Vanessa Mackness

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b. Christchurch, Hampshire, England. Mackness grew up in Ipswich, Suffolk, and studied Fine Art in the late 70s at the celebrated Camberwell School of Art, London. She later shared a studio with Maggie…
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Artist Biography by

b. Christchurch, Hampshire, England. Mackness grew up in Ipswich, Suffolk, and studied Fine Art in the late 70s at the celebrated Camberwell School of Art, London. She later shared a studio with Maggie Nicols and met Phil Minton (then singing with Mike Westbrook, but also exploring freely improvised vocals), who gave Mackness the idea of using her voice. She asked Minton for lessons, some of which were conducted under bridges to gain greater resonance. She later studied with the Hungarian mezzo-soprano Julianna Bethlen and the French composer/singer Gilles Petit; another influence was Indian classical music, through Imrat Khan and the teachings of Pandit Ravi Shankar. The London free improvisation scene embraced her wide-ranging vocal palette and sensitivity. In 1990 and 1991, she sang at Company Week and broadcast a Music In Our Time programme organized by Derek Bailey for the BBC’s Radio 3. Duos with bass player and composer Barry Guy (formed in 1989), violinist Phil Wachsmann, pianist Keith Tippett and saxophonist John Butcher produced astonishingly varied and powerful music. In 1991, she initiated a duet with Alexander Balanescu, leader of the pre-eminent contemporary classical Balanescu Quartet. She has also sung in Tom Phillips’ opera Irma and in the eight-voice Machno project, led by Phil Minton and Veryan Weston. Mackness remains open to a wide variety of vocal styles and musics - she declares she has an ‘endless preoccupation with sound in all contexts, including everyday sounds’ - and her cornucopia of vocalism has attracted much attention.