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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

FIVE MINUTES | Adam Scime On The Creative Process

By Tyler Versluis on July 25, 2016

Adam Scime
The creative process is not as uniform as you might think. Composition in the 21st-century is extremely eclectic, with composers writing concert music, electroacoustic music, film and television scores, video game soundtracks, and some even abandoning written notation for the recording studio or the improvisation scene. With this series, we push some of Toronto’s best composers to the centre stage and pry into their creative practice. This series of short interviews asks all composers the same three questions.

The music of composer and double-bassist Adam Scime frequently alternates between moments of sensuously sculpted lyricism and vast, electrifying complexity. Talking to Scime reveals a mind heavily concerned with harmonising artistic integrity and discipline in the creative process. Meet…


List three pieces or works from your catalogue:

Rise for stereophonic orchestra

l’homme et le ciel, a chamber opera in 4 scenes

Broken Images for chamber ensemble

#1. How do you write your music?

With each piece I write, the initial process is always the same: I engage in extensive periods of listening to music. This may include works using the same instrumentation as my own current project, or any other music for that matter. The objective is simply to prepare my ear and creative intuition for the project at hand. We are endlessly bombarded with an excess of stimuli in the world today. Allowing myself to set aside time to listen to music has proven to be an ideal meditative conduit and creative utility as I prepare for the actual compositional task.

I have used electronics in my music. I think composers should be open to using whatever tools are at their disposal. I write my compositions with pencil, using a notation software only to input the final draft. I certainly do work with sketches. However, my sketches are never composed in short score. It has always puzzled me how composers are able to work in short score. This way of working is of course totally valid, but for me timbre is of great importance, and because of this my imagination is led immediately toward whatever instrumentation I am posed with. The idea of revision in my music is determined on a case-by-case basis. I tend to be quite thorough in my orchestrational process, and my editing routine is rather precise at this point, so the need for immediate revision upon completion of a piece is not necessary. If I decide to revise a piece after some time has passed, it will be because my taste for the direction in which my ideas flow within a piece has changed.

Inspiration is unpredictable. All artists experience moments in which ideas seem to flow with ease onto the page. Conversely, all artists experience moments of a seemingly depleted creative cache. Personally, I feel there is great reward in the notion of hard work. Whatever the artist’s aesthetic, I feel very strongly that we must judge a work of art on its level of excellence. I am convinced that when you marry your natural artistic abilities with a great deal of hard work, this tenacity will resonate within the community. Therefore, although it may be difficult at times, I prefer to embrace a working philosophy that may be summarized by a quote from author Stephen King: “[Some artists] sit around and wait for inspiration, the rest of us get to work.”

#2. When do you write your music?

I am fortunate enough to be engaged in the music community on a number of levels. This means that my schedule is usually quite busy and my hours of composing must be determined in advance. However, I must confess there are many times when ideas strike late at night, and I must force myself out of bed so I don’t forget these ideas. I’m fairly certain all artists grapple with the struggle between scheduled work and spontaneous inspiration.

#3. In this age of plurality, composers are now pulling inspiration from many different places (pop music, world music, mathematics, visual art), not just the classical canon anymore.  How valuable is the classical canon to you as a contemporary composer?(Both the music forming the classical canon itself, and the concept of a canon)

The classical canon is extremely important to me. However, all types of music are important to me including popular music. There are valuable lessons to be learned – and endless inspiration to be had – from all types of music. No artist should feel reluctant to draw inspiration from one particular source or the other. Furthermore, composers throughout history have always derived material inspired by painting and popular music of the day. I’m not sure what is different about this now compared to any other point in Western music history. I will say that for the artist creating written concert music, the study of the canon is unavoidable if any amount of success in their own work is desired. This may be a controversial statement, but I really do believe it to be true.

From what sources artists draw their inspiration should be of no concern. What is of greater importance is whether this work has reached an acceptable level of artistic excellence in order to thrive in the professional world. I would never presume to tell anyone what type of music is good or bad as taste is deeply personal. Unfortunately it does sadden me when one of my colleagues dismisses a genre or type of music for reasons that are almost always political in nature rather than personal. For me, the true student of composition — whatever their personal aesthetic goals — is willing to admit themselves into the notion that a variety of genuine manifestations of artistic communication made by other people living at different times is not only possible, but essential. Even if one dislikes a certain type of music, an investigation of how one might still yield inspiration from this particular brand of distaste may prove to be quite useful.

I believe that a plurality of style is necessary in art today because it is a mirror of the world we live in. For anyone dismissing a plurality of aesthetic in art today is unfortunately misguided. The art community is driven forward and allowed to grow through inclusivity. The artist living in Toronto is truly blessed in this regard as its community members are willing to embrace a wide spectrum of aesthetics. No matter the source of their material – be it popular music or astrophysics –  it remains the responsibility of the artist to ensure their work reaches an acceptable level of excellence. There will always be sceptics, but one may take comfort in their own efforts if the necessary amount of work and preparation has been put forth. This allows a piece of music to be wonderfully harmonious in its construction; similar to a performer utilising natural abilities matched with endless hours of work to execute a flawless performance.


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Tyler Versluis

Tyler is a Toronto based writer, composer, and Doctoral student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music.

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