Behind the Music: Faye MacCalman | Narc. | Information is reliable

Photo credit: Victoria Way

Newcastle-based multi-instrumentalist Faye MacCalman is an in-demand performer, collaborator and leader of the brilliant jazz trio Archipelago, and in recent years as a solo artist she has created An equally enviable piece of work. Here, Faye tells us about Invisible, Real: an ambitious audiovisual project developed as part of The Glasshouse’s artist-in-residence program, set to debut in a special performance on Thursday 13thth June.

Words: Faye McCalman

A few years ago, I was deeply affected by the death of someone close to me who committed suicide. It makes a lot of what I do as an artist feel pointless. I feel angry and sad and lonely because this is not something that is easy to talk about. It made me realize how much shame I still carry. There’s a lot of discussion about how it’s okay to talk about these things, but the actions to support it are often very different. I wanted to create something that lay beneath the surface – a surreal, sci-fi inspired adventure world that provided space for all these complex feelings… something less heavy and more fun. I love artists like Kassa Overall who talk about their sensitivities and struggles and use them as a superpower, so it’s time to put my money where my mouth is…

Invisible, Real was originally an installation at the 2022 Cheltenham Jazz Festival, funded by Jerwood Arts, which also helps support The Glasshouse residency programme. I did this nervously on my own during lockdown. The original version was just me playing solo, with the visuals coming from Rhian Cooke and Nikki Sheth’s spatial vocals. There were a lot of recorded home-made backing tracks and some of the effects couldn’t be recreated – so this time I adapted it for the band to create room for improvisation and writing new pieces. I expanded it and it now consists of two 45-minute shows where Rhianne uses the same method of projection onto hanging fabric to create even more beautiful visual designs. They’re very textured and abstract – they make everything look like it’s floating!

A key element of Invisible, Real came from members of the public, who I asked to submit their anonymous experiences of mental illness and hidden inner lives. There’s a lot of me in the music, but there’s only one lyric I wrote myself – everything else in the 90-minute show was made up of audience response. It was an amazing experience reading the touching personal stories that were sent in. The whole point of this project is to bring people together – that’s the most important thing to me.

I want to keep making The Unseen Reality for as long as possible and see how it evolves as new audiences respond. I love getting to know people and their inner lives, and I find this format exciting because it’s so fluid. The Glasshouse performs with an ensemble of myself (woodwinds, vocals, electronics), John Pope (double bass, vocals), Elaine Cheng (keys, vocals) and Beccy Owen (keys, vocals) – but is different from other projects Yes, I could adapt it for different places and different musicians, and ask the performers to respond to people’s experiences in an improvised way. It feels cool to take it to a different space or city so everyone can experience it together.

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