‘Popular Music, Power and Play’ by Marshall Heiser – available now.

Available NOW from Bloomsbury Academic and all good booksellers.

Table of Contents

1. The Frame
2. Power, Play and Creativity
3. Pushing Humpty
4. Playframing
5. Negotiations
Case Study: Remain In Light
6. Beyond the Frame
Case Study: The Struggle Behind the SMiLE
Last Thoughts
Appendix: Interview with Bill Bruford

Click image below to read sample chapter (or go to: https://bloomsburycp3.codemantra.com/viewer/61977c6a5f150300016f108f )

Get Back: Watching the Beatles at Work (and Play).

November 25th sees the premier of Peter Jackson’s Beatles docu-series ‘Get Back’ on the Disney+ streaming platform. With the exception of some hotch-potch footage captured during the recording of the ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and the February, 1968 ‘Hey Bulldog’ session, this presentation amounts to the only footage chronicling the Beatles at work in the studio.

While much has been written about the Fab Four’s creative practice in the studio, little has been said about a key ingredient fueling the band’s creativity: their sense of humour and playfulness.

As the ‘Sneak Peak’ footage released late last year illustrates, the Beatles (together with celebrated keyboardist Billy Preston) were adept at lifting the mood of what can so often can be a laborious and exacting process (in this case: having to write, arrange, rehearse and perform an album’s worth of new material in about a month – in a new studio that didn’t initially work – and all the while being shadowed by a film crew). The Beatles’ ‘group glee’, irreverence, self-effacing humour and child-like enthusiasm enabled them to make the best of what was a trying situation.

Humour and play didn’t just keep the Beatles’ unified and motivated during difficult times. Framing work as play was a core component of how the band came up with their ideas and further developed them: as writers, arrangers, performers and (uncredited) co-producers of their records.

Watching ‘Get Back’ will be a wonderful opportunity not only for those wishing to learn more about the Beatles’ creative practice in the studio, but creativity in the arts in general.

Admittedly, the original ‘fly on the wall’ concept of the Get Back film has limited validity since the band would have no doubt ‘hammed it up’ for the cameras, making it difficult to ascertain precisely which playful behaviours were standard fair for a Beatles’ session and which were ‘for the viewers’. However, a few points come to mind: (i) Peter Jackson has confided that the original ‘Let it Be’ director was skilled at subterfuge in the name of art: often filming the band while they were unaware the cameras were rolling. (ii) Bootlegged studio outtakes from previous Beatles Albums (including ‘Rubber Soul’ – available on the internet) document a band that was habitually playful during recording sessions (particularly, during vocal overdubs).

Few realise that The Beatles were originally signed by George Martin to EMI Records’ comedy label Parlophone in 1962 (after being rejected by every other major label in Britain – even the independent producer Joe Meek passed on the band) on the basis of their charisma and wit rather than their ability as performers or songwriters: He elaborates:

[The Beatles] had a zany sense of humor … Without that sense of humor, the Beatles wouldn’t have existed, and certainly we wouldn’t have hit it off as well as we did. Even after the Beatles, I did covers of certain songs with [comedian] Peter Sellers … so it’s a kind of tradition. I don’t think there’s much difference between a performer in music and a performer in spoken word or humor. (Larry the O 2009)

My new book Popular Music, Power and Play: Reframing Creative Practice (Heiser, 2021) features a case study exploring the Beatle’s use of humour and play throughout their career, including their creative practice in the studio. Furthermore, the book unpacks the precise mechanisms by which humour and play facilitate creative flow in music making and record production. If you’d like to read a sample chapter go to https://bloomsburycp3.codemantra.com/viewer/61977c6a5f150300016f108f or click on the image below.

‘The Beatles: Get Back’ screens over three nights starting November 25th, 2021 on the Disney+ streaming platform.


Heiser, M (2021). Popular Music, Power and Play: Reframing Creative Practice: New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Larry the O. (2009), ‘To Sir with Love’, Electronic Musician. Available online: http://www.emusician.com/gear/1332/to-sir-with-love/40689 (accessed 17 February 2010).

Interview with Bill Bruford

An interview I conducted with drummer, bandleader and author Bill Bruford has today been published as a feature by the online Journal on the Art of Record Production (JARP) (you can read in for free at the site). As well as having been a key member of the bands King Crimson, Yes and UK, and a bandleader with Bruford (featuring Alan Holdsworth) and Earthworks, Dr. Bruford has also played with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez, Patrick Moraz [Moraz Bruford], Genesis and Gong. His latest scholarly title is Uncharted: Creativity and the Expert Drummer (2018). His autobiography Bill Bruford – The Autobiography: Yes, King Crimson, Earthworks and More is also available and highly recommended for both fans and anyone interested learning about the ins and outs of life as a professional musician, co-creator and recording artist. Enjoy.

‘The fetters of tormented mankind are made of red tape.’

I was watching David Cronenberg’s film Naked Lunch last night. I haven’t seen it since its cinema release back in the 1990s. I must confess I went to see it at the time for the wonderful Howard Shore/Ornette Coleman musical score as much as anything else. I was curious to see if it would still have the same (somewhat disturbing) impact that it had on me all those years ago. Yes and no. The impact was there but of a wholly different kind.

Whereas, I had originally interpreted the wry horrors of William S. Burroughs’s landmark work (upon which the film is partly based, along with Burroughs’s journey leading up to writing the book) as the inspired ramblings of a narcotically numbed schadenfreude; now I saw detachment and cool-headed observation of a more journalistic (though of a hazy surreal) kind. In particular, I was surprised that I hadn’t made the somewhat obvious connection between Burroughs’s novel and Kafka’s Metamorphosis, given all the bugs.

So, this morning, I thought I’d do a quick search to see if Burroughs was in fact alluding to Kafka’s work in The Naked Lunch and found the following wonderful journal article ‘”One of the Great Early Counselors”: The Influence of Franz Kafka on William S. Burroughs’ by Adam Meyer at JSTOR online. If you’d like to read it for free, you can at https://www.jstor.org/stable/40246758 without the need to subscribe (at the moment).

I highly recommend reading Meyer’s article particularly if you have ever thought that books like The Naked Lunch overstep the mark when it comes to shock-tactics. After all, there is nothing in it you won’t see in your daily news bulletin (anthropomorphic transformations coming soon: give or take 50 years 😉 ). As the rockband Skyhooks once sang: “It’s a Horror Movie right there on my TV…shocking me right out of my brain…it’s the 6.30 news”.

Try it. Open up any reputable online news site (for example: https://www.abc.net.au/news/), read what has been served up to for your consumption and delectation: Kafka and Burroughs begin to seem like optimists. As Jack Kerouac said when explaining why he came up with the name ‘Naked Lunch’ as an appropriate title for Burroughs’s tome: you get to see what’s really on the end of your fork.

One might well feel ‘triggered’ after reading some of Burroughs’ more unsavory passages, there is, however, equally the invitation to wake up from numbness and complacency. There is, also, the possibility that one might resolve to choose autonomy in place of being a social and cultural automaton. Does the daily news bulletin invite the same reaction? Indignation and self-righteousness are more likely responses.

Meyer’s most timely observation (keep in mind this article was written some 30 years ago) is perhaps:

Burrough’s is “trying to define what it is that’s really anti-human and evil, and he basically pinpoints it in the self-righteous, censorious, repressive mind,” the same place Kafka located it.

The reason this mind set is so evil is that … it always requires one person’s being under the domination and control of another person or force. (1990 p. 215-16)

Having been born in what is a former penal colony (Australia) and having spent the formative years of my life living in a ‘police state’ and seemingly perpetual ‘state of emergency’ (i.e. Queensland as ruled by premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson for some 20 years!!) I can attest to the truth in Burroughs words when he says that ‘… a functioning police state needs no police.’ Bureaucracy, paranoia and conformity, on the other hand, are essential components.


Burroughs, W. S. ([1959] 2016). The Naked Lunch. Penguin Classics.

Kafka, F. ([1915] 2013). Metamorphosis. Random House US Group.

Meyers, A. (1990). ‘”One of the Great Early Counselors”: The Influence of Franz Kafka on William S. Burroughs’, Comparative Literature Studies Vol. 27, No. 3 (1990), pp. 211-229 (19 pages).

Posted in all

Just say Know


DISCLAIMER: The following blog entry in no way condones the use of hallucinogens, or any other drugs for that matter (not even aspirin). It does however look at some interesting parallels between anecdotal accounts of the psychedelic experience and (to a very limited degree) phenomenological interpretations of adult play and creativity theory.

Lately, I’ve been doing a bit of research into the 1960s counterculture. As well as looking into the influence of movements such as the Beats, Fluxus, Pop art and the Situationists, I decided to find out what I could about the work of clinical psychologists Dr. Timothy Leary, Dr. Ralph Metzner and Dr. Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) who researched the effects of psychedelic substances at Harvard in the early part of that decade. A few very interesting weeks were spent reading about their work and exploits. I also looked at the Gay Dillingham documentary ‘Dying To Know’ (2016).

Two aspects of Leary, Metzner and Alpert’s ideas presented in their ‘The Psychedelic Experience’ (1964) have resonance with my own thoughts regarding the phenomenology of creativity: their use of the ‘game’ metaphor and the concept of ‘set and setting.’

The Game:

This first relates to the idea (also shared by Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) that participation in society and within any type of culture has much in common with the playing a game; each with their inherent roles, rules, distributions of power, challenges and rewards. To realise that, in play,  such elements are limited to the bounds of a field or stage or other such zone is nothing out of the ordinary. However, to be able to objectively see the rules, roles and tools of day-to-day life as having validity restricted to a particular time and place is usually not so easily done: the ego is (rightly) so invested in the game (that is its job). The psychedelic experience and ego-death, however show the game for what it is: a (social, cultural, political and historical) construct. The psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung discusses the tendency for those heavily invested in the game to often identify on a personal level so much that resides, in fact, outside the individual:

the humourless way in which many men [sic] identify themselves with their business or their titles. The office I hold is certainly my special activity; but it is also a collective factor that has come into existence historically through the cooperation of many people and whose dignity rests solely on collective approval. When, therefore, I identify myself with my office or title, I behave as though I myself were the whole complex of social factors of which that office consists, or as though I were not only the bearer of the office, but also and at the same time the approval of society. I have made an extraordinary extension of myself and have usurped qualities which are not in me but outside me. (1953, 7:227)

This is not to ignore or refute the fact that human beings clearly have needs related to belonging, being loved and for self-esteem that, if not met may give rise to trauma, neuroses and maladaptive behaviour. The humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow (1970a) comments:

All people in our society (with a few pathological exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, usually high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. These needs may therefore be classified into two subsidiary sets. These are, first, the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for mastery and competence, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom. Second, we have what we may call the desire for reputation or prestige (defining it as respect or esteem from other people), status, fame and glory, dominance, recognition, attention, importance, dignity, or appreciation…Satisfaction of the self-esteem need leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability, and adequacy, of being useful and necessary in the world. But thwarting of these needs produces feelings of inferiority, of weakness, and of helplessness. These feelings in turn give rise to either basic discouragement or else compensatory or neurotic trends. An appreciation of the necessity of basic self-confidence and an understanding of how helpless people are without it can be easily gained from a study of severe traumatic neurosis. (p. 45)

Set and Setting:

Psychedelics leave the user highly susceptible to initial (and changing) inner and outer conditions, as well as suggestion. Leary, Metzner and Alpert therefore emphasise, in their ‘manual’ The Psychedelic Experience (1964), the importance of what they call set (the inner state of the participant) and setting (the direct environment at the time of the experience), as well as the solemn role of a guide who can help orientate the participant when they experience trouble, likening the former to a figurative air-traffic controller of sorts.

The concept of set and setting is also key to a technique that I’ve developed for freeing up creative action based on the work of play scholar Brian Sutton-Smith: in particular, his ideas regarding how play is an act that temporarily negates the usual framing classes. That is, to play is reframe experience and negotiate (amongst other aspects) what will be allowed inside the conceptual frame and (and, arguably, more importantly) what won’t. This framing may often be externalised and reinforced by corresponding physical or systemic boundaries and markers that clearly indicate where play is and where it isn’t. As Apter warns, adult play must have its time and place (1991) if it not to lead to inappropriate responses to real events with real consequences.

