Interview: Shiva Feshareki

PHOTO BY ALEX ZALEUSKA

When I listen to the work of turntablist/composer Shiva Feshareki, I’m reminded that there are always ways to expand my understanding of sound. Much of her work is built upon collaborations with other artists or manipulations of existing material, using external energies (orchestras, installation artists, organists, old records) to both expand the breadth of her practice and generate new means of reframing the audible world. For one of her upcoming projects, she’s commissioned Éliane Radigue and Lee Gamble – two composers I enjoy deeply – to compose music for a performance in a cave situated in the Peak District, in what is sure to be a fascinating set of duets between artist and acoustic context. Below, Shiva and I discuss circular movement, the development of her turntabling technique and her relationship with Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening.

As I write these questions, I’m listening to your March edition of your NTS Radio show NEW FORMS, where you manipulate the music of Stevie Wonder into these twisted, part-melted shapes. It’s fantastic. Your manipulations illuminate the most incredible textural and harmonic treasures embedded in the corners of the music; the sort of details that are otherwise hidden behind the framework of melody and song. What drives your selection of a particular artist or musical style for the show? Do you opt for music that already interests you, or does NEW FORMS allow you to tap into music that wouldn’t otherwise appeal to your tastes?

Ah thanks! I see each show as an original composition derived from music and sounds that already exist. It’s very much experiments on shifting perspective, but it’s mainly material I improvise on my turntables and then re-structure. I adore all the music and material I use, or I feel it becomes a joke. However, I actively seek to experience and research as many different types genres as possible, to re-shape my artistic thinking. Obviously, I experience Stevie Wonder differently to Lemon D or Else Marie Pade, but I love all these perspectives. My shows see me presenting my creative interpretation as an active artist, on the music I love. Then if some of the stuff is really obscure, people can search it online and find its original if they’re committed enough. The shows play with space and structure, so they’re non-linear as I may play the same track several times in different forms and parts, but the manipulations will make it feel different/re-contextualised/developed. In my Pauline Oliveros show it’s most obvious, as I repeat the same piece about eight times in various manipulated new forms to frame the various real-time pieces of hers. With repetition of tracks that develop and re-form, it’s all the more reason to present the shows as structured compositions rather than tracklists and mixing. But a lot of my shows are meant to be a bit of fun as I’m essentially experimenting with new ways of thinking, using playful improvisation.

I also use off-site recordings, where I record new material especially for my show in partnership with artists I have worked with as a collaborative composer. I then cut the material onto dubplates and manipulate it live on air. So you’d usually hear the real-time recording of this off-site/field recording, then hear me manipulate this material with dubplates and turntables: a new form. For example, I recorded a gong and gamelan sound bath, and then after 40 minutes of Cathy’s transcendental, trance-like performance using chimes and gongs, you hear my manipulated version. This show is for meditation and meant to be mentally and physically healing; I wanted to present this inclusively through internet radio to a wide audience, as this type of radio hasn’t really been explored and works well. I often listen to it to help me sleep and this was one of the reasons I did that show.

And then in April, I gathered a group of friends and recorded some spatialised improvisations under a suburban bridge for an NTS show. I once walked under this bridge at about 4am and knew I had to record something in it as the reverberant acoustic got me excited and inspired. I had a great mix of improvisers with me: all friends, but from different worlds really. One thing they all had in common was trust in intuition and environment, which is why I wanted to get them together. This NTS show will be out on May 25th.

PHOTO BY ELECTRIC ELIZABETH

PHOTO BY ELECTRIC ELIZABETH

I enjoyed watching the trailer for the NEW FORMS show, in which you demonstrated the process you use to manipulate the music. There’s a real transparency and physicality to the way you work. Is there a particular appeal in working with a process which is so physical and vividly comprehensible?

Thanks for watching – it struck me that no one really knew how exactly I make the sounds, and thought it would be rather interesting for listeners of my show to see how I do it, to contextualise everything (and see how physical and live the manipulations are). My most recent artistic thought focusses on the physicality of sound and how sound interacts with other physical phenomena such as light, space, architecture, gravity and especially movement. So my turntabling practice focuses on the circular movement of the turntables, and how this spinning can accelerate and decelerate, reverse, go real-time, be decelerate whilst looped etc, creating endless creative options. The circular movements of the spinning discs are what affects how the sound is manipulated, rather than a preconceived idea which needs a separate action, such as pressing buttons. That’s why I can improvise with such a variety of other musicians and instrumentalists and in different contexts, as my sounds can be instantaneously tailored to that time and space.  So it’s all about thinking about physical ways of manipulating sounds or music that already exists and bringing a new context and intuitive perspective by trusting the laws of physics. A lot of my turntabling techniques are about truly trusting movement and natural logistical geometrics, and being prepared to listen deeply as you’re in the flow of the moment. Then you’re both dancing in the sound as well as providing grounding.

