WHITNEY JOHNSON has been releasing albums exploring really gorgeous deep inner space in song and sound for a number of years now as Matchess.
Her journey in this guise began in 2015 with the downtempo ambience of Somnaphoria, vocodered vocals, clock-ticking beats, swirls and aural glitter to put The Orb to shame in the cosmic stakes.
Since that blissful debut it’s fair to say she’s slowed down even further: 2016’s Sacracorpa brought a neo-classical colour, plainsong and cellos unfolding with beauty amongst a light electronica framing; last year’s cassette-only Huizkol explored the purity of alpha, beta and theta waves.
Her new album sees her step aboard the rather fine Drag City bus and it will be out come February. It’s entitled Sonescent, and it arrived as a concept whilst she was undertaking ten days of Vipassana meditative practice at the Dhamma Vaddhana meditation centre just north of Joshua Tree, California. This period requires, among other codes of discipline, the practice of Noble Silence: that is, the silence of body, speech, and mind.
As she began to explore this space and the layers of active engagement with the world and its troubles fell away, she began to hear things you tune out from in the normal business of a hyper-engaged, 21st-century day: tinnitus; breathing; the heartbeat, and another pulsing – unknown yet wholly familiar. She kept listening.
In time she began to hear songs but wasn’t able to record them in any way due to her strict retreat. It was on return from the high desert that she was able to sketch out what had passed for her in that experience.
In a departure she decided to score the songs she heard for other musicians to bring to life, a first for a musician used to wholly producing her work independently. This process took time: firstly to capture from memory, then to invite and assemble collaborators. And then she had to begin a process of subversion, inversion; pushing the songs back into the depths, barely heard, transmitting from deep within, without.
This you can hear for yourself in the amniotic, biorhythmic immersion of a first excerpt from one of the album’s two side-long pieces: the sound of a body at, or approaching, rest; it pulses and drifts, the sound of innerspace, almost wholly removed from outer concerns and stimuli. There’s an oceanic tonal quality reminiscent of Seaworthy and Bing & Ruth; You want a full drone submersion? I suggest, humbly, this is one of the best.
Drag City say of this fine leftfield addition to the stable: “Silence squared makes a formidable monolith in our ears. The weight almost heavy upon us, a drone under which we live, through which other tones, and eventually, songs are distantly heard, in reverie.”
Matchess’s Sonescent will be released by Drag City digitally and on vinyl on February 25th; you can order your copy here.