BEHIND THE MUSIC: Faye MacCalman | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Victoria Wai

An in-demand performer, collaborator and leader of the brilliant jazz trio Archipelago, Newcastle-based multi-instrumentalist Faye MacCalman has spent recent years building a similarly enviable oeuvre as a solo artist. Here, Faye talks us through Invisible, Real: an ambitious audiovisual project developed as part of The Glasshouse’s Artist in Residence programme, set to debut with a special show on Thursday 13th June.

Words: Faye MacCalman

Somebody close to me died of suicide a few years back and it really devastated me. It made a lot of the stuff I was doing as an artist feel pointless. I was angry and consumed by grief, and felt lonely as it wasn’t easy to talk about. It made me realise how much stigma I was still carrying with me. There’s a lot of discourse about how it’s okay to talk about these things, but the actions to back it up are often quite different. I wanted to create something which got beneath that surface level – a surreal, sci-fi-inspired adventurist world with space for all these complicated feelings… something less heavy and more playful. I love artists like Kassa Overall who talk about their sensitivities and struggles and use them as a superpower, so it was time to put my money where my mouth is…

Invisible, Real began as an installation at Cheltenham Jazz Festival in 2022, with funding from Jerwood Arts, who’ve also helped back The Glasshouse residency. I worked on it all through lockdown, intensely and on my own. That original version was just me performing solo, with visuals from Rhian Cooke and Nikki Sheth on spatialised sound. There were lots of recorded homemade backing tracks and some of the effects can’t be recreated – so this time I’m adapting it for a band, creating room for improvisation and writing new segments. I’ve expanded it so that it now comprises two 45-minute sets, and Rhianne has created more beautiful visual designs using the same method of projecting onto hanging fabrics. They’re quite textural and abstract – they make everything appear to be floating!

A key element of Invisible, Real came from the public, who I asked to submit their anonymous experiences of mental illness and hidden inner worlds. There’s a lot of me in there music-wise, but there’s only one lyric that I’ve written myself – everything else in the 90-minute show is made up of audience replies. It was an amazing experience going through the moving and personal stories that were sent in. People often assume they’re sad, but a lot of them were also really uplifting. The whole point of the project is to bring people together – that’s the most important thing to me.

I want to keep doing Invisible, Real for as long as I can, and to see how it evolves with fresh audience replies. I love learning about people and their inner worlds, and I find this format exciting because it’s so fluid. The ensemble for The Glasshouse performance is me (woodwinds, voice, electronics), John Pope (double-bass, voice) Elaine Cheng (keys, voice) and Beccy Owen (keys, voice) – but unlike other projects, I can adapt it for different places and different musicians, and ask those performers to respond to people’s experiences in an improvised way. It feels like a cool thing to bring to bring to different spaces or cities, so that everybody can experience it together.

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