An interview with the experimental American composer and musician, Sxip Shirey





The very bodacious and unique Sxip Shirey.   Photo:  David Solm

Sxip Shirey is an experimental American composer, musician and storyteller who is about to grace the  London Wonderground Festival stage at the South Bank Centre as part of the brand new show, Limbo.  Limbo has been billed as  “an exotic mix of cabaret , circus and acrobatics”.  The show is the brainchild of the creative producers and co-directors of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Cantina.  I asked Shirey to explain a bit more about his unique musical style and what we can expect from him at the Wonderground Festival this year.

HH: I read on your Wikipedia page that you are an “electric-acoustic oriented composer “ can you explain what that means ?

SS: I have a table full of objects that make sound, a marble in a glass bowl, a bicycle bell tree and 30 chromatic desk bells.  I play these objects and send them through electronics and effects, pitch shifters, distortions, reverbs, to make them sound huge and amazing. Instead of samples I use real physical objects THEN electronics to make amazing sound. Allot of human beat boxers do that now.

HH: How did you first start playing music on unconventional objects

SS: When I was in second grade my class went to the city park. In the park was a hobo sitting under a little shelter.  He held in his teeth a piece of fishing line which stretched to his Left hand to where it was anchored to a cap from an aerosol can. The cap acted as a resonator and he twanged melodies on it with his right index finger. “I invented this instrument!” the hobo told me, “I made this!” I was amazed. So, this was how you made music? My family lived out in the country. My parents remember that I started lining up hunks of wood that we’d chopping and I’d make them into rude marimbas right there in the woods.

HH: Who would be some of the artists on a  Sxip Shirey playlist right now?

SS: Elyas Khan, former Londoner who now lives in Berlin. His music is amazing, it’s an explosion. He’s the smartest lyricist I’ve ever known. Manages to be sexy, gritty and smart as hell all at the same time. Baby Dee, there is a great black cab session of Dee that I love check it out. Also the hip-hop brass band from New York City, Pitch Blak, I LOVE them. They are best band to get drunk and dance to.

HH: Have you played in London before?  If so, what do you think of the experimental music scene here?

SS: Yes, I’ve played here quite a bit, with the Dresden Dolls at the Round House, at underground parties with Stranger That Paradise, with my gypsy tango Klezmer punk band at parties and at the English National Opera as part of large John Cage piece. I am not so familiar with the London experimental music scene but I really love tuba player/orenophone Oren Marshall and Gabriel Prokofiev from the alt classical scene

HH: What kind of soundscapes do you have in store for Limbo at London’s Wonderground festival?

SS: Imagine a New York brass band marching through New Orleans on it’s way to Berlin.

 London Wonderground Festival and to hear a bit of  Sxip Shirey’s music visit his web site.

About Melissa Palleschi

Melissa Palleschi New York actress living in London and trained in Italy, New York and here in London at the Actors Studio. She is also a founding member of the Planktonic Players, who made their London debut at Camden Fringe Festival in 2012.


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