Whitney Johnson is a musician, composer, and writer based in Chicago. She performs, improvises, and collaborates through the viola, as well as vocalization, organ, and electronics. In her solo work, Matchess, she considers the reproduction of sound and meaning through a range of historical material processes, including reel-to-reel tape looping, cassette tape sampling, and field recording. With the limited palette of a 1960s Ace Tone organ, viola, an analog drum machine, and voice, she crafts a sound collage of transient songs on a bed of droning ambient noise. She has recently collaborated in improvised and composed settings with Circuit des Yeux, TALsounds (as Damiana), Gel Set (as Simulation), Couteau Sang (as Surfactant), Lia Kohl, Macie Stewart, Brett Naucke, Ryley Walker, Bitchin Bajas, Lea Bertucci, and Sarah Davachi. In tandem with her music practice, she received her doctorate in the sociology of sound from the University of Chicago, writing a dissertation on the cultural value of embodied sensory perception, particularly in the discipline of sound art.
Fundamental 256 Hz takes the listener through four stages of simulated brain activity by creating binaural beats at descending speeds. The first movement features a sine wave oscillator, tuning forks, and voice creating Beta waves, the speed of the brain in conscious activity. The next section introduces a viola in just intonation – harmonically tuned fifths and octaves around the 256 Hz fundamental (128 Hz, 170 2/3Hz, and 384Hz) – to create Alpha waves, a relaxed waking brain state. The second half begins with an Arp synthesizer assisting the creation of Theta waves, the brain speed in a state of deep relaxation or just before sleep. We have some of our most unique ideas in a Theta state. The final movement reintroduces dissonant voices to induce a state of Delta energy: dreamless sleep. It was difficult to make the final movement; several times I fell asleep at the mixing board during the transition to the Delta phase!
Deep listening plays with the notion of attention. When changes take place very slowly, only a skilled meditator could hold the sound in conscious attention for the entire duration. I find myself drifting between deep listening and absorptive hearing:
Deep Listening – Absorptive Hearing
Conscious – Subconscious
Attentive – Detached
Intentional – Intuitive
Consumptive – Receptive
Alert – Languid
Discriminating – Equanimous