Sunday, November 13, 2005
I was surprised to find this photo of my Frankfurt studio online, at Maria de Alvear's site. That's me (blond head in the foreground) with some Javanese friends, making a little Saturday afternoon music.
Composers' studios are interesting places. I've been to those of Ives, Bartok (actually, for five years time, I could actually see his house from my own studio window, on the next hillside in Buda), and I'm proud to say that I have a picture somewhere of La Monte Young and I standing in front of the re-created Schoenberg studio that was once housed at USC. These places tend to be warm and comfortable, rather than flashy. A good writing surface, lots of writing implements, overfilled shelves, a sturdy chair to sit for long hours, and often a place to crash. Lou Harrison often composed in a little trailer parked someplace out back of his house. There are often very special things that haven't anything directly to do with music, but say a lot about the craft: Schoenberg's homemade playing cards or toy violin. The way studios change over time is also interesting: when I first saw Gordon Mumma's (analog) studio, centerplace belonged to his soldering iron, some (digital) years later, that place was taken by a huge monitor. I like to have lots of instruments or noise makers around, but not necessarily the particular instruments I'm composing for at the moment. There's a piano in the house, but not in my studio. I will sometimes grab whatever instrument is closest to try something out: my father's Eb clarinet, a recorder, or a cornetto, maybe my son's cello. Stravinsky always had a piano, in L.A. with the moderator on all the time, but when he wrote Ragtime and Les Noces, he hired a cymbalon. In later years, John Cage had no piano at home. If he wanted to try something out on a piano, he would go to the Merce Cunningham dance studio.
I like to think that the room in which I compose is reflected or imprinted in the music itself, and that traces of the music hang in the air for a good long time. (Alvin Lucier, of course, has made this a great theme in his music.) As my music changes, this is reflected in the room, which is just as much a work in progress.