Duets with Blanca Regina. SPONTANEOUS MUSIC
UK Unpredictable Series no number CD / DL (2018)
A video artist and lecturer by profession, also “…involved in creating audio-visual performances, sound works, multimedia installations, photography and book arts…”; in this project, improvisor Blanca Regina brings a different facet of her musical practice to each duet. Sometimes she utilizes her voice, sometimes instruments or objects, sometimes software, sometimes combinations. With the exception of the inclusion of a live performance with Wade Matthews in Madrid, these recordings were made in a London studio by Syd Kemp, (who I believe at the time of writing is gainfully employed as bassist with Ulrika Spacek), this year, all in one summer day. As Blanca points out in the notes for this release, there is “…a strong tradition of free improvisation (or spontaneous music) for which London is renowned throughout the world…” Indeed, the title itself makes reference to the late great John Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble (SME). In Trevor Barre’s overviews of the London Free Improvisation scene in the 60s/70s, Plink Plonk and Scratch, and Covergences, Divergences and Affinities, the SME were a key grouping along and sometimes overlapping with AMM and Derek Bailey and his Incus label – players who came to be known as the “first generation London improvisors”. Those with an interest in this area should peruse Trevor’s works and also David Toop’s excellent recent book, Into The Maelstrom and Brian Olewnick’s new biography of Keith Rowe to get a nice rounded overview of the scene.
It’s a nice idea for an album; Blanca chooses other Londoners with whom to collaborate, friends as well as fellow musicians, no doubt, such is the nature of London’s improvising scene; a small – although much bigger now than it has ever been - friendly and supportive community of like-minded practitioners. She possesses a strong voice and is clearly as familiar and comfortable with traditional song form as she is with extended technique and improvising freely. On “Elrington” where she duets with long-time collaborator Steve Beresford, she extemporises in an almost Kurt Weill-ian manner while simultaneously rippling and squashing her vocals in real time through the processing software on her trusty laptop. There is a playful use of a tape-speed effect on “Lavender”, for example; the first of two pieces with saxophonist John Butcher. Another long-term collaborator is Matthias Kispert, and on “Wilton”, they produce a very intense experience; close-mic’ed, claustrophobic, intense, familiar…
Blanca has collaborated with John Burton aka Leafcutter John since 2013 as far as I’m aware, and they certainly produce an intricate and effective piece in “Nayim”, as you might expect from a five-plus year working relationship. Keyboard-type sounds are detourned by John while Blanca repurposes a variety of sound-making objects, thumb piano, whisks(?!,) and wordless, cocktail-jazz vocal irony.
“Penpoll” is a detourned torch song of sorts thanks to the pop-classicist in pianist Jack Goldstein, while on “Forest” Hyelim Kim plays Taegūm; a “large bamboo transverse flute used in traditional Korean music”. Limpid, restrained, flowing, like a really great acupuncture session or an Indian head massage. “Pitwell” teams Blanca with fellow vocal improviser Sharon Gal; both musicians playing to their strengths and on “Navarino”, Aneek Thapar gets powerful tones from a Bechstein grand using only a handheld fan.
Other tracks feature violinist Benedict Taylor, whom I know from his involvement with Carousel Collective and the Brighton improvisors Thomas Mindhouse, Wade Matthews, where Matthews’ electronics/software produce a Pointillist, conversational approach and glassy electronic tones.
As the sleeve-notes state, Blanca’s “…presence on each track gives the resulting recording a unity…”
A lot more can be gleaned from Pierrre Bouvier Patron’s short film about the session, here: