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Blog // Creativity
February 25, 2012

Solitude, Introversion And The Power Of Working Spaces

Pretty soon I will have completed my new music studio here in Singapore. This raises questions about how our spaces shape our creativity.

Since moving I have the opportunity to build a new work space. I’ve worked from home, on and off, since 1994. It’s a mixed blessing. Right now, I’m focussing on the positive side of that equation.

The New Studio

My new studio space is not huge, but I do have a nice room, with wooden ceilings (I kid you not), diffused natural light, good air-conditioning (important in Singapore) and enough space to house all my guitars, effects, amps and music making paraphernalia. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve had all my gear in the same room since I left Delhi in 2006!

Of course, I have to come up with a name for this space (I’ve named every home studio I’ve had since, well, forever). For a while I was thinking of calling it “The Sugar Shack,” after the song from Phish’s last studio album. However, after explaining my (rather isolated) daily routines to fellow photographer Marco Ryan over coffee this week, I wondered if the new studio should be called The Fortress of Solitude.

A Quiet Place

I’ve just finished reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I mentioned her book in a recent post, The Cult of Collaboration. It’s a good read; encouraging if you are an introvert and quite possibly eye-opening if you are an extrovert (or assume that extroversion is an ideal).

Reading Quiet was every bit as inspiring as processing the results of my first Myers-Briggs test was, all those years ago; when I first realised that my natural introversion was not weakness or character flaw, but a natural part of my make-up and in many ways a source of strength. Over the years I’ve come to accept that everything good in my work, even when I collaborate with others, comes from extended periods of working (and thinking) alone.

Of course, a music studio is not, inherently a quiet place – it’s a place of purposeful noise. But, I consider it important that a music room have a sense of “rest” when you walk into it (as opposed to chaos). Also, it helps to make the room distraction-free, or, to put it another way, that the distractions be things that inspire you to make music. So, no phones and lots of guitars!

Other Quiet Spaces

The studio is the largest of a number of quiet spaces I’ve tried to design into our new home. While setting up here in Singapore I’ve taken a lot of cues from Winifred Gallagher ‘s excellent book on interior design and home architecture, House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live. In a well designed home every room will have a purpose (or set of purposes) and be designed to allow us to enter the right frame of mind of those purposes.

With that in mind I quickly identified the nicest window in the house; one that catches light all day, but never has much direct light streaming in. It was easy to imagine someone sitting by that window. So we designed a small library around that vision, complete with a very comfortable chair and a small coffee table, nestled into a corner by that window. It’s a beautifully restful place to read and think.

Photo Studio?

I have a dream studio in my mind, a space that can combine music, photography and other arts. But, I can’t build that right now.

In a way, it doesn’t matter because my photo studio, my digital darkroom as it were, is surprisingly small. I have a tiny little desk in a home office that is just big enough for a screen, MacBook Pro, Wacom Tablet, mouse and keyboard. A lot of the time I simply develop photos on my Macbook Pro only, especially while travelling.

Quiet Monotasking

You may well be noticing a theme here; a space for music, a space for reading, a space for developing images and so on. I’m blessed with a lot more room here in Singapore than I had in Hong Kong and I’m pushing myself to use that room more creatively. It’s a lot easier to mono-task when the important tasks have their own defined zones, even if that zone is just a corner of a room, or a tiny little desk somewhere in your home.

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