Composer & Artist Mike Bullock on Going Back to Basics to Strengthen Creativity

Find out how going back to basics can strengthen your creative foundation in this interview with the Philadelphia-based composer, intermedia artist and writer. 

Technology is sexy. What could be more alluring than the perpetually untapped – un-double-tapped – realms of interaction, information and creativity waiting to be experienced within our phones and computers? Apart from, say, actual sex. We humans have engineered it that way, after all. But with so many of us dependent on it in almost every aspect of our modern lives, is it also possible that technology is engineering us?

In the following Q&A, Philadelphia-based composer, intermedia artist and writer Mike Bullock explains why he believes going back to basics can strengthen your creative foundation. A true Jack of all trades, his work encompasses electroacoustic improvisation, modular synthesis, field recording, intermedia installation, contrabass and bass guitar, porcelain making, illustration, and critical writing. Mike, we’re dying to know your secret!

My One Thing

Mike Bullock

Guest Session at Catalyst Berlin with Composer & Artist Mike Bullock

“I urge anyone who spends a lot of time creating with computers to have at least one serious way of creating without a computer.”

What is the one tool that is essential to your creative process?

Paper and pen is actually an excellent choice. More important than my computer, which is indispensable but mostly out of habit. When people say their computer is essential, what they usually mean is communication is essential, and I agree. But for the creative process, very often a lack of communication is essential. I’m not talking about isolation, I mean the willingness to go back and forth between periods of being highly immersed in information (which is communication, society, other people) and periods of removing as much information as possible from your life, in order to get out of your own way. I urge anyone who spends a lot of time creating with computers to have at least one serious way of creating without a computer.

Enter paper and pen. They are technologies for recording and creating at the same time; basic and accessible, but still highly sophisticated; making marks on a surface to be decoded later by reading was one of the founding movements in what we call civilization. Technically it can be any kind of pen/pencil and paper, but it’s important to be a little picky when you can, if for no other reason than for thinking deeply about your tools, a process which should never end.

“Any tool can be used finely.”

For myself, I like sketchpad paper, plain (unruled), and a Pigma Micron #01 fine-point felt-tip black pen. It may seem absurd to get that picky about a pen, but I’ve tried a bunch, and I really like the feel and balance of these, especially when you don’t put the cap on the opposite end while using it. That’s a really fine bit of detail I got from my artist wife – so any student who has studied visual art may not be surprised by this level of pickiness!

Any tool can be used finely, including a mouse pad, so don’t let anyone tell you the mouse is not musical. Judge a tool on one criterion: can you get consistently satisfying results?

I’ve always loved to draw, though my handwriting is very hard to read and sometimes just looks like a drawing. For me there is no real line separating these activities: drawing, writing, making scores, improvising, stream-of-consciousness thinking.

This is a great question and I could keep going deeper!

“Everyone is releasing vinyl now!”

Do you have any exciting projects or releases coming up?

I just started a label for the first time in almost 10 years. It’s so much easier to have a label now, through a combination of Bandcamp and much lower production costs for CDs and tapes. Yet everyone is releasing vinyl now! Maybe I’ll catch up with that, but mostly I just buy used jazz vinyls.

I have recently released two CDs: Funkhaus, with Berlin-based musicians Mazen Kerbaj and Andrew Lafkas, which was recorded at – of course – the Funkhaus. Also Table Talk, a collaboration I did last year in Philadelphia with Sons of God, an incredible performance art duo from Sweden.

I just came from a weeklong residency at Elektronmusikstudion in Stockholm, Sweden and tomorrow I am playing contrabass in a duo with trumpeter Axel Dörner, at Schramm’s Wine Shop here in Berlin.

Follow Mike Bullock on Bandcamp here.

More from Guest Sessions: Abstract turntablist Maria Chavez on the freedom to live creatively.