The curious music of Dixie State’s Robert Matheson and his MIDI bass

Robert Matheson playing his midi-bass, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2012 | Photo by Chris Cadlwell, St. George News

ST.GEORGE Fueled by his love for music and a chain of inspiring people dotted throughout his life, Robert Matheson is a local virtuoso, an inspiring musician, and a revolutionary personality in the world of music. He has been teaching at Dixie State College of Utah for three semesters.

Matheson’s instrument of choice is the MIDI bass, which he has mastered to produce music and sounds that are, to play on the title of one of his works, “Curiouser and Curiouser” – a work inspired by the classic, Alice in Wonderland.

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Matheson grew up in California, and had his first taste of rock when his brother took it upon himself to be one of the first influences in his music career. That got him started in the world of rock music with groups like Led Zeppelin and The Doors.

“I really started getting interested in playing music during my freshman year in high school when my brother started playing guitar,” Matheson said.“ And he had a friend who played drums, and another friend who played guitar; and I wanted to hang out with my older brother so I started out with the bass.”

Robert Matheson playing his MIDI-bass, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2012 | Photo by Chris Cadlwell, St. George News

As he transitioned into high school, Matheson studied more jazz music, and bass artists like Charles Mingus and Ray Brown; and as a senior, he transitioned to the upright bass. At that time, many schools across the nation were losing their music programs, but despite this additional challenge, opportunity seemed to fall into the right place at the right time, and Matheson found the passion to continue playing.

“I realized this is something I could do for a long time, and the instrument I could do it on was the bass,” Matheson said. “I’d practice for up to eight hours a day, and be in the practice rooms until I got kicked out by the janitors.”

He then attended University of California, Santa Cruz for three years, and learned from Barry Green, further adding to his technique and drive. After a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Matheson came back to playing the bass and pursuing a music degree. Matheson then attended California State University, Long Beach, learning from Dave Young, and earning his degree in bass performance.

Matheson and his wife then moved to Tucson where he studied the University of Arizona, as a vehicle to further expanding his talent and style. In the world of music, instructors have a very profound effect on the styles students develop, so the decision involved studying the instructors of many different universities to carefully select one who would not only be someone with substantial material to teach, but also one who had a style Matheson liked.

Matheson spent five years studying bass performance at the University of Arizona, and earned his doctorate in musical arts, specifically in bass performance, with a minor in electroacoustic music.

From there, Matheson helped develop the electronic music program at the University of Arizona, working with both electrical engineering students and set-design theatre students to create original instruments for performances.

Matheson recently completed his third semester teaching at Dixie State College, and continues his study and performance with electronic acoustic instruments.

Robert Matheson playing his MIDI-bass, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2012 | Photo by Chris Cadlwell, St. George News

His weapon of choice is what’s called a MIDI Bass. It is a custom built instrument that combines the sound and mechanics of a string bass, with the latitude of a MIDI controller to process the sound. Furthermore, many of the sound samples are recorded by Matheson himself. Examples of his work include In Just inspired by E. E. Cummings and Curiouser And Curiouser inspired by Alice In Wonderland, included above. Matheson’s work has been described as taking on a texture and a feeling of nostalgia, as compared to traditional classical music which follows a more rigid structure. The sound is a unique experience to listeners, and a substantial deviation from what most people are used to hearing. This unique sound is what drives a lot of electronic music; finding and creating new sounds.

“It doesn’t have to sound like a violin, or a string bass, or a traditional instrument to be a sound you can enjoy,” Matheson said. “That’s something that has attracted me and kept me interested in electronic music.”

The delivery of the music is unique as well. Traditionally, MIDI music is delivered in a set medium, and classical music follows set notes; but on his MIDI bass, Matheson is able to play custom tailored music that can adjust to the audience, the venue, and even to moods.

“It is definitely growing,” Matheson said. “There are a lot more universities that have electronic music programs now. There are a lot of really great performers who are constantly breaking down these barriers between rock music and world music, and these types of music are mixing together now.”

Matheson has found the perfect balance between his passion for music, his family, and teaching students who will one day aspire in music as well.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

Robert Matheson playing his MIDI-bass, St. George, Utah, Dec. 16, 2012 | Photo by Chris Cadlwell, St. George News

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