Quietly, quickly and full of furtive anticipation we hustle ourselves into Kettles Yard – round the side, past the church, into its glowing maw. For better or worse the gallery has us in its clutches. Just remember: don’t touch anything. Seriously, really don’t. Four decks shimmer next to the grand piano, and we silently take our seats in the hushed and waiting hum.
Before we begin our compere endearingly assures us that the evening will leave us “a better person; better educated and more cultured,” a statement so profoundly repellent it risks jeopardizing the entire evening. You could not paint a more perfect portrait of elitism and assumed authority if you tried, and I do not take kindly to having my experiences valued for me. Such restrictive parameters erase the audience’s agency, and seem to misunderstand that meaning and value are created subjectively in the space between subject and viewer. If this were true, performance would be nothing more than the polite cricket claps of an audience who’ve had their art explained for them.
Although I considered composing the rest of the review solely using quotes from the programme, this seems somewhat unfair. Shiva Feshareki is an artist whose talent is prodigious not simply prestigious, and the promise of her presence was the main thing preventing me from being quietly sick in my shoes. Variously described as a composer, sonic artist and post-DJ turntablist, she has spent her career demonstrating excellence in all three.
A large part of the appeal when witnessing Feshareki perform live alongside her compositions is the sheer joy at seeing her juggle vinyl like a boss. There’s a grace in her movements equaling that of the accompanying instruments, the restless irreverence of her compositions held in balance by the calm, collected confidence of her performance.
‘Revolutions’ receives its world premiere (full name ‘Revolutions dethrone kings and enthrone columns and watering cans’. Why not eh?), commissioned as a reply to Beauty and Revolution: The Poetry and Art of Ian Hamilton. It’s electric – a confluence of elements charged with intelligence; a controlled collision of arrangements. It features everything from piano, trumpet, clarinet, double bass, cello, turntables, and a soprano periodically repeating the ascending phrase “watering can” throughout. ‘Revolutions’ exemplifies the artist’s eclecticism, and her ability to be both impenetrable and transparent at the same time.
Aspects of this replay throughout as pieces in their own right, like spotlit facets on a rotating sculpture. Their completeness is a virtue. ‘she Cried’ is written for one untrained vocalist and composed simply of lyrics and melody; a single voice is all the piece needs. ‘For Jack (Volcano)’ is similarly stripped of adornment but lives at the other end of the spectrum entirely, arranged for turntables and light-sensitive circuitry. Ceiling lights are killed and the noise-making toy is manipulated by torchlight. At one point it’s even placed on the decks, riding their rotations for rhythm – which is a bloody great idea; tactile, playful, imaginative. As soon as this trick appears the decks are slowed and the piece morphs… Every tangent is explored concisely and fully without self-indulgence – and I’ve seen a lot of found object noise improvisations which aren’t either.
2013’s ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ is presented as a fairytale in response to the film trope of “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors,” drafted to whimsically enlighten the male lead. The allegory honours the character with her own journey, from two-dimensions to three, and it’s given a turbulent soundtrack by clarinet and piano. I’m not 100% sure the conceit works, but the idea is a positive one. Another fairytale appears in the form of ‘Sita and Peter’, composed from workshops with 8-9 year olds writing “music inspired by the fantasy-worlds of children”. This one belongs to a girl name Jemima. As with ‘Manic Pixie…’, we’re given a reading beforehand – little offers preparation, of course, but the story is a welcome interlude, recited verbatim with its child-logic kept intact. This is genuinely endearing, and I’d love to know more about the project.
Such antics, however pleasing, could lose novelty value if not substantiated. So it’s fortunate for all concerned that they are. Like all art music, it won’t engage everyone; the worlds she touches bleed into one another, heedless of boundaries and fueled by ceaseless invention. Her work is a lit match to convention – all the more incendiary when performed in a city that didn’t accept female students a little as thirty years ago. The recognition and support she has received is a triumph, and goes some way to validating turntablism as an artform. I am grateful to Kate Whitley and the New Music Series for making the introduction.
Words by Wesley Freeman-Smith