Name: Jonathan Bockelmann
Occupation: Guitarist, composer, producer
Recent release: Jonathan Bockelmann's Childish Mind is out February 17th 2023 via SQUAMA.
If you enjoyed this interview with Jonathan Bockelmann and would like to find out more about his music, 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?
Back when I was a child the impulse came from the immense fascination I had with music as a phenomenon itself. I felt that I have a voice that can be expressed through music.
Then later in life - after I studied Classical Guitar at the University of Music in Munich - I always tried to find the perfect repertoire for me to start recording my debut LP. For some reason I never found the right pieces.
I didn't identify with a lot of the repertoire that the Guitar is so famous for, nor did I want to be another Interpreter to record a transcription piece by Bach or other classical composers. There was so little music composed for this instrument that actually moved me personally. So all of this created the urge or the impulse for me to start composing. I played the Guitar for over two decades so I knew I am capable of extracting all the beautiful sounds of this very complex instrument.
Beside that - common inspirations like taking a walk through nature, looking at different art forms and especially daily life definitely spark a need for me to capture moods through compositions.
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?
All I need is a basic idea - like a musical motive, a certain harmony or something similar and a rough plan (or visualisation) on where to go from there. The first piece on Childish Mind - “Whitepoint” - is a good example for that.
I started with five notes that moved in an order that made sense to me. After these 5 notes I had endless possibilities to go from there. I visualized a path and tried to move the melody in that direction, very carefully - step by step.
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 actually don’t have a preparation phase for my process. Most of my ideas come into being by improvising on my instrument and discovering elements that I consider to be interesting.
If they are, I work on them every day during the week.
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?
My ritual is that I start every day by making a coffee and giving myself a couple of hours to make music. The early hours are the ones I seem to have the best mindset for creating something.
I’m not the guy that works so good during the night. My concentration just seems to be very dependent on living a healthy life and having enough sleep.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
The challenge is always to find that one element that you consider interesting enough to elaborate. In my opinion that process shouldn’t be difficult but happen naturally.
So I start with listening to what my body tells me. If I am in a great mood those ideas come to me very easily. On other days I’m simply better off just practicing or doing something completely different.
Forcing myself will never help me find the right ideas!
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Most of the time I try to finish one piece at a time. So once I start I keep working on it very intensely until it’s finished. This can happen quite fast. Once I consider it to be finished - I wait a few weeks and come back to it by just listening. Mostly then I realize a few things that I can change or do better and make final adjustments.
There are also pieces where I didn’t make any changes. ‘Lihan’ was one of them, for example. But even then I was happy I let it linger just to be sure not to change anything anymore.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I like to have some control over my work but I try to let go of it in the right places. If a visualisation I had in the beginning of a process is just not realizable or just doesn’t feel right in the end I often let go of it and choose another way - a more natural one.
I had the experience that art often leads you the right way once you gave an impulse. Kill your initial thoughts in order to create something unique that even you didn’t expect in the first place!
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?
That’s true. It does happen to me. Very often I get inspired and find new ideas by working on something. These are the best ideas because they happen effortlessly and naturally.
So I try to write them down or record them immediately so they won’t disappear. But I wait with working them out until I finish the piece that I currently work on. So they are stored and have to wait until it’s their time to have a full story breathed into them.
I remember that the idea of the piece “Impulse” came into being while I was working on “Whitepoint”.
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?
Every time I am in that creative state all my problems seem to be so irrelevant. The usual doubts that come with daily life somehow disappear and I am sure that - whatever it is that I am about to create - is worth the time. I am way more focused than usual and I feel great. So in the end that creative state means life to me.
On the other hand it’s important not to be too dependent on these moments because they come and go whenever they want. So I try to see them as a gift that is given to me and treat them accordingly.
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?
The sole reason a work is being finished is your very own capability of saying so. There are always a thousand different ways your work could’ve turned out but only you decide whether you are content with its final state.
So I finish a work by accepting that I have worked enough on it and it has its value to be shown to others.
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?
It is very important to me to give a piece some time to rest before I present it. While working on something intensely we can get stuck so it’s very recommendable to take some time off and just let things be.
Once I get back to the piece that I considered to be finished a few weeks later I always find a few little things that I want to adjust. After having made these small adjustments I truly feel it is “ready”. Sometimes - luckily very rarely - I also don’t consider it to be good enough to be released and so I just have to throw it away and move on to the next project.
The very talented musician and producer ‘Skee Mask’ once tweeted “produce more and release less”. I consider this to be very true.
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?
Since I have been also producing electronic music for a long time now with my brother under the alias “GLASKIN” I came to the conclusion that nowadays the production of a piece or a track plays a more important role than ever. Even if you want something to sound lo-fi. That’s a decision you made because that sound design makes you feel a certain way. I can almost get too invested in it sometimes.
If I record a piece written for one Guitar only the recording should complement the sound of this instrument. Everything from the room you are recording in, the shape of your fingernails to the microphones you’re using is important here.
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 do relate to this although I also feel very happy when I finish a big project like an album or something similar of that caliber and since I consider life to be about contrasts - I think life after a finished work is very refreshing. You spent so much time on writing on that one thing that it’s almost necessary to dedicate yourself to something else.
The return to work on something new will come when it’s the right time.
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 consider everything to be art. The way you talk to people, the way you make your coffee, the way you prepare and choose your dishes or whatever it is that you’re doing.
But I do feel like music is the one art form that I can express myself the best.