Mark Mothersbaugh on creativity and technology

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Once you stumble upon it on YouTube, the Computer History Museum's Oral History series is a wonderful trove of technologists, pioneers, and inventors sharing their histories in their own words. Composer and DEVO frontman Mark Mothersbaugh sat down with CHM a few years ago to talk about his synthesizers, his process, and his beginnings in Akron, Ohio.

The video below was recorded in 2017:

Mothersbaugh’s studio in Los Angeles is famous for its collection of synths, circuit-bended instruments, and sound technology going back decades, including Raymond Scott’s Electronium. A highlight of this interview is hearing him compare his relationship to the Mini Moog to that of a soldier and his rifle.

My favorite part of this video is toward the end (around the 01:08:18 mark), when Mothersbaugh pulls out a postage stamp collector’s binder filled with drawings on paper:

Everyday, I draw on paper... I draw on paper everyday, since 19...early 70s. I was into mail art, is how it started. And I found that a nobody from Akron, Ohio, that nobody’d ever heard of, called Mark Mothersbaugh, could take a piece of paper and send it to Robert Indiana, or send it to Jasper Johns,or Irene Dogmatic, or Mr. Peanut, and there was a good chance they would send something back to me. And it was like, to get something in the mail from Robert Indiana was such a... it was amazing. I felt like I was on the map...So I was doing these drawings all the time and sending them out, and then I was also putting together a band. And in the process of that, I was sending something out to somebody, and I said, “Hey, these... this could be–if we ever get to do a record, this could be the cover for it.” And I started to put it in the mail, and then I said, “Wait a second. Maybe I should be saving this stuff.”

I especially love the consistency of these sketchbooks: choosing the same size paper to draw on each day and cataloguing them all in hundreds of stamp binders. You can see some of Mothersbaugh’s visual art on his website.

We nearly lost Mark Mothersbaugh last year to COVID-19. Thankfully he’ll still be producing art and music for years to come, adding to his impressive archive.

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Bonus video: A friend with two young kids reminded me that Mark Mothersbaugh was a regular on the children’s TV show Yo Gabba Gabba, contributing segments where he would make a drawing and interact with the animated sketch: