The role of the workspace in creativity

Couldn’t find a fully adequate already-existing thread for this (the tiny corner thread isn’t really the same idea), so time for a new one!

I wanted to start a discussion about everyone’s perception of how important their workspace is to their creative process. It’s something I think about a lot, having spent the last half a year or so slowly redoing a room to serve a more dedicated and professional studio purpose. The influence of the space is something that I think is often overlooked, or perhaps just accepted due to not having the opportunity to work in a “better” space.

I know that in my case, there have been several spaces I had to deal with in the past which I felt negatively impacted my creativity. I found it very difficult to work in my dorm while I was in college, for example, having just a cramped little wooden desk trapped within the surroundings of the stereotypical teenage messy room. However, when I worked in the school’s recording studios, I immediately felt inspired and motivated, surrounded by the glow of outboard gear, dim studio lights, and shiny wooden flooring. It’s as if I felt unable to create professional-quality work unless I was in a space that seemed itself professional.

Cut to now, where I’ve more or less finished furnishing a dedicated studio space. It’s the size of a small bedroom, so there are still issues of space as more gear finds its way in every now and again, but it’s a start:

In a perfect world I would be so lucky as to have a space such as Nils Frahm’s current digs in Berlin:

but for now, I am feeling more or less that my current space gives me room to breathe and feels worthy of the aspiring professional that I am.

So how have spaces affected you creatively?

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I recently split my space into two spaces, which I could roughly describe as “with patch cables” and “without patch cables”. The sans-patch-cable space has big screens, which the other lacks.

I didn’t really have a single space that could contain it all without feeling overly cramped, and this arrangement seems to reflect the fact that I tend to interact with these two sets of gear at different times anyway.

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I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated bedroom type room in my home to house all of these activities. Its more or less a functional Live-End/Dead-End recording studio. If I’m honest, its really challenging to catch inspiration in this room. Its something I battle with constantly (changing ergonomics, changing lighting, decluttering, inevitably recluttering the space again, artwork, furniture, lack of money for either of those things, oh look here’s a new thing to get, etc.).

There’s something about a dedicated, finished space. The finality and definition of the setup inform the process and at the very least signal the end of the planning stage and the beginning of the creative stage. Its hard to focus on being creative when I’m constantly thinking about how I could improve everything else in the room besides my music.

EDIT: a nice companion topic to this would be a discussion of the technical aspects and the role of portable setups, modular or not. Maybe a thread already exists on this subject?

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I’ve recently came to terms with the idea that the ideal space doesn’t exist for me, as I’ll grow bored and complacent within weeks, so I’ve found the way forward is to have multiple spaces (currently the office in my flat, the table in the garden, the shared office, and some friends who are okay with me occasionally hanging out at their place)
To make this possible, I need small/portable/modular gear (modular in the sense that it can be taken apart and/or used in various pieces). My desktop computer is a mini-ITX build that can be popped into a box and carried around easily, and otherwise I try to limit how much stuff I have and how big it is
For my digital art and video gamey creative stuff, the biggest thing I own is a HTC Vive, which I’ve gotten good at packaging back into a bag
For music, I’ve recently gotten my first kit in a long while, and it’s an AE Modular. It’s as wide as a computer keyboard, just a bit thicker and taller, and I’ve already moved it back and forth between various desks

So yeah, my ideal workspace is the Calvinball workspace, never the same twice, it’s all about mobility

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I used to think of myself as a person that could and would make art anywhere. Over the last two years–where I lived in temporary spaces–I found out that that’s not true. I need to have somewhere to go daily, that is the same space, with some definite requirements. This last part was what surprised me: I have conditions (A conditional artist?). It disappointed me at first. You hear about the person that “can work anywhere”. That’s apparently not me. As it turns out, if the light is wrong (too dim, too blue, too unidirectional, etc) I become increasingly uncomfortable physically and just can not focus…or everything I try making seems overwhelmingly stupid.
This “needing a place” idea disappointed me because it seemed to me to be a luxury concern, or a kinda pretentious concern (because someone with no options, who has to live in a crap-hole apartment, where they can only dedicate a tiny corner of it to art, can’t experiment with the “exploration of spaces”. I mean, I guess there’s always the park or the anonymity of the food court but…)
Like, as a teenager I used to hang canvas on the back of my door in my parents’ house and paint sat on the floor, without giving any significant attention to comfort or conditions. But now there are these Princess and the Pea conditions I need–and this part of myself kinda irks me (why is she so spoiled)–but I’m finding that’s how I can make art again, how I can follow narratives in books again, and have actual ideas again.
So if that’s how it has to be then it’s a no-brainer: I shed the image I had of myself and set up my feng shui-ed, functional, private space…And I’m really really really lucky that I can make the space I need so that I can feel like myself.