How did you initially come to work with the turntable? Have you always used it as a tool for manipulation and experimentation, or did your first use of the turntable take on a more conventional form?

I’ve used the turntable almost since the very start of my compositional practice (I wrote my first composition for my GCSE’s which involved modified power-tools manipulating strings on a piano, so I have always been experimental with my thinking). I kept getting instinctually drawn to the idea of the turntable since I started experiencing decent DJs in my teens, but I was always musing about the turntable on my own terms, separate to any culture. I originally had no intention to perform with turntables myself. My initial inspirations were to include turntabling as part of the live-electronic element of my electro-acoustic compositions, as I was drawn to its performative nature, so I felt turntables would work well in a group setting with other performers playing acoustic instruments. My first composition using TTs included a notated score for turntables as part of a piece I composed when I was 19, but my friend who was a jungle/dnb DJ played it. But as my turntabling techniques became more bespoke it became necessary that I performed the turntable parts of my compositions myself. This is an older era of my music (I’m certain I’ve had several paradigm shifts since), where I was working with virtuosic artists such as cellist Natalie Clein on cello/turntable performances and then soon after wrote a turntable concerto which I performed with the London Contemporary Orchestra.

My turntabling really developed once I started collaborating and improvising with a variety of artists, in order to constantly re-shape my perspective, as well as meeting DJs through NTS. For example, my various collaborations with installation artist Haroon Mirza really shifted my perspective focussing on the sculptural aspects of the turntable. Then I eventually stopped using notation or any visual graphics in favour of movement-based creative decisions, which mainly came through doing meditative improvisations. For example, my improvs with Kit Downes always feel like the deepest of meditations.

SHIVA PERFORMING WITH THE LONDON CONTEMPORARY ORCHESTRA – PHOTO BY ALICE THE CAMERA

SHIVA PERFORMING WITH THE LONDON CONTEMPORARY ORCHESTRA – PHOTO BY ALICE THE CAMERA

A few artists I’ve spoken to recently have brought up the issue of being overly acquainted with their instrument of choice, to the extent where surprises are no longer possible. I imagine that the luxury of being a turntablist is having an inexhaustible palette of textures to work with. Is that the case? Are you still regularly surprised by the output of your experiments and improvisations?

Let’s put it this way: there’s a certain Photek record I have used in almost every single turntabling performance, or composition, since I started working with turntables 12 years ago. I’ve used it in so many contexts and ways but it never encapsulates one sort of sound… let alone when you experiment with different records or record-combinations! Trusting the equilibrium of space and time means there are always endless musical options, and I can do this with my turntabling techniques.

I want to ask about your upcoming project with Éliane Radigue and Lee Gamble, where both artists will be composing new pieces to be performed in a cave in the Peak District. This sounds incredible. Some of the most striking live experiences I’ve ever had have been courtesy of these artists (most notably, listening to Radigue’s L’Île Re-Sonante in a church in London). What led you to select Radigue and Gamble to perform in this particular setting? Did you give them much in terms of a premise/instructions to work upon, or have you simply left them to it?

I trust both artists wholeheartledy, and they are working in very different ways. Lee is working more closely with the architecture of the cave and in collaboration with the London contemporary orchestra, whilst Éliane is working with her own selected instrumentalists: Angharad Davies and Dom Lash. Angh, Dom and myself relay any information about the acoustics and the spirit of the cave, but of course I chose this landscape and architecture with Radigue’s music in mind…or with Radigue’s music in mind, inspiration brought the landscape and architecture to me.

Éliane Radigue is truly my biggest inspiration. I will never forget the moment I discovered her work via a Youtube algorithm. The cave idea was also instant: I had gone to a concert of Radigue’s solo double bass piece, and immediately thought this needed to be heard in a cave. Ideas poured from there. I actually went to visit Éliane in Paris but I had arranged it before I even got this idea for a cave performance. I just wanted to meet her and say hi, but then things naturally aligned and found direction when I got the cave musing. The project grew from there.

Lee’s involvement came a little later when I wanted to commission a very contrasting artist but who shared the same sense of identifying intricately with space. More specifically, I wanted to commission his first acoustic composition for instruments, as his electronic work is so deeply acoustic in a way, again, because of his identification with space as sound. The idea was that I have excitement for Lee’s perspective on acoustic composition, and the idea is also in homage to Éliane Radigue. She made a shift from working with purely electronic music to just acoustic music at the turn of the 21st century, and I wanted to set this challenge on another artist. Every aspect of this project I construct using my artistic thinking as a composer, so all aspects of the concert start with the essence of deep creative thought. That’s the beauty of doing these independent and bespoke projects where you can work from scratch on an event as an artist and with artists, which I try to do quite often when inspiration hits me.

