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“Creativity requires a bit of laziness.“

Tomi Räisänen, Composer⎥Komponist

What does a normal or ideal working day look like for you, what kind of rhythm do you have? Do you have fixed working hours or do they vary from day to day?
It varies a lot. If a deadline is near, sometimes you have to work around the clock. This is not very healthy, of course. Ideally, I would like to go for a morning jog and then start the working day fresh and energetic. Composing is not “normal work” where you have to sit in an office to work. I can also think about my composition when I’m running or walking. Of course, our brains work also during sleep.


How many hours per day do you work on average (writing, painting, practicing, composing)? What is the best case result (two pages, one sketch, twenty bars)?
This also varies depending on the stage of the work process. When finalising a piece and writing parts, it’s normal to work around 8 hours or more. Starting a new piece requires a lot of thinking and not so much sitting in front of the computer, so the (office) work hours might be fewer. I think that one can’t have so many creative work hours per day; maybe around 1-4 hours. When sketching a new piece, I might give myself some kind of daily goal, like “compose 10-20 seconds of new music per day”. Also, it’s good to recognise that creativity requires a bit of laziness; if you try too hard, the creative result may be poor.


How many hours do you add on average for ‘background work’ and everything else (research, office stuff, acquisition, website, social media)? How do you find the balance between all the tasks you have to keep track of as a free artist?
I have never counted. As a freelancer, you just have to do what you have to do. I also publish my works and sometimes it all requires tremendous amounts of hours. When it’s busy, it’s busy… You just have to hope that sometimes it’s not so busy. It’s all very unpredictable all the time. But I have to be happy that I’m busy because there are so few opportunities out there for composers.


Are there weekends for you? What does free time mean?
I can’t remember when I would have had a holiday. Also, there is no difference between weekdays and weekends for me. If you are feeling ill, then there are days off, of course. But, also then, one can think about work. Being a composer is not a regular job; it’s a way of life, a vocation. However, I do dream of having a holiday. I think it would be healthy to have a longer break sometimes. Last summer we went to Japan for a holiday with my children for 5 weeks and I decided to spend the time without any work. Alas, I was just too busy with writing my Organ Concerto parts which had to be delivered right after the summer. Also, suddenly I had to rebuild my website from scratch and that work had to start whilst on this “holiday trip” in Japan.


What is the biggest threat to your artistic work, what do you get distracted by?
I could imagine that a situation where nobody commissions new works and there is no funding to continue composing would be the biggest threat to a composer. I have been really lucky past 25 years to have been able to compose project after project… and it seems to continue. But I know many, many composers who struggle to get commissions and works performed. Being a composer (or an artist) is one of the hardest jobs there is.


Do you have strategies to protect yourself from distractions?
My composing daily routine can be sometimes very chaotic; I might start to answer some e-mails or update my website suddenly. Or read some news or check social media. There are so many things that can interrupt the work. But maybe some interruptions are good; to give your mind a rest here and there. I think it’s not effective (or even possible) to concentrate 100% on composing all the time during the day. And anyway, if there is a result = new compositions are born before the deadlines, then all is well, isn’t it?


What is your working environment like, what is essential for you? For example, do you need absolute silence – and if so, where and how do you find it? And when and where does the most important part of your work happen, where do you find the greatest inspiration?
Silence is so important to me. I get easily distracted by noise or “uncontrolled sounds”. On the other hand, I can time-to-time tolerate all kinds of noise, like traffic, and even construction site sounds. However, I truly hate it if I have to listen to some (popular) music played by other people. I have different kinds of working environments. In Helsinki, it’s a lot of trees and nature, and birds singing. In London, it’s rather busy and noisy, but relatively quiet inside the house. Japan is also a good place to be because people respect others and try not to cause any disturbance anywhere, neither in the home environment nor out in public. Sometimes I have been composing in a café or some other public space when travelling… or in an aeroplane or a train. So I am quite flexible but, at the end of the day, a silent environment is the best, of course. In Germany, many great artist residencies provide a silent work environment. I have been to Künstlerhaus Lukas and Künstlerhaus Schloss Wiepersdorf.


How often or easily do you get into a creative ‘flow’, and what helps you most to reach this state?
We can’t rely on waiting for ‘flow’ to come. I have a lot of experience in composing. With or without flow the work one has to move forward because the deadline is coming at some point. So, I don’t think about ‘flow’. However, I do have to mention that sometimes a glass of wine might help. But it’s only a temporary solution, of course.


What do you do when nothing works out – when ideas or success fail to materialise, or when you don’t succeed in what you set out to do?
The composing process is a large task. There are so many stages and layers. If we think about orchestral writing for example; if something doesn’t work in some specific spot, I can always work with another spot; maybe doing something simpler, like some detail in orchestration. Then I can return to the more difficult spot later and the work has progressed anyway.


What helps you when your self-confidence is down (e.g. because of bad reviews, financial downturn, bad mood, personal worries)?
My tactic is the Finnish way: “The pessimist is never disappointed”. I don’t expect or hope anything ever to happen. When I send a grant application, I forget it immediately. If my application succeeds, it is a great positive surprise! If there is a plan to perform a new piece of mine somewhere, I finally believe it happened when it happened. Anyway, I have very good self-confidence. Also, usually, my reviews are quite good!


Do you reward yourself when you have achieved something, reached a certain goal?
Go out to the pub and drink some pints.


Do you rely on the advice of others or on advice literature? Are there any books that have helped you to find courage on your artistic path?
As mentioned, being a composer is a vocation. From a very early age, I always knew that I would be a composer. I have been walking on my own path. I don’t listen to much other music or read books about composing; of course, sometimes (for research) but not too often. I believe that a composer or artist has to find his or her voice and it’s somehow an ‘inner-born’ thing. Some might say: “a gift from God”. Sure, some role models and influences can be important too. However, I hate the question: “What are your influences?”


How much does the recognition of your art by others mean to you? What is the best form of recognition?
The goal is that the music “lives”. In other words, my music is being performed now and after me. When someone chooses to play your music, you know that the music is good. Unfortunately, 99% of all the music composed is never performed again (or even once). I feel happy and blessed that I have had many performances of most of my works. The best recognition is when someone contacts me and asks me to send my music for a performance.


What are you afraid of?
That my music dies, in other words, stops getting performed. That would mean that all my life’s work has been in vain.