Confessions of a Speed Freak
I’m incredibly lazy as a composer. How lazy? I once wrote a 24-minute piece for five guitars, trumpet, live electronics, water, and video feed in exactly 24 minutes—I had my roommate time me with a stopwatch to make sure I stayed within my self-imposed time allotment. You might even say that laziness has even crept into my core aesthetic stance as an artist. It’s something I don’t often reveal to other composers because, for some reason, many hold on to the belief that composing music is something to struggle with. I simply disagree. Although composition is a thoughtful act, I don’t see the point of wasting time and pouring so much energy into deciding, then second-guessing, which note should be committed to the page next. The process can be a joy, so why do so many turn it into something arduous.
The lone composer toiling away late into the night, forgetting to eat, not showering for days, fixated on a certain sonority, weighing intervals at the piano then scribbling something down in a flurry—we composers know this image only exists in a romanticized past. Classical music aficionados sometimes forget that composers are entrenched in the real world of laptops, kids, and SUVs. With a life full of distractions, composers have to strike a balance between life and work. My solution: Be a composer only when you have to be, and spend most of your time simply living life. I used to aspire to the quaint notion of life-as-art, but I’ve decided to leave that to Yoko Ono. She’s much better at it.
As you can gather, I spend more time thinking about writing music than actually doing it. One of my most successful pieces was composed while walking across a darkened room, writing down numbers displayed by Tatsuo Miyajima’s LED installation Counter Line. A 10-minute chamber piece took three days, and a string orchestra piece, two weeks—that one was fast and dense with a lot of notes. To achieve such speedy results and still wind up with an end product I can stand by, I juxtapose my own conceptual rigor with a healthy dose of apathy. After all, it’s only music.
By the way, that 24-minute piece received quite the complement from a prominent composer/sound artist. As I recall, it was the structure of the piece that garnered praise. But I wonder, would this praise have been delivered at all if he were aware of the slapdash conditions under which this structure was created? My bet is that listeners might somehow feel gypped if they knew the composer invested the same amount of time as they did. But none of this should really matter as long as the music has impact.