Name: Mathew Jonson
Current Release: The Decompression Remixes on Freedom Engine
A couple books.
Megabrain - this is about the study of binaural science. It's a bit dark at times as originally this study was largely based on military use. But if applied in areas of art and health it's a worthwhile read.
Kafka on the Shore - Murakami's stories are usually a bit slow getting going. He likes to develop the characters for a few hundred pages before things turn sideways so it requires patience I think as a westerner to appreciate this school of writing. When you get used to this style though it can be quite a profound experience within each story I've read.
Rothko in the Tate Modern London - It's free to see. And if you take the time to really appreciate this room you can be transported to another dimension. I can see why it was a bit to heavy for its original curators spot at the 4 seasons ;)
Summvs - Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto - This is the best music to listen to as you drift into space.
Amel Larrieux – Morning - This is a really beautiful R&B album.
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Mathew Jonson, visit his facebook profile or the website of his Wagon Repair label for further information.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started in 1986 when I was 9 years old. It was mostly the breakdancing movement that got me interested in synthesizer music.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I learned heavily by copying other artists when I was very young. I heard Herbie Hancock's song "Rockit" on a TV breaking competition and didn't know what it was or how to find out. So I spent years remaking it as best I could myself just so I could hear the synth lines again. Wish I still had the sequencer QDisks for all that stuff. It would be fun to light up my old midi files with my current studio. ;)
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The main challenge was the sequencer I was using. The issue was that it only had two tracks so you had to constantly merge one with the other. Once you did this you couldn't undo it. So you were stuck with the sequence on that track unless you chose to mute it (which sacrificed 1 of only 8 parts for instruments). On the other hand it was great to learn on such simple equipment. Yes I was a spoiled child.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first real studio had a TR-909, Sh-101, MC-202, Jx-3p with PG200, a 16 channel Mackie VLZ and some basic effects. To be honest if I had to make music with a limited set up it wouldn't be much different. I was lucky to find this combination for very cheap in the mid 90's when everyone was selling their gear for pro tools setups. I think the total studio cost less than 2000 euro.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I'm not that great at playing piano. The fact that I can quantize notes is essential to make tracks worth releasing.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
The interface and OS (mainly sequencer) dictate much of the style of music I create. It's much easier for me to write techno for example with outboard analog equipment. If I'm using computer or sampler then I tend to lean to drum and bass or hip hop.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I feel really privileged to work with the guys from Cobblestone Jazz especially. Two years ago we decided we would walk into shows with no material and write everything live on stage. For example I write bass lines in the headphones while others are being played and then mix them. Almost like a DJ mixing tracks but instead with making up synth lines. Danuel Tate is the only one at a professional level playing piano. Patrick and I rely heavily on our sequencers. Most of the time it's amazing on stage and really exciting. On the other hand though it leaves the door open to really suck at times. But taking that risk is what makes it so exhilarating.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Lately I've been exercising a lot more and eating better. So my routine kind of revolves around that in the morning followed by an hour of business work. Then hopefully some studio or just chilling out with my lady - who I don't really get to see much these days. Late evening is for movies, playing records or reading. Or maybe I'll cook something nice if I have the time.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
It's kind of funny I guess as the way I start writing music is by doing something else in the beginning that relaxes me. This usually means having a nap or reading a book or riding my bike. Over the years I have found this is the fastest route to creativity for me. Especially when I'm on my own. So I sit down and read etc until a melody pops into my head. Sometimes this might take only a few pages of a book or a few minutes on my bike. Sometimes I'll read for hours. When I get stuck and am not sure where the piece should go next. I play it very quietly in the background then sit down and read again until the next part arrives in my head asking to be turned into sound.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
It's pretty much the same thing for me. I work the same in both situations. Writing drums on the fly. Making new melodies with the 101. The mixer is even set up the same way in both situations. In the studio I just have more options gear wise.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
It depends on what synth I go to first I guess. Each has it's own sound and character. So if I walk up to any instrument in my studio the whole feeling will be around that specific sound.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I studied a bit about binaural sound in the 90's. This is really interesting stuff. In the auditory realm it is has a noticeable result. But as the optic nerve is connected more directly to our brain than the eardrum, the use of lights stimulating the eyes using the same frequencies is much stronger. Even more strong is the use of magnetic pulses on the brain. I've had a few profound experiences with the latter. Things like waking up super alert and conscience from a point I fell asleep and then realizing I'm still snoring and only able to feel my eyeballs rolling around in there sockets as I look around a dark room. Then after not being able to hold this state for more than maybe 10 breaths (due to my excitement) feeling the energy of the entire vastness of the universe suck in to my body as I fully awake. Fun stuff. ;)
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Music is something that I relate closest with meditation. It turns out it's actually quite addictive. Next door to where I work is this really great production house called Cherry Bomber studios. The head engineer was telling me last week that new technology has allowed scientists to monitor the brain waves of Tibetan monks while deep in meditation. They also measured others from artists to athletes etc and it became apparent that the brain activity of the monks was the same as what happens when musicians and sound engineers reach a semi trance state while playing or mixing. So essentially we are meditating on a daily basis for almost a third of our waking hours. I think this allows music to be a major power in influencing politics and society as this energy resonates through all the people that love and listen to music. These ideas used to be just things that hippies and intellectuals alike would discuss over LSD but now it's scientifically proven. Not to discredit what I'm saying with a joke. But maybe after all the stories The Beatles really did play a part in the fall of the U.S.S.R.? After all if the C.I.A. sponsored artists like Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko as a weapon during the Cold War then why wouldn't music have similar power politically and onwards.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I had a great experience at a Cirque du Soleil dinner show on Thursday at Heart Club in Ibiza. I've seen so many trends of technology influencing art for so long. But the most powerful thing about this show was actually going back to the roots and just featuring incredibly talented artists performers and musicians. Technology was used as a backdrop for the talent vs it being the main focus. With so many possibilities available to us with technology it is becoming more apparent over the years that what is actually timeless is something more organic, classic and human. If I were to guess, then I would say music in the not so far future will be more about melody than it will be about technology and whatever makes the newest effects sound.