The Great Indoors

Frank J. Oteri’s comments about his enthusiasm for (as he puts it) “the great indoors” struck a chord with me; like it or not, my music is not worked out or even conceived during country strolls by babbling brooks, or even during forays into the rapidly expanding urban outdoors, earbuds or no. As any musician (and any musician who composes, especially) can attest to, this profession involves a lot of time sitting indoors in front of keyboards, music stands, and computer screens. The fact that remarkable music is at times created amid the most plebian and un-panoramic circumstances is one of the things that makes it even more remarkable. We don’t have to go trotting about the forest preserve with a parasol to think of the Pastoral Symphony, and we can embark on far-ranging emotional and psychic voyages while our physical selves remain tethered to the couch or swivel-chair.

That most familiar of indoor locations—home—is unique in that we have an enormous amount of control over the environment. We move through the rehearsal space, the office, or the classroom with a certain amount of adjustment, but usually no attempt is made to modify the existing space into anything resembling the idiosyncratic nest/den of human dwelling spaces. Therefore, home is the space that most purely reflects a composer’s inner state.

As such, the home environment has an incredible synergy with our own feelings and even the way we organize (or fail to organize!) information. I myself have a very specific composing setup in a room that is very clean and organized so that I can spread half-filled staff paper around with gleeful abandon. I usually don’t take kindly to anyone else to enter my space as I lay all kinds of sketches and lists in specific patterns and orientations that translate to meanings known by me alone.

While the indoors is ideal for this kind of situation, there’s something else in my home studio even more important than the cats I’ve already written about: a big window. This was an absolute requirement when my wife and I were searching for a place outside of DC: a lifeline to the great outdoors that keeps me in touch with the real-life consequences of all these abstract notes and rhythms.

2 thoughts on “The Great Indoors

  1. LDunn

    I think this is rather difficult. Is the distinction between outdoors and indoors really as concrete (or indeed, important) as all that?

    Perhaps this links in with a sort of nexus of ideas about composition itself – which, it seems to me, involves a blend of control, discovery, and confrontation. Walking around a landscape and addressing impulses on an aesthetic level involves these processes; indeed, after walking in landscapes (be they natural, rural, urban, indoors or outdoors) my musical ideas usually consist of textures, and secondly, generic and stylistic suggestions initiated by the experience. These are an internalisation of the discovery and confrontation of visual/aural impulses I experienced on the journey. This internalisation is controlled by my own, private, aesthetic impulse.

    Composing itself involves this process in parallel – pre-imagined ideas collide with emergent patterns; the task of composing is (presumably) to reconcile these two the best we can. The same goes for addressing an environment aesthetically. We have the bank of semiotic connotation and denotation (i.e. ‘the Pastoral’, ‘Urban Sprawl’, ‘the Village’, ‘the Sea’, ‘the Indoors’) – but these notions must be reconciled with experience to form the emergent aesthetic.

    Therefore, composing, for me, is much like passing through a landscape we are able to manipulate (most landscapes conform to this, though imaginary – generally abstract – landscapes are best). This landscape needn’t be indoors or outdoors; indeed this dichotomy seems a little puny when considering the incredibly rich landscapes of perceptual representation that surround us constantly.

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  2. danvisconti

    Thanks for this very thoughtful post! In general I’m in agreement, but puny as it may be that distinction between our workplace landscape and others seems to be pervasive and meaningful given our pracitical need to keep a lot of weather-sensitve equipment in one place. Your point that this is just one of many perceptual landscapes is well taken, though; in fact, maybe a better way to describe what the workspace means to me is that it’s an environment cultivated for to reduce friction and perceptual noise so that interior landscapes manifest themselves more readily?

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