Turning off:

Leary, Metzner and Alpert’s lives may have been very different if not for the creativity scholar and psychologist Frank Barron. As a friend of Leary’s, upon hearing that Leary and Alpert had planned a trip across North and South America, including Mexico, he recommended contacting an anthropologist who knew about the Teonanácatl mushrooms used in shamanic ritual by the Aztecs (Dass, 1971). It was Leary’s experience with these natural psychedelics that inspired the trio to research the effects of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD): originally synthesised (and accidentally ingested) by Albert Hoffman at Sandoz laboratories in the late 1940s.

Interestingly, LSD itself is not responsible for the quality of the psychedelic experience, but acts as chemical key suppressing certain neurological patterns and structures associated with day-to-day living and survival. It is this suppression that allows other ‘levels’ (for want of a better term) of mind to be experienced. It should be pointed out that Leary, Metzner and Alpert were psychologists not neurologists. Oliver Sacks has some interesting insights (in particular, regarding hallucinations) that stems from a contemporary Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)-research-informed perspective, along with his own personal (think ‘swinging sixties’) experiences.

The turning off (or rather, idling) of select brain function(s) is, in some ways, congruent with the aims and means of meditation. It also has interesting parallels with my own findings (albeit on a much smaller scale) regarding recent advances in the phenomenological understanding of creativity and play, which are similarly proscriptive in nature. That is, play helps artists to reframe experience by excluding otherwise dominant and habitual socialised behaviour and perceptions.

Heaven and Hell:

Leary, Metzner and Alpert’s attempts to map out the terrain of the psychedelic experience in a methodical manner were unsuccessful until they noticed that subjects responded well to the Bardo metaphor encountered in the ‘Tibetan Book of The Dead’. As the text provided key points of orientation, it was used as a basis for a manual to be developed.

Leary and Alpert’s experiences would eventually inspire them to follow very different life paths and personal quests for transformation. Alpert asserted that he was never able to find sufficient, lasting change in his personality or the answer to his burning questions with prolonged hallucinogen use. Ever the rebel, Leary continued to follow (and proselytize) the LSD path throughout his life however. Alpert famously embraced Eastern mysticism, meditation and service as his liberation vehicle of choice, swapping LSD for LSR (“Love, Serve, Remember”- the advice of his guru, Baba Neem Karoli). Alpert renamed himself Ram Dass (‘servant of G-d’) and went onto write the ‘countercultural bible’ Be Here Now.

And yet here even, psychoanalyst Carl Jung warns (at least for the Westerner) that perils await those who dabble with disciplines appropriated from other cultures without the associated sociological, cultural structures and guides in place to support them in their efforts. Here, again, we see set, setting and guides being as essential :

I do not doubt that the Eastern liberation from vices, as well as from virtues, is coupled with detachment in every respect, so that the yogi is translated beyond this world, and quite inoffensive. But I suspect every European attempt at detachment of being mere liberation from moral considerations. Anybody who tries his hand at yoga ought therefore to be conscious of its far-reaching consequences, or else his [sic] so-called quest will remain a futile pastime. (1964, 11:825-826)

Jung goes on to specify how attempting to manipulate consciousness can, at times, have unexpected repercussions (such as ‘inflation’):

Positive inflation comes very near to a more or less conscious megalomania; negative inflation is felt as an annihilation of the ego. (Jung 1966, 16:472) … An inflated consciousness is always egocentric and conscious of nothing but its own existence. It is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead. Paradoxically enough, inflation is a regression of consciousness into unconsciousness. This always happens when consciousness takes too many unconscious contents upon itself and loses the faculty of discrimination, the sine qua non of all consciousness….It seems to me of some importance, therefore, that a few individuals, or people individually, should begin to understand that there are contents which do not belong to the ego-personality, but must be ascribed to a psychic non-ego. This mental operation has to be undertaken if we want to avoid a threatening inflation. (1968, 12:563)

L to R: Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) & Timothy Leary, reunited at Harvard in 1983 (a good-humoured-but-lively debate).

