TEDxUCLA 2014: Open 2.0

Be in the moment


About Christoph

Born in Mannheim, Germany, Christoph Bull has performed and recorded around the world, including France, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Northern Ireland, Russia, India, Taiwan and El Salvador, at national and regional conventions of the American Guild of Organists and at venues such as Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Lincoln Center in New York City, and the Cathedrals of Moscow, Saint-Denis and Salzburg as well as rock clubs like The Viper Room, The Roxy and The Whisky in Los Angeles.

About Norton 

Norton’s live, improvisational paintings are temporary interpretations of music that only exist during the space of the performance. He has performed around the world at venues as varied as the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, to the Butu Dance Company in Japan, and at Walt Disney Hall in downtown LA. His paintings and sculpture can be found in the permanent collections of notable museums including the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, the Milwaukee Art Center, Wisconsin, and the Orange County Museum of Art.


Thank you. It’s good to be here. It’s good to be here in this very moment.

Before we’re going to play and perform, I want to talk a little bit about being in the moment, being in the now, a little bit about impermanence, both in life and in art, and I think that art and music can actually help us with being in the moment.

So I’d love to welcome you to this moment and to enjoy it and to appreciate it, because it is going to pass. As a matter of fact, the moment in which I said the word “pass” just did pass. And since you guys are here, I know that you are people who like to think a lot. And if you’re anything like me, maybe sometimes you like to think a little bit too much.

There’s a great songwriter called Paul Simon who wrote a song, “Maybe I Think Too Much.” And when he finished the song, he saw it a little bit more and he thought, “Well, maybe I really think too much.” And he wrote another song called “Maybe I Think Too Much,” really demonstrating his point.

And I am in a confessional mode. I want to tell you that sometimes I find myself thinking too much at an inopportune moment. For example, when I’m playing a concert using my left hand, my right hand, my left foot, my right foot, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do next week. And did I book that plane ticket I was supposed to book? And that guy yesterday, he really snubbed me. What a jerk.

And I’m going, wait a minute, I’m giving a concert here. And this is my own mind. And my own mind is trying to trip me up. And I find it shocking and appalling. And I’m starting to have a conversation with my mind. I’m going, “Hey, you’re supposed to be on my side. What are you doing?” And then I’m thinking, well, maybe I’m really thinking too much, because now I’m having a silent conversation with my own mind as I’m trying to play a complicated piece of music.

So I had to I had to devise some strategies to counter that.

And my first go-to place was something that a lot of meditation teachers teach, which is to go to the breath. You might have heard that if you’ve studied yoga or any kind of meditation. A lot of times that’s where people start. Go to the breath. Is it too shallow? Is it deep? Where is it? In the diaphragm, in the lungs, in my throat, in my face, on the crown of my head. And often that helps me to come back to, to where I need to be, which is the now.

And the breath strongly relates to music because music starts with a breath. A singer starts with a breath. But as instrumentalists we’re also supposed to start each phrase with a breath. So we’re supposed to breathe. So that’s my step one: breathing properly and enjoying the breath and maybe a little bit slower than I was before.

And then I try to delve deeper into the music itself instead of semi-automatically repeating what I practice so often. And don’t get me wrong, that’s still important. Practicing something over and over is a big part of what I do. But I’m trying to go beyond that. I’m trying to get out of autopilot mode and also listen to what I’m doing, like you guys are listening, and become an enjoyer, not only a performer. And that helps me. So I’m listening, “Wow. That’s that’s a beautiful sound. That’s a beautiful harmony.” Again, I’m trying not to get too analytical. I’m trying to not go, “Oh, now he’s going to the secondary dominant. Oh, how clever, he’s gone to the submediant.” Not that! More on an emotional, visceral level.

Now, related to this being in the now is the concept of impermanence. Because if we really think about it, everything is impermanent. The now is stable in that there is always now, there always is now, it’s always now. But the content of the now is fluid. Yesterday’s now is different from today’s now. And things are in motion, in flux. And sometimes I find myself doing a concert and everything is going well, and I feel the audience is with me and I’m having a good moment, and I wish I could bottle that up and give it to somebody, you know? Somebody who didn’t make it to the concert, or maybe to myself in a few years.

And of course, we do have cameras. This is being filmed. You can watch it on YouTube later. People who didn’t make it here later can watch it, but it really is not quite the same. I’m gonna watch this on YouTube, but now I’m seeing all of you. I’m feeling the vibration in the room. So the molecules when I’m watching YouTube at my desk with a bottle of beer — maybe even one of those — that’ll be different. It’ll be a nice memory, a pointer, but it’s not quite the same. So I had to learn to be okay with that.

Sometimes I would play a concert and I get all of this response and instant feedback and then the people leave, and then I see the stage crew wrapping up, and then I get into my Toyota Prius and I’m on the 10 freeway. Oh, I’m sorry, no product placement, right? I’m getting on the 10 freeway, and I’m a single driver in my Toyota Prius and the other cars are driving by me and they have no idea that I just that this concert. And it could get quite depressing. I actually called it the postpartum, the postpartum of giving a concert. And I’ve trained myself to not see it like that. I train myself to say, “Hey, that was the now of then. It was a beautiful moment. Now that is the next movement. Let’s make space for that.” Let’s not think so much that I’m detracting from the beauty that is.

And that’s when our friend Norton comes in here. What he does is he paints in the moment and to the moment. There really is no preconception. He responds to what happens. And it’s impermanent art, because what he’ll do is he’ll paint to the music and then when he decides it’s finished, he’ll wipe it off. And when you first see that, it can be quite shocking. And as a matter of fact, when we first collaborated, I sometimes would see him do something. And I liked that stage, and I knew he was not going to stop at that, and I would yell, “Take a picture!” And that could be weird as I’m playing like a soft lyrical piece I’m yelling “take a picture” and sometimes he would do it and I wanted that record.

One time we got interviewed by a TV crew and I said to the TV crew, “Well, I really would love to have a record of everything we’re doing.” And then they asked Norton about it and he said, “Well, Christoph, is a young guy. One day he’ll be happy we don’t have a record of everything we’re doing.” You probably didn’t think that was going to come back to me. But he’s right, it is nice. Of course, I’m not saying don’t take your pictures, don’t take the camera, but it’s not the same. It’s in the moment. And he really illustrates that with his painting. I love that.

And what I also love is that he decides when it’s done. That’s the prerogative of the artist. I also do that when I make an album. When I feel it’s done, it’s done. And people might say, “Well, you could do this.” I said, “No, it’s done now.” Or maybe earlier, they say “it’s finished” and I say “no, it’s not finished. I’ll know what it is.” And we talked about this the other day. That’s one of the things we’re holding onto, we’re taking so many sacrifices and sometimes as artists we have to put up with so much crap, but we get to decide when it’s done. So that’s one of the beauty, beautiful things about being an independent artist.

With that, we’re going to give a demonstration of what we usually do. And I picked a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach, who, of course, is one of the most beautiful composers ever. And I picked it because (a) I love it, and (b) it’s tuneful, it’s rhythmical, but it’s also very intelligent and stimulating. So it will make you think, but hopefully it’ll also inspire you to think in the moment and to be with it.

It’s also a sequel to a piece that I played the last time I was invited to TEDxUCLA, that was the prelude that corresponds to it. Usually a prelude precedes a fugue. So I’m very glad that this now follows that now because they go really well together.

And I really appreciate all of you being here and supporting this, and I appreciate being in this moment with you right now.

Thanks, buddy. Thank you.