Mathew Jonson on reason and intuition, in the studio and beyond

07 July 2015
Mariana Berezovska

Reconciling our intuitive nature and analytical reasoning is an art form on its own. Especially when being constantly exposed to information and other people's lives, as those are overwhelming. We need to learn to follow our feelings and let life come to its organic state. At the Expedition festival we spoke to Mathew Jonson about listening to intuition, saluting sun to Keith Jarrett, and letting things go.


Mariana: You always mention intuition when talking about your music production.

Mathew: We each explore two tendencies: analytical and intuitive, and they both are important, particularly with art. I trust my intuition and prefer doing things naturally rather than conceptualising a project.

I had fun doing conceptual work, but it feels much more natural when things simply come my way. I even sleep with my phone beside my bed with the recorder on, so when I wake up I can sing the music that I was having in my dream into the phone. Also in the studio I do things to distract myself. For example, I start reading a book, just flip a few pages and have a melody in my head.

Conceptual art is an adventure where you aim for results the way you think those are supposed to be. Another adventure is about letting things happen and not knowing where they will go. These are two different approaches.

Many people also conceptualise the way their life should be: either because it is what their parents told them or because society pushes them into that.

I am an intuitive person and I can see when something is not going the right way. If I feel that I am somehow getting stuck, I start reconsidering the way of my life.

Also being in the studio is an incredible mirror: if I go into the studio and I have nothing to write and don't have melodies coming into my head, then I know that something is seriously wrong and changes are needed.

The painter and yogi Bob Ross used to say 'we don't make mistakes, we just have happy accidents'. You mentioned previously that you also appreciate little mistakes in your creative process.

I guess a good example is when I'm writing music for piano. Honestly, I'm not a very good pianist at all. However, I hope that one day I will be conformable enough to play on stage.

When you practice piano, a lot of it is muscle memory, so you can let your brain go and let your muscles take over. When I detach myself from what I'm playing and hit the wrong notes it might actually sound really good. Although in fact these are my fingers stumbling around the keyboard.

It's an interesting topic when compared to computer music.

These days a lot of producer who don't have musical education would quantise a scale into their computer so that no matter which notes they play on their keyboard, it always be E minor seven or whatever. It is the small intonation and the little sliding bits outside the scale that give so much expression to the key that you are in. This way a lot of electronic music is becoming too perfect. People are just happy to write something, as long as there is no a wrong note, no dissonant. It might not have a melody, but it works harmonically.

I'm not saying that it can't sound good. Sometimes it sounds fantastic. But in order to take things to another level you have to really explore. And using mistakes is a nice way of doing this.

Can you give some examples of artist who do not make their music sound too perfect?

Well these are people who are improvising on the stage. Guys like Squarepusher and Monolog are really good at it. However, in electronic music there are not that many people who play fully live. I rather think that it is live musicians who push boundaries. When l play with Cobblestone Jazz, for example, we don't have any samples or sequences anymore. And it is very exciting to play like that. But I think it is also more difficult to play this kind of stuff solo. When I play solo I have all kind of stuff written, and then I improvise when I can with the drum machines and synthesisers.

Basically in music the art of letting go is called improvisation, and you practice it well. Is it easy for you to let things go in the everyday life as well?

At times it is, at times it isn't. I'm human, right. I'm a fairly positive person and I enjoy spending time with family and friends. I do spend a lot of time breeding on the business side though. The music industry is not just about playing shows and having parties. For instance, I had all kind of problems with my record label when things started slowing down with the vinyl sales and money was not coming in as it used to. It was very difficult to be free about it and just go with the flow. On the other hand I did have to make a conscious choice to say 'Hey, I can't be losing sleep every night over this'. I had to learn to let it go because it was just business. And have to know how to keep my head and business separate. Every day I wake up and do between one or two hours of business. Rest of the time I focus on art.

Are you involved with any spiritual practices?

I actually have a really funny workout plan. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is putting on a record from the section of Keith Jarrett' solo piano works. He is my favourite jazz pianist. The size of each record is 18 to 30 minutes. I pick one without looking what it is. Most of them are live recordings and there is so much energy in the music. He is incredible — it feels like he has six hands. So I figured that if he can play piano like that for twenty five minutes straight without stopping then I would be able to have some sun salutations before the time he finishes.

And then in the end of most records the audience is clapping. And I am like 'Yeahh!'

Time really flies by, because I enjoy the music so much. It's amazing how you feel after a bit of yoga in the morning, although it is hard when I am touring. It's a different start than waking up and looking at your iPad. It's just the last couple months I've taken a different turn in my life and wanted to get my head and my body back on track.

And is there a specific reason for the turn?

I have these phases in life when suddenly I feel a need to be healthy and take control of my life. Being a musician and touring a lot is really tiring. I was active when I was younger. When I see myself getting into a sluggish condition, I do something to snap myself back. If my body is not happy, I see my head getting into depression. I spend three months not drinking anything and focusing on my health. I am vegetarian during the week and at the weekend I eat everything I want. I'm trying to get some balance in this unbalanced life.

The choice of words is interesting: 'I see my head going into the depression'. So you can actually separate your physical state from your mental state?

I feel that I have experienced different types of consciousness and sub-consciousness. And the way I see my body is also different from the level of consciousness or spirit or whatever you want to call it.

Just a few years ago 'awareness' was the main word. Now we're shifting to consciousness.

It's funny how the fact that our technology is moving so quickly can play a role in that. It's forcing us to be experiencing humanity in a different way. It's creating a lot of problems as well. It's forcing us into uncomfortable situation. But also putting us in (too?) comfortable situations.

We are greatly exposed to what is happening in other people's lives. All sides of the world are bombarded by information or misinformation. It is really difficult to deal with it and this is kind of overwhelming.

I tend to get incredibly depressed when I see things happening in the world that I don't agree with. I kind of get too involved and struggle with the fact that the more I understand it the more powerless I feel. But I try to be as supportive as I can: I give a lot of money to charity and when I know that my family or friends are in need I do as much as I can in order to help them.

Follow Mathew Jonson:

Cobblestone Jazz at Transportbedrijf, Rotterdam (NL) 10.07
Cobblestone Jazz at Fabric, London (UK) 11.07
Mathew Jonson at VIVA Warriors, Sankeys, Ibiza (SP) 12.07
Mathew Jonson at Studio Stekker Festival, Utrecht (NL) 25.07
Midnight Operator at Dekmantel by Night, Melkweg, Amsterdam (NL) 31.07

Big thanks to Revolt // Expedition Festival (Rotterdam)

Photography by Lars Hoeben / VAAG.

Mariana Berezovska

Mariana Berezovska

Mariana believes in music, aesthetic education, second language acquisition and the power of doing things together.