Leary, Metzner and Alpert’s initial attempts to map out the terrain of the psychedelic experience in some kind of methodical manner were unsuccessful using their usual 20th century psychological frameworks. Later, they noticed that subjects taking part in sessions responded well to guidance based upon a ‘Bardo’ metaphor derived from the Tibetan Book of The Dead, an ancient text mentioned in Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (1954). Key points of orientation could now be communicated between guide and ‘voyager’ and the ancient text was subsequently used as the basis for a psychedelic ‘manual’: The Psychedelic Experience (1964). This appropriation of religious symbolism from the East (including also use of the Tao Te Ching), though sincere, helped serve a secondary, somewhat more pragmatic, purpose. By framing their research group as a religious organization, with the psychedelics as ‘sacraments’, they hoped to avoid trouble with the authorities. Leary (2001) recounts:

wisely or foolishly, we got sacred off this scientific approach. After being expelled from Havard, Mexico, Antigua, and Dominica in the late spring of 1963, we cravenly decided that the authorities were not ready for the 21st century concept – Every Citizen a Scientist. So we fell back to the familiar historical turf upon which most earlier freedom movements had fought the battle – religion (p.2) …The lawyers agreed. There is nothing the Bill of Rights to protect scientific freedom…but there was a First Amendment protection of Freedom of Religion. (p.4)

The most dangerous man in America:

President Richard Nixon once called Timothy Leary “The most dangerous man in America.” High praise indeed! One particular Leary anecdote concerning his run ins with the US government seems stranger than fiction today. In the late sixties, Leary ran for Governor of California (opposite Ronald Reagan) but was allegedly “framed by the ‘man'”, duly incarcerated and asked to fill out a psychiatric assessment metric that he himself had written many years before. Armed with the knowledge of how to answer so that he would be placed in a minimum security prison with light duties, he filled out the form accordingly and later escaped with the help of Leftist militants, the Weather Underground.

After decades of bad publicity fueled in no small way by Leary’s proselytizing and well-publicised ‘recreational’ use of psychedelics within the West Coast sixties counter culture (not to mention the documented horrors of the CIA’s MK-Ultra program), much of the hysteria surrounding the topic of psychedelics has subsided to a point where research into their effects has resumed in both Britain and the US with the help of non-invasive MRI technology.

Timothy Leary: The Game

While Leary’s later writings verge on mysticism-cum-science fiction, his ideas may yet turn out to have, or at least inspire, practical applications in the distant future (areas such as transhumanism come to mind). As is the nature of science fiction, today’s fantasy may well become tomorrow’s reality. In his later years, Leary became interested in the possibilities of cyber-space, computing and games. If you can get past the retro user-interface you might enjoy playing Leary’s Mind Mirror game developed together with Electronic Arts in 1986 (and which sold some 65,000 copies). It’s a virtual experience in the most rudimentary sense (something more like role playing with cards than a computer game). It isn’t quite an acid trip, but it does help you to explore the plasticity of ego-constructs in a really fun (and funny) way.

You can play the game (online) here. Enjoy.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Coleman, G., Dorje, G., Dalai Lama XIV, and Jinpa, T. (2009). The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. London UK: Penguin UK.

Dass, R. (1971). Be Here Now. New Mexico, US: Lama Foundation.

Dillingham, G. (2016). Dying To Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary. [Motion Picture]. US: Alive Mind Cinema.

Heiser, M. S. (2015) The playful frame of mind: An exploration of its influence upon creative flow in a post-war popular music-making context. (Doctoral dissertation). Brisbane, Australia: Griffith University.

Huxley, A. (1954). The Doors of Perception. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Jung, Carl. 1953-1974. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Translated and edited by G. Adler and R.F.C. Hull. 21 vols. Bollingen Series. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Leary, T., Metzner, R., & Alpert, R. (1964). The Psychedelic Experience. New York, NY: University Books.

Leary, T. (2001). Your Brain is God. Berkeley, CA: Ronin Publishing.

Maslow, A. (1970a). Motivation and Personality. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Maslow, A. (1970b). Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences. New York, NY: Penguin.

Why should Brian Eno have all the fun?


When I was studying composition at the Qld Conservatorium of Music in the late 1980s, all I ever heard about was “Brian Eno this,” and “Brian Eno that.” All of the students (and teachers for that matter) were so enamoured of Eno and his work (especially the ambient material) since it was “clever” (good) but didn’t sound anything like the fingernails down a blackboard of Ligeti or whoever-else was considered important at the time (even better). For the record, I love Ligeti’s work (you may have heard some in Kubrick’s The Shining)…fingernails and all.

