061 - Matchess
Whitney Johnson has been making up songs since she was a young child. In adulthood she's honed that craft into a fully formed musical vision recording under the name Matchess. Her most recent full length, and my entry into her musical world, was the wonderful Sacracorpa, the final part of a trilogy of releases that was recorded in an earth ship outside Abiquiú, New Mexico as well as in studios in Chicago & New York. The former is where Whitney calls home and where she has become a staple of the underground music scene, not only with Matchess but also playing in both Verma and avant-folk band Circuit Des Yeux.
That trilogy of solo records forms the basis of her Métron mixtape which mimics her set list from the summer release show held at the International Museum of Surgical Sciences in 2018. Packed with ethereal field recordings, magnetic tape hiss, drum machines, soaring strings and Johnson's Ace Tone organ, these deeply layered and textured pieces surround her fragile, and at times haunting, vocal work to create emotionally vibrant arrangements.
The set ends with the final track from Sacracorpa and a personal favourite of mine, Of Freedom, a track that has something of early era Silver Mt. Zion in it's sprawling, heartfelt and delicate wonder. It's a perfect snapshot of the Matchess journey so far, and judging by the shift in direction on her latest offering, an extended minimalist piece for the excellent Australian project Longform Editions, it perhaps marks a turning of the page.
I spoke briefly to Whitne about Chicago, her new release and her plans for 2019. You can read the full interview beneath the artwork below.
Thanks so much for your mix - why these tracks in particular?
This mix is the set list for the Trilogy release show that happened last summer. The show was held in the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, an exhibition of surgical artwork and artifacts in the Eleanor Robinson Countiss Mansion. I performed in the "Hall of Immortals," a white marble room containing twelve large stone statues of great figures in medicine and the allied sciences, including Andreas Vesalius holding a human skull. That night was a surreal culmination of the four records in the Trilogy. These tracks are some of my favorites, including all three versions of "The Greatest Wealth."
How is Chicago?
Chicago is the best music city in the world, but it's cold as hell! We're all trying to figure out how to leave the heat on while recording at the same time.
When did you first realise you wanted to make music?
I moved away from the small town of Curwensville, Pennsylvania in the Allegheny Mountains when I was 6 years old. When I came back to visit at age 8 or 9, a childhood friend asked me if I was still making up songs.
You've been working with Longform Editions on a piece that's quite different from your other work - how did that project come about?
After tracking Sacracorpa in the spring of 2017, I volunteered at La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela's Dream House in New York as part of my doctoral research. Spending a couple months installing artwork for their disciple, Jung Hee Choi, immersed me in a new world of frequency ratios, just intonation, and long-duration minimalism. I still don't understand a lot of it. That year was like turning a corner, and "Fundamental 256 Hz" is the first thing I came across on the other side.
How do you feel when you are creating music as Matchess?
Alternately free and lost. The vague sense of possibility walking around an unfamiliar place and then getting absorbed into hours of scoring flute arrangements for elevator muzak.
What are your plans for 2019?
Recording those flutes, touring and playing in Chicago, installing a sonic "sensorium" at a museum, teaching sound studies at an art school. Hiking in the Canadian Rockies with my sister. I want to learn more about the science of sound healing.
Any lesser known recommendations for our readers?
Today I listened to David Edren's Electronic Gamelan Music cassette on the Social Harmony label out of Belgium.