Awesomeness: Anglepoise

Photo of an Anglepoise Type75 silver lampYes, today I’m talking lamps. I have a confession to make: I am a total daylight junkie. If I don’t have natural light in my workspace, I can’t work. I’m happiest beside, in front of, or preferably IN a large window.

The desk in my bedroom at my parents’ house in Sydney was amazing. My mother had bay windows built onto all the bedrooms, and into mine and the one that is my father’s study, we had desks built in that run the full length of the window. So that desk had glass on four sides – the front and sides, plus the glass roof of the bay window, looking out into the bush and shielded from the sun by the trees. It was lovely – like sitting outside but without the bugs. And with reverse-cycle air-conditioning. Awesome… *sigh*

Anyway, so ever since then, I’ve craved workspaces that have lots of light and space around them. If I’m facing a blank wall or the light’s bad, I can’t work.

While I was trying to fix up my workspace in our previous house and thinking about why it was that I needed so much space and light, I was contemplating lighting and my friend the artist Simone O’Callaghan told me in no uncertain terms to get an Anglepoise lamp with a daylight bulb. And oh my goodness, she was right.

The Anglepoise design is perfect. Just perfect. It sheds light without getting in the way or showing the glare of a naked bulb, the arm is easily moved around to wherever you need it. And the daylight bulb is possibly the best invention ever. Natural colours, gentle but bright light on what you’re working on so your eyes don’t get as tired as with normal bulbs. Often I forget that it’s even on. It’s just so right.

And now my Anglepoise has become part of my work routine. Switching on the lamp is my signal to myself that I’m starting work for the day – once the light is on, I’m working and focused (strangely enough, even when I’m not at my desk…). In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp talks about rituals for getting started – hers is getting up at unreasonable o’clock and getting in a cab to go to the gym. Mine is switching on my lovely silver Anglepoise. And coffee. Of course coffee.

What’s your getting-started ritual?

Awesomeness: Tate Modern

Maybe not the most obvious in the general arsenal of composition tools, but the way I work now, a lot of my pieces start with a piece of art. And more often than not that piece of art is one that I’ve seen in the Tate Modern. I LOVE that place. You can see & hear me burbling on about it in the video they made of me for the (doomed) Creative Journeys project. I find it an easy place to burble about.

To start with, there’s so much to see, and all sorts of different styles, ideas, textures, media – everything from a giant’s table and chairs – like something out of Alice in Wonderland post-Drink Me – to crazy Dadaist collages and the astoundingly emotional Seagram Murals of Mark Rothko.

The Rothko Room is my favourite place in London. The Seagram Murals have actually been travelling about the world for quite some time and golly gosh, I’ve missed them (I believe they’re back home now. Must go and visit them again). It’s like a haven of insecurity and instability, if that makes any sense at all. A safe room where the art on the walls seems more and more full of risk the more time you spend with it. It’s like being perfectly still but being surrounded by a great mass of tiny movements. One day I will write a piece for the Seagram Murals. I’m working up to it.

Two recent pieces I’ve written which have started at the Tate Modern are Deconstruct: Point, line, plane and Thickets. Deconstruct starts with Kandinsky. Not any particular Kandinsky, but more the Kandinskyness of Kandinsky. I went to the big exhibition of his work they had a couple of years ago and it sort of stuck with me. That piece comes out of colours and lines, to start with, but is ultimately more about his ideas, especially those in his book Point and Line to Plane. Thickets, on the other hand, started with a specific painting – a room-sized triptych by Cy Twombly – then developed out into more abstract ideas sparked by that painting, ideas about enclosure, security, safety, claustrophobia, connections. I don’t know that either piece would make an uninformed listener leap up and cry “By golly! Kandinsky!” or “It’s just Cy Twombly all over!” but for me the art is a critical point of the process which is how it ended up where it ended up.

Of course, the Tate itself is in London, which is nice and handy for me right now, but not necessarily for you. But don’t let that stop you! The Tate website has all sorts of things on it – go and have a wander round! There’s Tate Channel for interesting videos on artists and exhibitions, the TateShots blog for exploring various aspects of the collection and the Collection section offers a variety of ways to browse the Tate’s amazing (and huge) collection – and not just what’s physically on display at the moment. You can even explore Tate artworks in Google Street View!

Awesomeness: Behind Bars

About Awesomeness

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking recently about process, working environment, etc. – all the stuff that goes into doing what I do. And then I was thinking about tools and I wondered whether it might not be interesting1 to consider some of my main tools and what makes them so useful – from the usual books and stuff to things that just plain inspire me. So this is the start of an occasional series of posts in which I write briefly about something awesome that helps me with my composing or general staying-sanedness.

I’m starting with a fairly tame tool – but one I’m finding it increasingly difficult to start work without knowing where it is – future awesome things will be a little less obvious…

1. Or not. Interesting for me at any rate… but if you enjoy them, or have an alternative suggestion, or want to voice a huzzah for a particular tool, join in in the comments! I’m always interested in hearing about what other people find useful too.

Behind Bars

Behind Bars - cover imageSo I’m starting with a copying book

‘How dull!’ you may think, but this is actually one of the most exciting books I’ve come across in a considerable period of time. Why? Because – unlike the majority of copying books I’ve looked at in my time as a composer and accredited music copyist – this one has ANSWERS.

It’s only been around for a little over a month (Faber published it at the end of January) and already I’m inclined to agree with Simon Rattle’s hyperbolic description: ‘a kind of Holy Writ for notation’. Obviously, I’ve not read it from cover to cover yet – it’s a big book (655 pages) and I’ve only had it a month – but what I’m finding is that it really does have real live answers to real live questions.

For example, working on the violin piece the other day and becoming engulfed in a mire of varying time signatures, I found myself with 9/8 bars that didn’t follow the obvious 3 + 3 + 3 pattern of stresses. Instead their stress patterns went 2 + 3 + 4 and I didn’t know how to tackle this.

Everyone knows that you beam your music according to the time signature, but if the stresses oughtn’t to fall where the standard interpretation of that time signature say they should, then it’s going to be hard to read and doesn’t make musical sense to beam it the way convention says you should. But to beam against convention can also mess with performers’ expectations and make it harder for them to read the music.

So away to The Book I went, and sure enough, Ms Gould has an answer: use the 9/8 time signature, but indicate the pattern of stresses above the time signature with numerals: 2 + 3 + 4

Example of 9/8 with irregular stress pattern notation

What a neat solution!

Every section of the book seems incredibly detailed and covers solutions for things I never thought were questions. A large chunk of the book is also dedicated to idiomatic notation, plus there’s a final section on score layout, part preparation, electroacoustic notation and a section called ‘freedom and choice’ which covers a whole host of modern composition options – independent repetition, repeating material of unspecified order, stems without noteheads and other ways of notating free pitch. So many things!

Just flicking through Behind Bars makes me want to try out a bunch of different techniques and explore new ways of thinking about composition and notation. It’s not just a dry manual of ‘your notes should line up vertically’ and ‘ensure your dynamic marks appear slightly before the note they refer to’ – although it does of course include these sorts of basics.

Instead it’s like a manual of fresh ideas to be tried and solutions to problems that arise when you let your imagination roam freely outside the constraints of traditional musical thought. It’s a very freeing book where many notation manuals seem to be tying you down. Love it!


Do you have ‘reference’ books you find expand the way you think? Leave a comment, ask a question!