Name: Jonny Enser aka MATTERS UNKNOWN
Occupation: Multi-instrumentalist, composer
Current release: Members of Nerija, Emma-Jean Thackray’s band, Noya Rao, Golden Mean and COLECTIVA feature on MATTER UNKNOWN's debut album We Aren’t Just, out now via New Soil.
[Read our Emma-Jean Thackray interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with MATTERS UNKNOWN and would like to stay up to date with the project, visit him on Instagram, and Facebook.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
The work I am most spiritually satisfied by writes itself whilst I am in between places, from dreams or when in the flow doing something unrelated. I record these as voice notes on my phone and develop at the piano, then on other instruments and when it reaches a point I am satisfied as a framework I invite my band to implement their specialism into the tune.
I know there is an innate earworm (or several) in every tune I compose as I intend to have every audience humming tunes after leaving one of my shows.
This is one approach but I do have many as I don’t want to give too much away. However, I will say as someone actively dating I find that most entrancing love interests can inspire up to 4 tunes (which is a fairly new record for me).
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I am obsessed with nature, growth, decay and the flow of all things. I love inviting this into my workflow in any artistic medium as this can behold so much raw spiritual resonance.
Sometimes for a new piece, I close my eyes and just let my hands fall, or practice interesting cells of intervals. However, when the flow gets going you have to just go with it and sometimes 5 or 6 hours just disappear and you listen back later and it almost feels like someone else wrote it.
I believe very much in the Gods, muses and surrender.
Planning I usually apply to project management i.e. session plans when there are tunes and a desired outcome.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I find that I like to be on my own ideally but not exclusively away from home. Somewhere with a piano and my horns. These are the only tools I need however I love synthesis and using ableton to help develop full orchestrations.
I play, Trumpet, Trombone, Tuba, Piano, Drums and Percussion so I can write most things independently. Although I like to get a tune from scratch to recorded within 3 months for the spiritual intention of that work to be authentic - as a Gemini I move on quickly.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I drink coffee every day ... Without fail. ALWAYS COFFEE.
I would say I have never tried to have a ritual or put any expectation on creation. Whilst I love the intention of rituals I haven't been able to form any long-term ones. However, I also don’t want to create barriers unnecessarily. However, I do NEED time that is fundamental and so precious, and most elusive as it always gets away from me unless I plan it.
If I am ever struggling I got through my voice notes from up to 2017 and see if anything can be unearthed but I have been blessed with a busy life filled with action, trauma, relationships and adventure. Perhaps these are the rituals that have meant I have written 30 new tracks in 6 months?
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Yes, I like to record everything and edit as I go, making sure that things are never too crowded. As a melody line player, I have to be very mindful of this, but my writing also has the unique quality to have melodies within the piano part. Horns and bass. Each supporting the next in resonance like a choir singing working together to entrance.
All ideas are valuable and can be saved for another tune. Yesterday I was revisiting something I had written 5 years ago for Nubiyan Twist that was never realised for that band. So I'm opening it back up again to see where it goes.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
As I mentioned earlier some things are bigger than us and if you open yourself up and let loose of all vulnerability you can’t help but be swept with it.
I do believe in being honest and respectful to the tradition and doing your best to project and propel it as all of our ancestors did.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Mixing and mastering. By that point, I have usually moved on creatively anyway so doing my due diligence to get it really refined by that point.
However, after my debut release, I am now starting to see a new stage, one where my spirit is entering people's narratives on a global scale and connecting with the identity of something more infinite and permanent.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
A piece for me is only finished when it’s mastered, at that point I have no control over it.
I have several processes with composition, some all in the box and others more band orientated. Both work well but I have a lot less control in the live domain, which is scary but also much quicker …
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
When involving anyone in my work I like to make it as sustainable for them as possible so I usually get really good people to mix it and pay the as well as possible. Giving good references and well-produced stems for them to work with.
I tend to usually only need one revision session, at most 2. This needs to be done IN PERSON. Ultimately if it’s a well-produced track that process is just about polishing it.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I never stop the creative process unless there is not enough time. Summers can be hard because of the demands of a working musician usually earning 70% of their yearly income in those 3 months.
After releasing my debut album We Aren’t Just I felt a sense of tenderness, of vulnerability and one of critique. However, I also feel so grateful to all the people who have believed in me so far, in combatting my self-doubt, and built me into the open, aware and inspired person I am.
I have always been an enthusiastic person and cannot wait to bring you the next 2 records that are already well on their way to taking shape.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I think finding joy in the ordinary is vital in today's pushing and shoving world. I recommend making the perfect cup of tea but even more importantly savouring it.
I find flow in several activities. I believe this to be an embodied trance. Cooking is one of them, some others are dancing, swimming, improvising, making love, socializing, and walking. Any of these places are vital, for me, composition is on that same spectrum and I don’t believe I would have any without the others?
More life means more music. So rather and ‘separate’ I look for unity rather than division. From my limited perspective, good music writes itself; you just have to be open and committed to it.