Name: Shiva Feshareki
Occupation: Composer, sound artist, turntable artist
Recommendations: Books: Tao of Physics - Fritjof Capra; The Mysticism of Sound and Music - Hazrat Inayat Khan
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Shiva Feshareki, her informative website will keep you up to date on recent news, releases and performances. She also has a Souncloud account.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Creating music, playing instruments and experimentalism have been in my life since early childhood. As far as I can remember I have been composing all my life, even before I had a perception of what creating music was.
I was always obsessed with listening to everyday sounds, observing them and creating my own music in response. My mum was an amazing influence: always taking me and my brother to a variety of places and artistic events, be it fashion shows, or experimental art, and a real variety of music. I was blessed because of this: my mind was constantly being expanded, letting my imagination run wild.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I’m in a constant process of learning, yet, I’ve never really felt the pressure of being original. Everyone is original if they are themselves, and I was never fearful of being myself in my creativity. If I ever did have any fear, I always tried hard not to let that get in the way of being myself.
I wasn’t interested in copying others in order to learn, as I found it boring. Creativity for me was always about being playful and curious. I was experimenting with my own ideas from the word go. That’s not to say I didn’t find other people’s creativity inspiring or influential.
I continue to learn about how I fit into the broader landscape of art, music and history through my own musical explorations, and it’s not a linear progression. For example, as a teenager, I was always preparing pianos with objects I had made or placing stuff like electronic drills on piano strings to create powerful resonance: It was later on that I learned about John Cage and prepared piano, and about e-bows etc. It was the same with electronic sound manipulation. I was doing that naturally on turntables for fun and then I learned about the context of musique concrète, which then gave me more impetus.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My artistic life is based around problem solving as a tool for experimentation, making do with what resources I have: Any restrictions have always been used as a positive challenge to solve through purely creative means. You don’t need anything other than your creative expression to create music, and being economic has always been an exciting challenge to accept or reject fluidly.
I love learning new skills, either by branching out into the unknown, or alternatively being single-minded and honing in on one craft to meticulously perfect it over time. It’s about expanding and contracting ideas with plasticity. I never cared for quick results, always happy to playfully experiment, learn and explore new avenues over time. With this expansion of craft, I am then happy to reject or use the vast skills I have taken time to build, be it with scored composition, performance, improvisation, collaboration, or production.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was a casio keyboard, then I added pencil and manuscript paper. Next I added an upright piano bought from the local charity shop, which I started to prepare almost immediately. I was still a child and this was all in my family home. Once I left home my equipment slowly expanded. Turntables were introduced: I first started playing around with my friend’s technics when I started at university. Then I won the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Award shortly after, and bought my own pair with my award money, which sounds a little strange.
Then I added a few DIY things, for example Artist Haroon Mirza gifted me with a turntable theremin: Powered by the turntable tone arm, it rotates and creates sound in accordance to the circular motion and sculpture of the turntable. My vinyl was collected, mainly from libraries, or from collections people didn’t want anymore, or wanted me to look after. It would be anything from DnB collections, or violin music, or Opera LPs from the Royal College of Music library where I studied. This was during an era when everyone was giving away their vinyl: I was the one collecting it and taking it home! This is still 90% of my vinyl collection. My most recent addition is a new CDJ (which I love using just as much as turntables). Then there’s my Roland Space Echo, and my old DJ mixer that I will never part ways with or update.
My gear is all from different eras of electronic music, but not on purpose. I’m not interested in collecting the latest gear or buying products all the time. I form bonds with equipment through experiences in my life that led me to a passion and bond, like any loving relationship. I fell in love with the Roland Space Echo (re-201) when working on the realisation of Daphne Oram’s Still Point for the BBC Proms: It is an analogue tape echo that I use as an instrument to expressively and physically ply and weald, not an effect to create at a click of a button or a push of a pedal.
This physicality means something to me. I see these pieces of equipment as instruments that I nurture and grow with, as my sound progresses. This is what classical craft is all about. If you’re a cello virtuoso, you work with your cello and as the years progress the connection grows, and you become more meticulous in your techniques. It’s how I feel about my electronic gear.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I have a playful and exploratory relationship with technology. I see them as musical instruments to be used expressively and understood in performance. I don’t like clinical use of electronic music, e.g. pushing buttons that trigger pre-conceived sounds, or being stood at a laptop as if I am writing emails. These mechanisms are not truly ‘live’ and not how I engage with electronic music.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I definitely say that the relationship between my collection of electronic instruments has worked with me to define my sound. My set-up is almost nonsensical, but it is individual to me and how I want to express myself. Furthermore, the techniques and methods I use are ones I have invented for myself to best suit how I want to express myself. It’s a constant state of repurposing equipment for my own creative language. That’s essentially what I do with the turntables, by using them on my own terms. In terms of production, I always produce music through live-production. Therefore, it is produced through a listening process, not an editing process.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I’ve always loved collaboration, and have worked with a variety of artists, scientists, academics, philosophers and musicians. I am super open and chilled out about collaboration, as controlling these things or trying to predict where they lead will stop you from expanding your horizons and progressing. For example, when I am invited to perform internationally, I always request to include an improvisation with someone I meet for the first time at soundcheck: Someone free and open like me. It has always been an incredible experience.
For example, I got to know electronic musician Leslie Garcia in Mexico City directly through the sounds we were creating together on stage at Casa del Lago. To think we are from the other side of the planet, and communicating so deeply and sharing this very raw and live exchange in front of an audience, they feel that energy too … you can’t beat that shared feeling.
Collaboration also helps me gain a wider perspective and insight, learning alternative processes, especially when working with people from different disciplines or music scenes.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My everyday life and music blend seamlessly into one. It is my observations of everyday life that directly create my inspiration. It is rarely inspired specifically by another piece of art or music, but by my interactions, my communications, how I am analysing the world, the universe, and how I feel and experience things in my day to day life.
When I am composing scored acoustic composition, it is often 12 hour days of composing at my desk alone. But in contrast, when I am performing, I travel a lot, experiencing new cultures and values. My performances are improvised, direct and exploratory: they are observations of what I am experiencing in that moment and place, sculpted entirely for the context. No two performances are ever the same. Even if I am performing on a world-class stage like the Royal Albert Hall playing alongside a world-class orchestra, I’m happy to continue the experimentation and improvise freely on top of my orchestral composition: The rehearsal will always be a different perspective and version than the one in the concert.