As we stagger onwards into the 21st century, musical genres begin to meld and mutate with increasingly random, and occasionally inspiring results. A number of artists have spent the last few years blending digital sound with acoustic, traditional forms with experimental structures and good ol' fashioned songwriting with the liberating dynamics of 'dance' music in all its myriad forms. Few have done it with the grace, beauty or soul of John Matthias.
John's background perhaps lends itself to this blending of tradition and futurism. As a child his skill as a violinist took him across Europe with a youth orchestra, honing his performance in front of thousands. Equally talented academically, John headed off to Exeter in the late '80s to read theoretical physics.
At university his interests in music and science continued to develop side by side, occasionally intersecting. In 1991 he co-formed the Exeter Contemporary Music Group, organising a three day festival of contemporary classical music. This included performances of their own music based on mathematical pseudo-random models in traffic flow systems. At the same time he was deep in research for a Ph.D in physics entitled 'Quantum Evaporation from Superfluid Helium' which was completed in 1998.
John moved to Bristol in 1998, but continued both his research work and his music. Musical collaborations include his violin playing on Radiohead's 'The Bends' and The Blue Aeroplanes recent LP, and work with the vastly different musical forces that are Lunatic Calm and Matthew Herbert.
As well as musical collaborator, Matthew Herbert is also owner of the Lifelike label on which John Matthias' first album, ‘Smalltown Shining’ was released. A collaboration between John and producer Nick Ryan (who previously recorded as 'Silverkick' for Fused and Bruised records), the project combines John's love of classic strong structures and live instrumentation with the loose grooves and dissonant arrangements of electronica. The unique melding of styles is brought together by John's sublime vocals and the experimental but engaging production from Nick Ryan whose experience in sound innovation led to his appointment as Head of Sound Design with the BBC's Creative Development department. Additional production work on the album comes courtesy of Matthew Herbert and Richard Bell.
The first track 'All The Time In The World' is the perfect introduction to John Matthias' sound. Gently melodic and underpinned with gloriously multi-layered production, this is a song that is genuinely experimental yet timeless. The rather wonderful cover artwork has been supplied by Radiohead collaborator and short story writer extraordinaire Stanley Donwood, and a video for the track has been created from 1950's film footage of Cyprus, supplied by drummer Tony Plato's father Aristophanes, and spliced together by Steve Phillips.
Recently, John Matthias has collaborated with Coldcut, co-writing and performing a track on their 2005 album and also with Corker-Conboy on the track ‘Radiant Idiot’ which is on their recent album of the same name. The request to remix ‘Radiant Idiot’ provided the opportunity to form ‘Derailer’ with collaborator, David Prior. The remix can be heard on Corker-Conboy’s ‘Six for five’ e.p. These collaborations have also moved John Matthias into the world of film music composition working with Corker-Conboy on ‘The Hamburg Cell’ (Directed by Antonia Bird) and ‘Three degrees colder’ (Directed by Florian Hoffmeister)
In terms of research, he is a member of the Computer Music Research Group at Plymouth University where he has recently been developing a new granular sampler using spiking artificial neurons. Hopefully it will be used somewhere on his next record…