PHOTO BY BEN EALOVEGA

PHOTO BY BEN EALOVEGA

I recently listened to your interview on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, and you mentioned that Gamble’s “Head Model” makes for a particularly enjoyable listening in the car or on headphones. Can you recall any personal experiences where place, listening method and sound have intersected in a particularly striking way?

I practice deep-listening every day, as the music I am composing at the moment requires me to be in touch with environment and context.

Here’s my diary entry from the first day of spring:

Today I practiced pauline oliveros deep listening. I sat on a bench on the highest point in london. To my left were the sounds from the heath and to my right cars travelling in spirals with the bends in the road affecting the motors pitch to create a drone. And panned either side of me is a conversation between two blackbirds. There were structures of quieter times and more intense times (with radios from the cars booming for eg). Inspiring first day of spring.

Last year you put together a selection of your favourite minimalist compositions for The Wire. A recurrent theme seemed to be the fruits of “active” and intense listening: for example, an auditory illusion by James Tenney, the perspective shifts that occur while listening to Daphne Oram. Could you talk about your own journey to a more mindful way of listening? What were the experiences, artists, books etc that developed your interest in deep listening?

“The perspective shifts that occur when listening to Daphne Oram” HA! I had to live a year in the life of Daphne Oram whilst realising her piece for turntables and orchestra. It was almost like method acting, as I had to shift my perspective of everything in my life to be able to put myself into someone else’s untold creative thinking and live an alt-reality. But seriously: being introduced to that piece felt hugely powerful and overwhelming for me, as until that point I felt my turntabling practice had no lineage, and then I discovered this piece written in 1949 for turntables and orchestra! Weaving my ideas with Oram’s hugely developed my compositional practice as well as my turntabling, as I was working in completely new ways both on the orchestral score as well as the turntables, towards what I identify as my sound. The composition then became my ultimate influence for my NTS show concepts.

Going back to point, I think the more I focussed on the how music moves in space rather than the more obvious linear movement in duration, I just became a much deeper listener. You know, like how your surroundings become a beautiful composition if you listen and compose deeply with energies and with your perceptions. I like this quote from Pauline Oliveros from a TED Talk she did in 2015:

“Deep listening – for me – is learning to expand perception of sounds to include the whole space:time continuum of sound, encountering the vastness and complexities as much as possible. Simultaneously, one ought to be able to target a sound or sequence of sounds, perceiving the beginning, middle and end of them as a focus. Such focus and expansion means that one is connected to the whole of the environment and beyond. My practice is to listen to everything all the time and remind myself when I am not listening. I invite you – to take a moment now – to notice what you are hearing and expand your listening to continually include more.” – Pauline Oliveros (2015) 

What other music have you been listening to recently?

Well, right now as I am writing to you, I’m listening to a Bashment mix. I came across this cool woman in random circumstances who puts on a very different type of event to the ones I do. Kind of bashment and reggae parties on the Thames, serving stuff like champagne and lobster with your big name DJs. The stories she was telling me about these events were so chaotic and awesome at the same time…so now I’m listening to bashment to imagine the scenarios she was describing to me.

What else is on the horizon for you?

Well, various turntabling performances in various countries, the caves, and my various improvisations including with Kit Downes, a new collab with Haroon Mirza later in the year, my monthly NTS shows… I’m also putting on an ambitious A/V turntabling workshop I thought up for forty 11-year-olds in a Brixton pub/club venue with Grooveschool. But my main focus and day-to-day work is actually in acoustic orchestral composition. However, the process couldn’t be more different to my turntabling: an improvisation is a sudden action of communication, whereas with an orchestral composition I am working solidly for perhaps two years on the same composition. So at the moment I’m composing a highly sculptural acoustic orchestral composition, which sees me refine my work. It’s inspired by all the experiments and collaborations I’ve done over the years in different realms and disciplines, and is also massively inspired by my turntabling work. It’s for 45 instruments and will be performed in August: both in a large warehouse in London by the London Contemporary Orchestra titled GABA-analOgue, then a Danish premiere under the name O by the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra in their magnificent concert hall. If you follow me on my Facebook music page, you can keep up to date with exact dates for all my various performances.

Shiva on Facebook – facebook.com/shivafeshareki
Shiva on SoundCloud soundcloud.com/shivafeshareki
Shiva on NTS nts.live/shows/shiva-feshareki