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The apartment I’m in for another year has an extra bedroom that I was initially super excited about setting up shop in, and it housed my gear until this summer. My music gear mixed with random storage and DIY electronics parts and … I did basically nothing but jam; the room was too messy and spare to feel comfortable in, and if we got lax in cleaning the litterbox that lives there too, it was smelly besides.

Now my stuff takes up most of my room (not enough bedroom rather than too much gear, sadly), and while it’s not ideal, I find it’s much easier to be productive this way, and I think a lot of it is a comfort thing—it’s a bit hard to imagine really sincerely digging into an idea, much less recording myself singing, in a shared room. It’s also a lot easier to break past the turning-stuff-on inertia when you wake up to it staring at you :rofl:

I have noticed that if I’m doing more intellectually playful work—patching the modular sometimes fits, as does Max/MSP stuff or “production” (over against “recording”, although this isn’t quite the right division) in Ableton, I’d rather be sitting on the couch or even at a café someplace, not At My Desk

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I find that for my electronic gear I need an organized, semi-tidy space. Quarters are a little tight, and I need to use my corner efficiently. But I find I like having everything in arm’s reach and ready to go without the extra step of unpacking, clearing off space, and connecting. I’m 10x more likely to use gear that’s already plugged in. This also makes a convenient limiting factor for GAS.

I’ve never felt the need to “escape” a desk, computer, etc. to make music. But to clear my head it’s nice to just grab a hand drum and go somewhere else.

We are about to repurpose a spare bedroom as a music room – not for my synth gear, but the acoustic and electric stuff. Mostly a place to jam, practice and chill, away from everything else and occasionally each other (my spouse’s penny whistle and my violin playing are both pretty torturous right now).

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I definitely feel you. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve always been like this or if this is a new phenomena of me getting older and becoming more self-aware.

Another theory is that the more settled I become, the more onerous the shortcomings become. Besides an obvious distraction (really poor lighting, really poor acoustics, bad neighbors, etc.), I wonder if many spaces can be serviceable, even inspiring, if just for a short period of time until the ignorance is outlived. Its certainly possible to build an ideal space or even a space that meets one’s “minimum” requirements with enough of the right resources ($$$ and time mostly).

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I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I have a small creative space set aside in my apartment, which is itself a shared space, but while I’ve effectively optimized it to easily be able to drop in and play with sound, I’ve struggled to use it as a “studio”, where I can take initial ideas and carve them into more complete thoughts.

Part of this is certainly just a lack of personal diligence, but trying to have highly structured time in the same place where I have most of my unstructured time clearly doesn’t work for me. This is an ongoing struggle. I can’t afford more room where I live and plans to share creative space with like-minded individuals has always fallen through due to one reason or another.

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cool topic :slightly_smiling_face:


creative environment
goals we aim for…
safe, yet with provocations
inspiring and reassuring
accessible and flexible
(impermanence- making something we’re proud of in a space means it’s good, and might work for the next project, or might not)

Clutter really brings me down, emotionally and creatively. It accumulates so slowly that it’s hard to notice that it’s happening, but when it’s gone you really notice. I cleaned out my studio on Sunday and immediately felt unblocked and energized.

Apart from that, though, while I tend to draw inspiration from environments, all I really need to work is a tidy space in which I won’t be interrupted.

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Posting half tongue-in-cheek half for real? Courtesy of the wonderful/awful Charles B:

Air and Light and Time and Space
‘- you know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something
has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have a place and
the time to
create.’
no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquakes, bombardment,
flood and fire.
baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for.

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That poem has always made me feel guilty for being inspired (and the opposite) by spaces – especially since I absolutely cannot afford the space I’d like (which really isn’t much objectively, but is still quite out of reach financially) and have literally always felt friction from that fact. I feel it let up when I’m fortunate enough to work in a space that does inspire me, like a scoring stage or an open loft, but of course that’s a very temporary thing.

I’ve come to the conclusion of “fuck that.” Everyone is different, and for all his brilliance, Bukowski taken holistically isn’t exactly a guy I’d suggest anyone take advice from.

As far as I can tell, some artists are “conditional,” others not – their obsessiveness is the deciding factor, not whether they’ve reached Level 100 Artist. In fact, “artist” is such an absolutely loaded term that I prefer to never use it with regard to myself – that’s for the audience to decide – and rarely with regards to others. It’s a dubious term at best.

