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Mathew Jonson is the Hardware Hunter Living on the Edge of Live Performance

Does he have more projects than gear? Or more gear that projects? It's a close race.

by Geoff Harricks
Jun 10 2015, 9:50pm

Mathew Jonson, the Berlin-based British Columbia native, has been a recurring musician at Montreal's Mutek for the last 12 years. Undeniably, his recurring role at the festival is due to his ability to address their mandate year after year. Jonson is an artist operating at the leading edge of technology, music, and live performance—just like MUTEK.

Outside of his own venerated live act, Jonson operates with an array of other acts, including the Modern Deep Left Quartet, Midnight Operator, a live act with Minilogue, and Cobblestone Jazz. With his hands in many pots, Jonson is still able to uphold a distinctive sound, one that emits from each of his projects. THUMP recently caught up with Jonson, who happily shed some light on his use of hardware both in and out of the studio and his desire to perform live.

While discussing the evolution of digital instruments—one of the typical topics at MUTEK—it was clear that Johnson has a much broader and deeper understanding than most. "The lines of analog and digital are really blurred now. With technology, it's possible to create the same warmth in sound as with digital. The sound quality is there," explains Jonson. "To be honest, I don't see this changing in the near future. I highly doubt that we're going to see computer technology that is quick enough to be able to play digital instruments as though they were acoustic or analog."

His points are sound, but in the end, it all comes down to what you personally want out of the equipment. Jonson understands that he's a rare breed of live performer. "Not everybody plays instruments like I do. It really depends on your style," he explains. Using a set-up that most people would need three hands and years of practice to master, Jonson has still yet to change his live show's equipment. "I have two drum machines, a MIDI controller, a soundcard, a 24-channel mixer, a Roland SH-101, and a couple effects. I play with the exact same rig for all the groups, minus the computer with them," says Jonson.

The most mind-boggling aspect of Jonson's artistic character is the fact that each show is 100 percent, in all interpretations of the term, live. Or in his words, "all completely improvised." As primarily a live performer, every time Jonson performs you're bound to hear something you've never heard before because, well, that's his plan. As techno lends itself easily to the art of DJing, Jonson depends instead on improvisation. This ability to improvise full sets has come from a tremendous amount of experience and practice, but also the will to bring his beloved hardware on stage.

Bringing it back to Mutek, which is rooted in an onslaught of live performances, it's simply in Jonson's nature to attend. "I think as far as Canadian festivals go it is definitely the forefront. There has always been a side of art and education involved in the festival, which you don't find at a lot of other places," he says. "The fact that it's focused on live performance is unique worldwide. Most festivals in this genre of music are mainly focused on DJs. So it's refreshing to come to one where you can go out and the majority of people you see are playing live. Watching someone perform live is very different from watching most DJs."

As we look to the future, Jonson makes mention of yet another project, one that's completely comprised of Canadians. "There is an album that's finished between Hreno, The Mole, and myself under a project called The Dog Years. It will be more of a psychedelic thing," reveals Jonson. "We're not sure where it will come out, but we've been talking to Crosstown Rebels a bit about it. Hopefully, it will be out by the end of the year." With his rig in tow, Jonson is continuing to tour the world while supporting his analog improvisation and his unending quest of hardware hunting.

Mathew Jonson is on Facebook // SoundCloud // Twitter

Geoff is on Twitter.
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