Throughout 2017, Casa da Música, Porto, presents a year-long season of UK classical music, in partnership with the British Council and the GREAT Campaign. The Year of British Music includes around 30 concerts and over 1,000 educational activities, with a particular focus on new classical music.
To complement the programme, we have worked with Casa da Música to showcase talented emerging composers from the UK. During the opening weekend, composers Edmund Finnis, Emily Howard, Daniel Kidane and Philip Venables visited Porto to present their work and meet with festival producers and organisations interested in new music. A further six composers have been invited to join us for an online showcase designed to give their music a platform and enable programmers to explore their work in detail.
Shiva Feshareki is the first of these six composers – an experimental classical composer, researcher and turntablist working with both electronic and acoustic sound. Her work explores the physicality of sound in relation to light, perspective, movement and sculpture. She prefers to work with mainly analogue instruments and purpose-built hardware components rather than computers. She has recently written a new composition “O” for spatialised orchestra and acoustic organ which will be premiered by the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra at the Musikhuset Aarhus, Denmark on 31 August. She also presents a regular show on NTS Radio, New Forms.
We took the opportunity to ask Shiva to recall her first forays into composition and give us an insight into her unique approach to music making today.
How did you get started as a composer?
I suppose I was always composing before I even knew what the concept of composing was. I was always improvising with pots and pans in the kitchen when I was a small child. I had a station set-up in the corner of the kitchen, making sounds and rhythms with the household appliances. There was also my brother's Casio keyboard which I loved. I used to make-up songs and pieces on the keyboard then teach my much older brother and his girlfriend to play them. I was about 5 or 6. I became obsessed with composing because of doing GCSE music and we learnt that you didn't have to be dead to be a composer. Actually, it was before that: I remember in year 9 on the music syllabus we were learning about A Zed and Two Noughts by Michael Nyman. I'd go into the classroom when everyone went home, take the exercise book that had the motifs from that piece in it and extend them with my own improvisations on the school piano. I was proper obsessed with improvising actually, I just didn't know that was what I was doing. I even started going to the Design Technology room to get screwdrivers to drive down the strings of the school piano … the sound it created, so harsh yet resonant, was liberating and mesmerising for me.
When you're writing new music, what comes to you first? Is it the instrumentation, the melody, the performance space or something else entirely?
I mainly think about sounds’ relationship with space and time, how it is this physical thing, and how it exists in my reality. Music is physics really. It doesn't start at pitches or melody or instruments: if you start here you are already massively restricting yourself.
When did you first start getting into turntables and when did it occur to you to put them into a "classical" setting?
I've been using turntables since I was 18, so more or less since I started composing. I don't think I ever thought I was putting them into any setting. I think the physicality of the turntables drew me immediately in a very powerful way, the same way as I was drawn to many other factors that inform my music. I guess I always try to gain a perspective that is different to the one I already have, which means I get to pick and choose what I accept or reject into my creative world. Turntables have always stuck and my use of them continues to re-shape and evolve.
You've won many awards over the years, including the BBC young composer early on. What impact does winning an award have on a young composer? Can awards be transformative?
Winning the BBC Young Composers award was certainly transformative for me. I wonder whether I would have received the opportunities that followed after, to learn more, train in composition, compose further and receive commissions very young, had I not won. Back then, the BBC would send flyers to every state school in the country, advertising this award. My teacher encouraged me to send off the composition I wrote for my GSCEs. At the time, it was the only composition I had ever written. I had no concept of whether it was good or bad, but it won, and I very suddenly became part of a world of classical music I never thought I would be in.
What is still on your bucket list to tick off as a performer or composer?
I never try to predict the future; I just go with the flow, whilst being very sensitive to my surroundings. Creativity should always be fluid. So I guess I don't have a bucket list, but I will continue to challenge my thinking, and see where it takes me!
Shiva Feshareki on Soundcloud
Shiva Feshareki Concerts, Performances and Residencies
- "Don’t Assume" - NTS Radio on stage 2 at MUTEK, Montreal, Canada
- "O" - composition for acoustic orchestra, acoustic organ and turntables. Danish premiere performed by the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra at Musikhuset Aarhus, featuring an organ and turntable improvisation by Kit Downes and Shiva Feshareki
- Shiva will be composer in residence at the Purcell School of Music for one year starting in September 2017
- Shiva presents Occam River XV with Eliane Radigue, Lee Gamble and the London Contemporary Orchestra at Great Masson Cave, Heights of Abraham, Matlock, UK
- Activating Haroon Mirza’s installation at Zabludowicz Collection, London, UK
The Year Of British Music, More in this series:
- Meet composer Daniel Kidane
- Meet composer Emily Howard
- Meet composer Philip Venables
- Meet composer Edmund Finnis