INTERVIEW: Sage Gateshead – Artists in Residence | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Kerrin Tatman

As well as being a world class concert hall and one of the North East’s most iconic landmarks, Sage Gateshead is a creative hub and charity that’s fostered the careers of countless musicians from across the region. Every year, the charity’s Artists in Residence programme offers a handful of lucky applicants the time, funding and space to deliver ambitious new projects – with each granted a special showcase to exhibit their finished work. Martha Hill, Me Lost Me and Beccy Owen are just some of the esteemed names to have benefited from the scheme in years past, and June witnesses the close of another cycle, with four more visionary figures poised to parade their wares before an audience.
So what exactly have the 2022-23 Artists in Residence spent the past nine months working on?

First up on Thursday 15th June is Ceitidh Mac, who delves into the world of Radio Ballads – documentary-style radio shows featuring original music, interviews and field recordings – with a specific focus on the issues facing local residents.

Image: Ceitidh Mac

“The original Radio Ballads were a creative way of telling people’s stories. Music can be a powerful way of putting observations into a digestible format, and adding people’s own words combined all the things I wanted to work with in one,” she says. “A main focus was to not make this project extractive. By that, I mean not giving something back, but hopefully representing the people I spoke to in the melodies and songs. People spoke of their connections to the North East; the strikes – both present and back in the 1980s; community and different places you find it; technology; working whilst being a mum, and experiences of women working in male dominated trades… lots of things. Quite a few of the interviewees are coming to the gig, which is the bit I’m most nervous about!”

Perhaps the most multifaceted of this year’s pieces comes courtesy of Kerrin Tatman, whose Requiem For A Fading World – “a fantastical, post-apocalyptic tale for modern times” – debuts on Thursday 22nd June. Blending contemporary classical, choral and folk influences, this meticulously crafted narrative turns the traditional Requiem structure on its head, using puppetry, characterisation, stop motion animation and an accompanying comic to create an experience that’s both cinematic and thought-provoking.

It would have been impossible for me to write this piece without the breathing space and support of the residency

“The narrative is very much inspired by the present climate emergency and the views of people on different sides of the argument,” they say. “It’s also a wider exploration of how disjointed we’ve become from each other through politics, technology and religion, and how we need to look for new ways to unite and progress forward.”

Kerrin is particularly effusive of the opportunities the Artists in Residence programme has offered: “This has been the most ambitious piece of music I’ve worked on to date. I’ve learnt so much about composition and my own style of writing through the process, and it’s been fantastic and a huge lifeline to work with collaborators Rosie Bristow (lyrics), Becky Musgrove (dramaturgy) and Kris Stewart (comic book art). It would have been impossible for me to write this piece without the breathing space and support of the residency alongside my other work and commitments. Working at such an inspirational building surrounded by amazing musicians has pushed me forward to complete the project.”

Image: Late Girl

Next up on Friday 23rd June is Late Girl, with No Antonym For Loneliness. Approaching the environmental theme from an altogether different angle, ingenious and resourceful electronic artist Laura Stutter Garcia examines isolation in a wider context, offering “a processed choir of lonely people” assembled from a series of recorded workshops and conversations with communities around Newcastle.

“Loneliness sits in a wider context, and is as much an environmental issue as a societal one – the boundaries of both are and should be seen as very blurry,” she explains. “The pandemic is an example of this: we tend to divide social and environmental as two separate things – one cultural, the other natural – and what an epic-fail approach that is…”

As an artist who leans heavily on technology, Laura placed particular focus on the ways digital inventions have fuelled the loneliness epidemic. “Social isolation often gravitates around deprived areas, and many of our social technologies actually make it worse. I’ve met a lot of people who have no access to digital technologies, or that struggle with how they affect them, so it felt important to check how I interacted with the technologies I use to make music. It’s part of a conversation that should be happening at all levels of our society, and I only see it happening briefly in some.”

Finally, Thursday 29th June sees the premiere of Anna Hughes’ Fell Silent – in which she combines textured strings, contemplative songs, field recordings and visuals in a bid to restore our connection to the natural world. “I wanted to write some music where all influence has come from looking out, past the city and disturbance of humans, to a simpler, wilder way of being,” she details. “It also came about from an unsustainable lifestyle, trying to work as a musician in a city, when my soul is fullest by the sea and being outdoors.”

Ostensibly a folk musician, the Artist in Residence programme has inspired Anna to venture far outside her comfort zone: “I’ve really pushed myself here in a lot of ways – writing for string quartet, venturing into field recording, and spatialising for a quadraphonic speaker setup. I’m very much a beginner in all these things, and that’s opened up new possibilities for a fresh endeavour. I’ve by no means mastered any of this – it’s an ongoing exploration, which is both stressful and exciting to share with the public!”

Image: Annah Hughes

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