What do composers do all day?

The article Matt Sergeant and I put together on the mundane aspects of composing is now out in MusikTexte (173, May 2022). We’ve been thinking about the way all the things that surround what we do as composers shape what we make. So this might include what pen you use, where you work, if you work early in the morning, at a desk, in bed, what distractions you need, and everything else. We sent a provocation to a few composers and the article includes our initial text and their responses. The variety is really lovely, and we were so grateful to the composers for their honesty. We tend not to talk about these aspects, but our contention is that they are arguably more important than many other aspects which are more commonly discussed. We are so grateful for the contributing composers for their texts and images: Joanna Bailie, Larry Goves, Freeman Edwards, Hanna Hartman, Bryn Harrison, Evan Johnson, Michael Maierhof, Cassandra Miller, Caitlin Rowley, Elena Rykova, Charlie Sdraulig, Laura Steenberge, Ming Tsao, and Amnon Wolman. The article is in the journal, and the English translation will be on the website soon. Here is the original text which we sent the composers as a prompt: Just Getting On With Something We clean our teeth, watch someone walk past, write something in a notebook, ring a friend. We can use a working routine carefully planned and honed through experience, each element determined for its contribution to the process of making: walking the dog, going for a run, preparing and drinking coffee, tidying up, turning on a device, turning off a device, reading. Rituals. Or we follow the inverse of routine:  spontaneous decisions, or unconscious routines that have a bearing on our practice without us realising it. Somehow, we fill our days and somehow things get made. Yet the way in which we work affects what we make. However, we probably spend more time thinking about what we make and how we make it than the way we work itself. We talk a great deal about sound, ideas, notation, technique, and aesthetic, but less about pens, rulers, notebooks, desks, light, aspect, location and routine – the where, when, who, and what of our working.  It can be banal. It can be just the mundane everyday activities which structure our days. It can also be essential. It is where we work. The way a space is set up for working–whether it is the bespoke home studio, a table in the corner of a café, or a fold-down table on a train–impacts on how we approach the work at hand. Or perhaps we can work anywhere, carrying our studio in a notebook, or a device, or in our imagination.  It is when we work. Perhaps we can work only at the best time of the day – early in the morning, after breakfast, very late at night, all day – or we work whenever time opens itself up to us. It has to be right though, whatever right means, or we can’t possibly do the work. Maybe though we can work whatever the situation, and just get on with things.  It is who we work with or work around. A collaborator. A cat on a desk. Strangers in a library. Technical support. The hubbub of voices in a cafe or the silence of a studio in the woods. It is what we work with. Not sounds and concepts, but the idea that we need certain things to be in place in order to compose. A certain pencil. A certain microphone. A certain thing in a certain place. It is either something which is self-evident or a fallacy which we propagate in order to procrastinate.  These variables define a liminal space, a porous boundary between everyday life and everyday practice, a periphery where the role, function, and creative impact is uncertain. But the transience of this work is framed by the constants that we erect around our practice. By shaping a time, space and set of resources to create situations that are conducive to making we also shape what we make. By actively considering the impact of these decisions on our work, we might understand more about what it is we do, and what might be available to us.  It might also demystify the notion of what composers do, and how they do it. If we wish to confront assumptions about who composers are, or can be, then our discussion of how we make needs to be transparent and open. Most importantly, there is no consensus, only what we do, or think we do. Either way, it is nothing special: neither the romantic genius nor the ascetic isolationist. What composers do all day is, like normal people, just getting on with something.