First Take: Sacred Space

Read Gino Robair November 2008 EM Editors Note, Where He Writes About Making Time to Create Your Own Music
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Increasingly, I've been hearing from colleagues that they have difficulty finding the time for their own projects. It seems nearly impossible in our busy lives to carve out creative space for ourselves. And when we do, a good portion of the time is spent setting up, organizing, and doing technical housekeeping, all of which can diminish the potential for inspiration.

But making time to be creative is probably one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. This may seem obvious coming from a music-tech magazine. Yet with all the technology available today, it's increasingly easy to put off the act of music making because we can so easily get distracted by the tools themselves.

One way to get there is to make a date with your musical self and treat it as seriously as you would a paid gig or a studio session. Composer Lou Harrison referred to it as making — and keeping — a date with the muse. The muse might not always show up, but you'll be ready when it does. You might schedule a regular day and time (Sundays from 2 to 6 p.m.) or something that's a bit more open (first and third Tuesday evenings). But logging the date in and keeping it is the first step.

Just as important, you have to have a place to work where you feel comfortable being creative and where you can do so without interruption. (In other words, turn off your portable communications devices when you're there.) In his book The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell referred to this as the sacred space. In this case I would expand the phrase to include not only the physical place, but also the important zone of overall awareness that you want to enter.

A major hindrance to creativity is often self-consciousness and self-editing, especially when we know in the back of our mind that our date with the muse is only for a short period of time. To get past that, remind yourself that there will be more dates. (You want to keep this relationship going, right?) More important, don't expect anything to happen. Leave the expectation for results for a time when you need to produce something on a deadline. Instead, allow yourself to be completely open, unblocked, and receptive. Let the ideas flow without hesitation. American composer Anthony Braxton refers to it as putting on “the beam,” that laserlike focus where you are completely in the moment.

Prepare your sacred space ahead of time by creating a studio setup that allows you to start playing and recording quickly and without hassle. One way is to make a template in your favorite sequencer that fits your style of music. It might have several MIDI and audio tracks ready to go on launch, with your favorite synths and drum machines already loaded up or patched in. Or it might be as simple as leaving a mic set up and patched directly to a recorder so can just sit down, hit the record button, and start playing and singing. Later you can mine any good bits that result from your explorations.

Steve Roach's approach, which has made a big impression on me, is to leave his synths patched up and running for days, ready to go when the mood strikes. Then he simply hits record. “You can just let it run and forget that anything's running,” he told me in his 2005 interview (available at, “and just get into that place where you find those magic takes.”

You've learned how to use the tools for music making. Now give yourself the time to use them to satisfy our own creative urges.