It looks like Q2 will soon be unveiling a new series of video guided tours of composers’ homes and studio spaces; the preview looks intriguing, and it’s a really good idea. Who doesn’t want to check out the workspaces of creative people? It’s like being a fly on the wall, sneaking a glimpse of what goes on in the daily life of an artist.
In fact, one of the best parts of traveling around to interview composers for NewMusicBox is often having the opportunity to see their living spaces! It’s always interesting, and in many cases surprising to see the spaces that composers create for themselves. Favorites of mine include the beautiful and serene workspace of Bunita Marcus, the big table overflowing with bits of paper, cables and electronic gear, drawings, and treasures—otherwise known as “deskpocalyspe”—in Nat Evans‘s living room, and the jaw-dropping Liberace-meets-Prince studio of John Mackey.
Some spaces have ghosts attached to them, like the studio of Chou Wen-Chung, who works amidst many of the belongings (including some fabulous gongs!) of Edgard Varèse. During my last trip to the MacDowell Colony, I fell in love with my studio, which was named after Irving Fine, and apparently it had also been the favorite of author Willa Cather. Every morning when I came in and turned up the thermostat, the heating system made such a huge and excellent gamelan-esque racket that I got into the habit of saying out loud, “Good morning, Irving!” Perhaps that’s crazy, but no matter; I really enjoyed the company of those ghosts, not to mention the grand piano, the enormous worktable, and the fireplace! Heaven.
Like a lot of people, I’m pretty sensitive to the energy of whatever space I’m in; not just the energy of other people who are in that space, but also the feeling of the space itself. As with the weather, a physical space can affect one’s mood, obviously one’s creative output, and even one’s physical wellbeing. For the first time in many years, my composing studio is an actual room, with walls and a door and everything! Although I have never really minded sharing workspace, or having it located in a common area of my home, this situation feels really luxurious. Although I prefer things to be neat and tidy, it’s honestly not my natural state, and every now and then I have to expend a little effort to avoid my own deskpocalypse explosion. My dream is to someday have a studio that is a separate space from my house—a place that requires going outside to get to!
But I wonder if the spaces in which we feel the most comfortable are always the best for composing? Maybe it’s not necessarily so great to always be in control of one’s physical creative setting. Some of my very best pieces were composed in odd locations, under unfamiliar circumstances. More than one work has been created while in the process of long-distance moves; in hotel rooms, in unfinished warehouses with only sawhorses and a chunk of wood for a table, on trains and/or airplanes. Although composing under such circumstances is not exactly enjoyable, I’ve learned how to do it and deadlines often demand it. A group of composer friends rent a space that is located just outside of their home city and alternate spending composing time there. It is an absolutely no-frills space in a very small town where there is not much to do, so outside distractions are minimized. Shaking things up can really work—maybe the jostle to the brain that being in a different space provides can also serve up some new ideas.
What is your composing space like? Are there particular arrangements of furniture or gear that you really need in order to compose? Do you have a private space, or do you share one? Do you have a dream working situation that you aspire to? If you have pictures of your working space, feel free to post or link to them in the comments section!