Recently I had a lunch with big film/TV composer. He mentioned that Christopher Young went to sleep some nights in a cemetery, right there on the graves, to get inspired for scoring some horror film. The composer said that he himself physically goes to places of darkness to get inspired for his current TV show gig.
I wanted to pose a question to the community.
DO YOU GO TO A PLACE OF PHYSICAL DISCOMFORT TO BE INSPIRED? IS IT HELPFUL TO YOU? IS IT USEFUL?
Here is a story.
In 1994 (age 27) I received a big commission to compose a string quartet. I had a hard deadline, and was also working full-time at the Aspen Summer Music Festival. (I was a slave-assistant of the composition program at the Aspen summer school. I was checking endless student notation for the orchestral readings and helping the composition students). My “home” was the Dorm where 200 violinists practiced scales ad nauseam 24/7. (I was sharing a room with violinist and violist). Up the street a mile there were more practice rooms where 2000 more violinists practiced scales ad nauseam 24/7.
I tried to *compose* a big, complex, lofty string quartet in this total cacophony. My time for composing was the short scraps of time left after my duties. It was so impossible, so maddening. I was facing a failure and breach of contract. A failure to deliver my first big, significant commission which was going to help me receive green card! The stakes could not have been higher.
In the last remaining days before my completely-non-negotiable-deadline, I went to the town library and composed the rest of the quartet — away from piano, in complete silence. Just sitting at a table in the empty library, with manuscript paper and pencils. (I had some sketches with chord progressions previously worked out).
The day I decided the library was my only solution it was pouring rain, muddy, and bleak (even in beautiful summer Aspen). I remember weeping in total frustration as I was walking – in sandals – through the muddy streets of Aspen. It was August – but a cold and foggy day. I barely had any money (Graduate student from Bulgaria). Somehow I was able to channel the intense physical discomfort: the muddy streets, being drenched and shivering, feeling crushing guilt, exhaustion, fear for survival into my composing. Once I sat down at the table in the quiet public library, the quartet wrote itself.
That quartet turned out my most enduring piece from that period (composer of “postmodern” concert music, before Hollywood). It’s a 25-min. tonal piece and it captured the rage and anguish of not having my own working space … It was a “high concept” piece, and has been performed non-stop since, best-reviewed, etc.
In 1995, this quartet (after a year of performances and glowing reviews), along with other things, helped me earn the Green card. My freedom !!!
In the years since, my life has become comfortable. I have a cozy home, a big credit line, great jobs, awesome friends.
With each upcoming creative job (be that a film score, especially game score, or commission) I have decided that I will put myself through some physical suffering that is inspired by the project’s ideas. (I mean, nothing deadly or reckless, but intense PHYSICAL discomfort). I want to bring my game up a notch and to write more visceral music and intellectualize less.
I would like to invite the community to share their thoughts on this topic.