creativity as well as in society. Pauline Oliveros’s ‘Deep listening’ meditations, for instance, go down well with all students”.
I was struck by her comment that “Music is physics really. It doesn’t start at pitches or melody or instruments: if you start here you are already massively restricting yourself”. Can this be a popular understanding of music, I wonder? She responds that, “For me, sound is one with other physical phenomena such as light or kinetics. Music relates to a much bigger picture outside art and in our everyday lives. I feel that the physicality of sound is something that can appeal to all, as it deals with our perception to our surroundings”.
This article first appeared in the 2017 British Composer Awards Programme