'Maybe they're far away, in the act of performing, but I don't hear what they're playing.'
Aaron Jay Kernis from The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process by Ann McCutchan
One of the ways Aaron Jay Kernis inspires himself to start composing is to bring an image to mind. One of the images he creates with his mind's eye is that of musicians performing from far away, so far away he cannot hear what they are playing.
Imagine you are seeing your problem from far away. You cannot hear the clamour and noise it is making or, if they are involved, what people may be saying to each other.
But you can discern some things.
What glistens or stands out from afar? Which movements or actions catch the eye? What is blurred and difficult to make out?
What, from your perspective, surrounds the problem? Within what landscape is it set? Does it appear small when compared to what surrounds it? Or does it loom large over the landscape, despite how far away it is?
Or is it not in a landscape at all? Is it in fact enclosed within some larger space? What does this space look like? What is its function? Is it reinforcing the problem? Or is it somehow containing or limiting it?
Is anyone else watching? What are they doing as they watch? Can you even hear a little of what they are saying?
Watch and listen for a while...
How are you seeing things now? What are you beginning to hear?
What do you want to do first? What direction do you want to take? What do you want to look at more closely?
Begin to compose your solution.