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Composer Spaces
Claire Cowan

In our Composer Spaces series, we ask composers to share a bit about their working environment and to give us a brief insight into their process. This week we present Auckland-based composer Claire Cowan.

What does a typical composing day look like for you? 

It totally depends on the project and what stage of it I'm at. These last few weeks I've been going to work between 8-9 am and coming home around 11-12 at night. These hours are unusual, but have been sustained recently to try and meet the deadline to deliver 100mins of orchestral score! In a normal working week, I would try and begin each day around 9 and finish around 7 pm. Often I get most creative around 4 pm and could work into the night if I didn't have to stop and eat! I'm not too great in the mornings, although I do feel kinda smug if I get to work before 8 am and that can help with my attitude towards my work!

Please describe the space where you compose your music. 

It's a small darkish room in the middle of a big building where other creative musicians are at work. It's soundproofed so I can make noise without disturbing others. I have a lot of instruments crammed in there. Harpsichord on one side, piano on the other, a whole lot of cubbyholes and shelves with various toys and microphones. Cables hung over the back of the door. Small rainbow neon lamp on top of the piano. Various percussion things scattered around. Trusty egg shaker on the desk. Multiple screens of all sizes for film scoring.

What equipment (including software) do you have in your space?

I use Logic Pro X most days. I also use Sibelius for scoring. But I'm more creative in Logic. I also use pen and paper at my piano, if the luxury of time permits. My harpsichord is a feature of the room. It has LED strip lighting inside, and I painted it white, so it has a glam-rock vibe.

Please describe your typical composing process. Does it change with each piece?

I come up with little motifs and seeds of ideas which I get excited about. Then I try and get the structure down, which is the hardest part. Then I enjoy this next part the most -the colouring in, the choosing of textures, the accompaniment. I compose in various ways depending on the final output - with a filmscore I'm always looking at the film for inspiration, with audio works I sometimes compose without any sense of metre - freeform improvisational recording. I use microphones in my studio to record myself playing. It's liberating to focus purely on the immediate sound and it's recording. Sometimes the analysis of the theoretical side within a piece gets me too caught up in my head.

What are you currently working on in your space?

I just finished a ballet. Hansel and Gretel for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

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