With Eno’s music you got to have your musical cake and eat it too. You got the procedural kudos of John Cage et al combined with the sensuality of a Debussy. Eno could even make Pachabel’s Canon sound good (that is, after putting it through a procedural wringer!).

Gaining insight into Eno’s work and ideas became a lot easier with the release of Eric Tamm’s very fine book Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Colour of Sound (1989) (remember, this was before the internet). Perhaps, the most striking revelations contained therein related to Eno’s down-to-earth character and his “somewhat superficial knowledge of the classical tradition and his disdain for its institutional infrastructure” (p. 20). Kudos!

Eno has remained productive in the years since and is (arguably) even more influential today. No doubt, he is also a lot wealthier thanks to his work with U2, and remains at the vanguard of popular music creative practice thanks to his embracing generative music and open source programming platforms (together with Peter Chilvers).

If you haven’t already read Tamm’s book, you might not be aware that Eno has made a living all this time by running away from a day job. That isn’t to say he’s not a hard worker. As a case in point, his slow and meticulous gradus ad parnassum approach to building up soundscapes was very much at odds with collaborator David Bowie’s first-take-is-the-best-take approach (see the hilarious video below). He is also capable of capriciousness: For example, if his infamous Oblique Strategies cards (developed together with painter Peter Schimdt) tell Eno to erase everything and start all over again, he’ll do it.

Eno: A Practitioner of Play

What I want to get across is that you’d be in error to put Eno on a pedestal. Anyone, can do it! That is, if you have the guts to go against all usual, well-meaning ‘advice’ from family, friends, loved ones and vocational guidance officers to get your life together. Do you have the wherewithal to devote 8 hours a day (or more) to play.

Instead of clocking on at the office, crunching numbers or pressuring pensioners into life insurance they don’t need, can you see yourself devoting that same amount of time to fiddling around with your DAW, Max/MSP, Pure Data or whatever musical means you prefer: juggling ideas, procedures, and sounds that – more often than not – will result in nought but creative dead ends? Probably not, given the low social status and financial instability that are for contemporary artists and musicians constant reminders of a comfortable life that might have been.

You’ll also need a refined and discerning sense of aesthetic appreciation. This is where Eno and John Cage’s procedural approaches to creativity diverge. Cage was happy to live with the results of his chance music, accepting it on its own terms, whatever the hell it sounded like (anyone for another 8 bars of ‘Fingernails down a Blackboard?’). Eno, ever the aesthete, instead spends a great deal of time reflecting upon the artefacts of his play before releasing them to public scrutiny. So much so that Tamm’s considers listening to be Eno’s “primary compositional activity” (p.49).

If you’d like to read more about Eno and his playful approach to creative practice check out my forthcoming book Popular Music, Power & Play: Reframing Creative Practice.


Heiser, M. (2021). Popular Music, Power and Play: Reframing Creative Practice. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic.

Tamm, E. (1989). Brian Eno: His music and the vertical color of sound. New York, NY: Da Capo Press.


Conditionals for Pure Data: Interactive tutorial 2: Using the ‘expr’ object.

This is the second interactive tutorial regarding making your own conditionals in the Pure Data open-source programming platform. Click here to download this interactive tutorial. Please note, you’ll first need to have Pure Data (Pd) installed on your computer to use this app (it’s free). The reason for emphasising the use of conditionals in Pd here is twofold: (i) they’re the bedrock of simple (or complex, if you like) generative music programs, and (ii) unlike Max/MSP, Pure Data doesn’t come with conditionals included: you have to make them yourself or use someone else’s.

Conditionals are ‘decision making’ blocks of code. They’re like rules in a game. You can tell parts of your program to do something IF specific criteria have been met, or ELSE to do something different.

When making a generative music program for the first time, there’s no need to worry too much about decisions regarding each conditional’s behaviour or where these little blocks of code fit into the overall program. What’s most important is that they’re there at all. You can have a lot a fun just taking any music programs you might already have and letting the (numerical) output of one part of the program influence the behaviour of another. In this way, you can automate small sections of a program and, bit by bit, get a feel for what conditionals can do. The more parameters and triggers that you connect, the closer you get to creating a fully-fledged generative music app.

