April 22, 2019 § Leave a comment

Back for the penultimate instalment in my series of reflections on studio spaces, before I show you my brand new home studio in Barcelona! I hinted in a post last year that events beyond my control were preventing me from making progress on new music, and I will delve into this in this post, but if you are a maker thinking of getting your own space, I urge you to read the rest, as it may contain information that you have not thought about!

In the last post I was telling you about all the positive aspects of having my own music space in San Sebastián, and yet my relationship with that space was always a love-hate, rollercoaster one. For every advantage it had I could think of a disadvantage, and some of these proved to be really problematic in the long run. The dampness problem, which I already mentioned, had multiple origins and therefore could not be solved (especially not by me as a mere tenant). The last thing you want when you have precious instruments and gear is for them to go mouldy, and I ended up having to store my cherished violas da gamba at home. I tried to monitor the state of my other instruments and gear as best as I could, but got really worried again last year as I started to own quite a few high-quality electronic analogue instruments, including a very valuable vintage piece. As I packed for the move to Barcelona in January and was faced with mould-covered item upon mould-covered item, I realized it was indeed high time I faced the reality of the situation: a damp studio is *not* a viable long-term solution for storing your instruments, nor is it ideal for a human being to work in such conditions.

There can also be serious safety issues in the old spaces that we makers often end up working in, in this current context of real estate madness. It would take too long to tell the whole story here, but in the winter of early 2017, as I had two electrical heaters on, an electrical fire started in one of the studio walls: I was thankfully downstairs at that moment, so was able to see the flames and act right away, with the fire being put out swiftly and no damage being done to the studio apart from the trace of flames on the wall. It scared the hell out of me though, and even though the firemen who came and inspected the place told me the electrical installation was correct, I never felt completely safe afterwards (why hadn’t the fuses blown?), and I still shudder to think of what could have happened if I had been upstairs in the mezzanine space at the time the fire started. 

Another issue that never went away was the noise one: ultimately, a non-professionally soundproofed ground floor space giving onto a street will always have noise issues. At the time of The weighing of the heart, so much outside noise filtered through the old doors that, after fruitless attempts at recording late at night, I ended up having to record – also late at night – in our flat. I did manage to record the vocals in bits and bobs at the studio in a small corner which I tried to isolate as best as I could (I felt too shy to record vocals at home as it was my first time singing!). In late 2013 my landlord agreed to replace the doors and windows with triple glazing, which improved the problem but did not solve it (street noise still filtered through the area of the metal blind, and noise also came from the building’s elevator). As I moved to more and more electronically-enhanced close-miked instruments (Captain of none) and then to fully electronic (A flame my love, a frequency), I was thankfully less dependent on having a completely silent environment, but the problem remained acute for vocals (out of desperation, I recorded the vocals for A flame at home, on a couple of miraculously quiet days). 

Finally, there is the maintenance aspect: even if you’re not a cleanliness freak, you do have to take care of your space, and when it opens onto a street, that also means having to clean dog poo, dog and/or human pee right in front of your door or *on* your door, cigarette butts and all sorts of rubbish, as well as the grime from car exhausts … Now you might think I’m exaggerating a little bit with this one, but this actually takes me to my final point.

Last year I found out that my severe exhaustion – which I initially thought was due to overworking – was due to an autoimmune chronic health problem – thankfully not a life-or-death problem, but one that can seriously alter your quality of life, and in my case left me unable to work for months on end. In the first half of 2018 I went to the studio only very occasionally in order to rehearse for the shows I had planned back then. After this, as my energy levels plummeted even further, I went there even less. I not only felt really down about not being able to do my work, I also stressed out at the thought of all the gear collecting mould in the dark unopened studio, not to mention the financial waste of paying rent on a space you’re not actively using. But whenever I tried to go, the 5 minutes it took me to walk there, pulling up the heavy metal blind, and possibly cleaning whatever mess there was to clean in front of my door – all this was already a huge drain on my energy, and at best I sometimes sang a little, read an instructions manual, connected a few instruments and vaguely went about trying to make music, and gave up in less than an hour, overwhelmed by the need to lie down and rest. For the first time in years, I started to think that if I had a music space at home, perhaps I would be able to “catch” more easily the moments when I did feel OK, and this was when the idea of moving back to a home studio situation became not only acceptable but even *attractive* to me again.
My health issue is now more or less under control thanks to the help of medication, but even though I am now feeling ok, I do not take good health and normal energy levels for granted anymore, and feel confident that right now, having direct access to my workspace from within my home is the ideal solution.

I thank you for reading me this far, I hope that this series somehow may have been illuminating if you too are facing the dilemma of where to pursue your creative practice!


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