Matchess - Sonescent
Sonescent, the new album from Matchess, came to Whitney Johnson’s mind while she was at the Dhamma Vaddhana Meditation Center just north of Joshua Tree, during a course of Vipassana mediation. This is a ten day period that requires, among other codes of discipline, the practice of Noble Silence: silence of body, speech, and mind.
As this practice settled in and around her, Whitney heard the things not always focused upon: first, tinnitus . . . then, breathing . . . the heartbeat, and another pulsing (something unknown, but familiar).
So she listened to the sound of her body. After a time, her mind became involved, and she began to hear songs. But as she was keeping to her vows, she wasn’t able to write them down or sing them and record them. It was only after she’d returned from the desert that she wrote down what she’d heard, to the best of her ability.
This experience recalled the feeling that Whitney had after her time working as an installation assistant at La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s Dream House in 2016. During that period, they hung Jung Hee Choi’s Ahata Anahata, Manifest Unmanifest X. The process and aesthetic she witnessed there took up residence in her, changing everything in the process. The Vipassana meditation experience felt like another such passage, destined to resonate long and deep.
She decided to score the songs from the desert for other musicians to play, which was a departure from previous Matchess recordings, where she played and sang the music all herself. This process took a long while; first the scoring, drawing the pieces back out from herself based purely on memory. Then getting everyone together to play the music. Once she had them all finally fully captured, it seemed right to place the sounds back where they’d come from — a silent space, upon which the songs sometimes only barely intrude, as if heard from a great distance.
In the past decade, Matchess’ music has traversed outer and inner space, searching patiently for the unseen world that exists behind the world that we see everyday. When compared with the present work, the trilogy of albums released on Trouble In Mind from 2013–2018 utilised Whitney’s writing and playing abilities with relative extroversion; her mixes actively deploying instruments and songs in what might be called a traditional manner, the music tapping majestically into classical, folk, electronic and psychedelic antecedents. To listen to these records is to hear someone deep in meditation making music.
With Soncescent, the record is the sound of the meditation itself with the music existing in an atmosphere that would properly represent its fragile nature, the delicate sound of something almost completely disintegrated. Here, inspiration was taken from John Cale’s pop records and the music of Phill Niblock and Éliane Radigue. The rendering of the songs in the mix is discreet, to say the least. For the silence of the unseen word absorbing the world of the songs, Whitney used binaural sine waves, ARP Odyssey synth, loops and no input mixing techniques. The editing and mixing of this material renders it in gauze, smoke, and whispers — an exquisite barely-thereness.
In the Matchess’ tradition, the album title is a word that doesn’t exist, but relates to something that we recognise as having a definition. “Sonescent” represents music in the final stages of its life, and the 36 minutes here are appropriately active, spanning a universe of sensations gently probing the bubble of our perception, the spirits of the world outside, ready to receive us.
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