So I guess I’m taking that one with a grain of salt :stuck_out_tongue:

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Ha! Well said all above, and co-sign for most of it (esp re: Bukowski being a bad place to look for advice!)

With that being said, I feel like the maybe middle path w/r/t the poem, the OP post, etc is to allow a space to facilitate what you do, but not allow your work to be predicated on it (IE, what are best practices, rather than ‘how will this Instagram-worthy, heavily aestheticized space allow me to begin to create’.)

I know that having my own studio space as an artist and educator in an expensive urban center is an unrealistic luxury, so I find ways to make what I have as efficient as possible, but not the foundation or starting point for my work. I keep everything tidy, clear my space before a session, and periodically tidy/organize/de-clutter both my IRL equipment and digital (organizing files, backing up hard drives, cataloging work documentation, CVs, grant + residency applications, etc)
.
Other than that though, I do take some inspiration from the CB poem above (or maybe its just rationalization lol)

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environment is super important. that said, i will take a crap space and more time any day :slight_smile:

i have tried to make my set up as small and portable/easy to use as possible so when the time does present itself i can take advantage of it. also, if you are portable the whole world can be your space.

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if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,

ah, charles bukowski, that guy who is known for being a good family man

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I’ve tried a variety of approaches over the years, and generally just found that I need a space all to myself. I can’t work with other people around at all - co-working studios [that seem to be all the rage? I get that bouncing ideas off people can be inspiring but do they have to be so close all the time?] don’t work for me at all. Whenever I’m sharing a space, I put in so much energy into ensuring I’m not inadvertently annoying anyone that I end up doing no work at all…

I’m really fortunate that I’ve been able to essentially turn the downstairs section of my townhouse into a sort of live-in studio. While it’s not the most well-organised, it’s a space completely for me :slight_smile:

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It’s funny, after basically moving around and living in limbo for almost 2 years I’ve found that certain parts of my creative practice are (relatively) unaffected. Specifically, things that are screen-based don’t exist anywhere, so I found those can happen when I am anywhere.

As an example, when @Angela and I moved to Spain, we basically had nothing with us and were living out of a suitcase for the better part of a year. During that time I was still able to carry on programming (and did most of the coding for the new version of C-C-Combine while there). Even though everything else was up in the air, and I didn’t play a physical drumset for around 1.5y, I was still able to carry on working on creative coding stuff, since I didn’t situate it somewhere physically.

That being said, for non-programming, and specifically conceptually creative stuff I do best in a familiar situation. And that situation happens to be around @Angela. Basically both of us cut our teeth working on creative shit while living in a tiny one-room efficiency in Miami where there wasn’t even enough room for a bed. We would stand up a single mattress during the day so we could walk around, and then lay it down at night to sleep. (that being said, that tiny room had a drumset, a rhodes, a piano, and two desks for working on stuff)

Although I have to say I have done some of my best creative thinking at a mall food court, eating Taco Bell (that’s where they generally are in the UK) with @Angela. The loud rumble of a food court, as it turns out, is great for my creative thinking!

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Hi! Very nice topic here.
I have a question for you, more of a technical question maybe, but still related to studio space and its influence on your musical practice.

Like you, I felt the need to have different tables for different practices, basically computer-related music + listening and an “analog” table, for playing without a screen, testing, soldering, experimenting.

So my question is, in such a situation, where do I put my sound monitors? In an ideal situation of course the room would be big enough and the speakers powerful enough that the sweet spot could host all the tables you need, but yeeh, not for everybody.
I see you decided to position your monitors in the ideal spot for the “screen” part, why?

I recently moved and now have the space for two tables, but still haven’t unpacked my monitors, I really don’t know what to do.

A great studio that always inspired me is Sasu Ripatti’s Shark Reef studio in Finland, and he’s using two sets of monitors, big Genelec’s for the “screen”, and small Genelec’s for the modular. Great solution, but still, not for everybody’s pockets…

the studio monitors are placed at the desk where I do mixing/mastering, where it is really important to have the most accurate sound. obviously in a perfect world i’d have another pair placed on the left and right of the “synth desk,” but when I’m working with the modular/Juno I use headphones half the time anyway.

the desk is also where I need them to be for my “day job” which is as a media composer for various commercials, films, etc. and for that I spend all my time at the desk working with orchestral libraries and such (theres a midi keyboard/controller on the desk that I slide in and out when I need to use it.)

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