INTERVIEW: Anna Hughes | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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This week marks the conclusion of Sage Gateshead’s 2022/23 Artists in Residence programme – a 10-month process that’s granted four standout local creators the time, funding and space to deliver on exciting and ambitious new project concepts. This year’s residencies have already culminated in three stunning showcases: cellist/songwriter Ceitidh Mac’s contemporary radio ballad, an epic Requiem from multifaceted composer Kerrin Tatman, and enveloping musings on loneliness from electronic experimentalist Late Girl. Last (but by no means least) to take to the stage is Anna Hughes, who debuts her own project, Fell Silent, with a special show on Thursday 29th June.

A graduate of Newcastle University’s Folk and Traditional Music course, Anna has already showcased her talents in a range of configurations, whether performing in bands such Balter and Northering, or collaborating with the likes of Holly Clark, Jessie Howard and her sister Isobel. “I can’t really escape going back to the same things that interest me thematically and sonically,” she says, on Fell Silent’s connection to her existing oeuvre. “I think there’s a strong natural influence in all my work, but I see this as its own thing. I’ve really pushed myself here in a lot of ways: writing for a string quartet, venturing into field recording, spatialising the electronic or pre-recorded parts for a quadraphonic speaker setup. I’m still very much a beginner in all these things, and that opens up new possibilities!”

In keeping with the environmental theme of this year’s Artist in Residence projects, Fell Silent is Anna’s exploration of the links between human activity and the natural world – a call not only to protect against further losses, but to restore our connection to the ecosystems which shaped us. “I listened to an interview with Bernie Krause on the Invisibilia podcast, and I couldn’t get it out of my head,” she recalls, detailing the piece’s origins. “He spoke about how soundscape artists have discovered that ecosystems have evolved to create sound together, much like a musical composition. When human sounds interfere, this symbiosis is disturbed, which leads to population decline… and silence.

I wanted to write some music where all influence came from looking out, past the city and the disturbance of humans, to a simpler and wilder way of being

I wanted to write some music where all influence came from looking out, past the city and the disturbance of humans, to a simpler and wilder way of being,” she continues. “It also came about from an unsustainable lifestyle – shutting myself in practice rooms and walking around with headphones – when my heart is fullest outdoors and by the sea. I wanted to combine the two parts of me – music and nature – instead of having them pull me apart.”

Turning this vision into a fully realised composition, Sage Gateshead’s programme offered both mentoring and financial backing, encouraging Anna to purchase new, more sophisticated equipment and experiment with fresh recording techniques. Wind protection proved particularly salient – not least during a residential retreat to the Isle of Skye, an inspiring getaway which spawned some of her most honest music to date.

“In a way it can be hard having such an establishment backing you. It can trigger imposter syndrome – that feeling that you can always do better and work harder, and the pressure to create something extraordinary,” she reflects. “I think it’s really important to recognise this, because a big part of this process for me has been accepting the music that’s come from it – with its imperfections and room for development – and opening myself up to share it.”

Despite – or perhaps even as a result of – these challenges, Anna’s enthusiasm for Fell Silent’s mission remains undimmed: “It’s a personal bid to connect and relate to the living things I’ve observed and listened to – to let them in, and most importantly consider them something as something to care for however we can. I think that connection to nature is the purest escapism, especially in our current climate.”

Anna Hughes performs Fell Silent at Sage Gateshead on Thursday 29th June.

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