If you walked into my room and saw my work space, you would have thought I was a stock options trader, a mad scientist or someone who spends a little too much time playing video games. Although there’s a little truth in the latter, living in a 14’x14’ graduate housing space with my wife and all of our belongings sure makes my five monitor setup look a bit ridiculous. Whether it be digitally or on paper, I find having a huge amount of real estate helps with the creative process, and the journey to this setup is certainly an entertaining one.
Freshman year I had an Asus Aspire laptop with an HD screen and Finale 2009. On sale for about $400 on it had the 2009 platform of Pentium processor and a will to keep me from doing my work. I RMAed the son of a gun a total of six times in the span of 18 months. It was time I got myself a real computer.
In the summer after my sophomore year I bought a pre-built from CyberPower PC with a Intel Quad Core i5-760, AMD Radeon 5450, and two Hannspree computer monitors for about $600 for the tower and $160 for both of the monitors. I felt like I had stepped into the matrix. I was running Finale 2010 on one screen while watching Hulu on the other. The possibilities seemed endless!
This was around the time I had started working on larger ensemble works, and for anyone that has used Finale in any capacity knows that this requires a lot of screen space. I ended up getting used to a bezel between my monitors and stretching out my score across both. It was super helpful to say the least, and more space meant better editing and less money spent on printing out twenty to forty page scores before I realized there was an error.
When I flew out to Hawaii, the graphics card didn’t survive the flight, so I picked up a Radeon HD 7870. It allowed me to have a total of six monitors if I wanted. Naturally, I picked up three more matching monitors on craigslist and ended up with a five monitor portrait setup.
By arranging the monitors in portrait, that meant I had 1440 vertical pixels to play with, and my 32 stave score could appear on my screens at 1:1 scale size of the tabloid printout. This was exceptionally helpful in rewriting and editing Rokokyo Jiken, my work for taiko and orchestra. At a glance, I had visuals to all instruments with enough detail that I could edit without zooming in, and make sure staves lined up from one page to the next without scrolling.
To further optimise my workflow I picked up an MMO gaming mouse that was on sale and hotkeyed the 12 side buttons to different inputs in Finale. This allowed me to quickly input notes without having to move my left hand from the numpad to the letter keys to switch between note and expression inputs.
I ended up moving my studio monitors and sub to the TV to avoid forcing my wife to listen to me editing and instead vouched for a pair of MDR-V6. It also takes away the urge to goof off while working and watch a movie.
The space to my left is designated for pen and paper writing, and having just gone through my second 13x19 double sided pad, I am currently waiting for my third to come in. I also put reference material there while working to check ranges of odd instruments or for papers.
If I were to change anything I’d either add a larger 32” screen in a landscape orientation in the middle to move those vertical bezels to the side a bit, but the space is a little limiting on that front. I’d wholeheartedly recommend a 21:9 aspect ratio monitor when they come down in price, simply for the amount of digital real estate it gives you.
It’s mostly clean, but it does have a lot of parts to it. I’d say I’m pretty happy with it, and would love to hear from other composers what they find the most useful to help their workflow.