Each of the conditionals illustrated above (and combinations thereof) can be embedded within ‘pd objects’ (or as ‘abstractions’) which are something like Pd’s equivalent functions. This will not only make your Pd patches cleaner, but you’ll see similarities with the architecture of modular synthesisers, where you can have fun plugging ‘this’ into ‘that’ to see what happens.

If you’re a John Cage type, then as long as the program flows well you’ll probably be happy with the results, regardless of the aesthetic feel. If you’re more of a Brian Eno, then you’re likely to be more selective. In the latter  case, you might like to try out different combinations of conditionals, as well as, their relationship to the various parameters being influenced, such as those belonging to: tone generators; filters; pitches; the triggering of sequences (and sequencers); (opening/closing) gates (‘spigots’ as they’re called in Pd); tempo; choosing pathways (form, challenge ‘levels,’ duration etc), or anything you can imagine! Tinker away until you find results that please you.

To get more information regarding what each discreet Pd object can do, control+click on the relevant object (Apple users). Enjoy.

The expr object is created by Shahrokh Yadegari. The downloadable interactive tutorial is (cc) 2019 Marshall Heiser (Attribution 4.0 International). This license lets you distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon my work, even commercially, as long as you credit me for the original creation. Any derivatives will also allow commercial use. Click here for more licence details.


Booteek Amps: Handmade by Marshall Heiser


Booteek amps are located in sunny Brisbane, Australia. I handcraft every amplifier and cabinet myself, one at a time, adopting time-honoured construction techniques and using only the best materials available today. Though inspired by classic tube combos I have known, owned and loved over the years, booteek amps brings a new twist to these designs to better serve the needs of the 21 century musician. Last, but not least, I familiarise myself with each and every amp after completion, playing it in and meticulously quality-checking before releasing it out into the wild.

About the Amp

It’s MAMA BOO….warmer than a Champ….louder than a Princeton….more versatile than a Deluxe! Featuring all the rich harmonic detail and touch responsiveness of a single-ended, class A circuit, paired with a 6L6-optimised power stage and feeding a colossal Hammond 125ESE output transformer. In addition to that 10 Watts of pure tone, she’s housed in a resonant and rattle-free, solid-pine cabinet with a 12 inch speaker. Don’t talk back to Mama!

This premium-quality, hand-wired, all-tube amplifier was inspired by a desire to find an mid-to-small size combo capable of both crisp, clean tones and creamy overdrive…and all at levels suited to a variety of playing environments. No expense has been spared with regard to component selection and attention-to-detail craftsmanship.


  • recording
  • rehearsal
  • stage
  • bedroom

This slideshow requires JavaScript.




(Please note: what you are hearing is a ’52 re-issue Fender Telecaster guitar plugged directly into the amp. All recordings are done with just a simple SM-57 dynamic mic: no effects, no EQ, no reverb).


● single-ended, class A all-tube amplifier
● 240V AC, 10watts output
● 12 inch, 8 ohm ceramic speaker: Eminence “Cannabis Rex” (with Tone-Tubby hemp cone)
● Fender/Marshall/Vox modes with 3-way frequency-response/gain selector switch
● 5Y3 tube rectification for legendary “sag” and natural compression
● cathode-biased: no bias set-up hassle, no technician required
● hum elimination: Hammond choke induction
● electrical safety features: AC power-surge protection & (filter caps) “bleeder” resistor

● solid pine, finger-jointed cabinet
● premium quality, voidless Baltic birch ply (back panels/floating speaker baffle)
● covering: tweed cloth – attached with traditional animal hide glue (allows for easy removal of tweed fabric for future refurbishment)
● finish: lacquered with nitro-cellulose (as did Fender in the 1950s)
● chassis support: hardwood dowels (oak)

● premium-quality F&T/Sprague Atom electrolytic capacitors
● vintage-style Jupiter (or similar boutique) tone capacitor
● carbon comp resistors (some carbon film used in select areas for added reliability)
● dependable JJ 12AX7 preamp, 6L6 power and 5Y3 rectifier tubes
● quality vintage-style, vulcanised eyelet board (treated to ensure against “Tweed disease”)
● chrome-dipped Hoffman 5F2-A Chassis
● Carling switches, CTS pots and Switchcraft jacks/plugs
● 1/4″ speaker output jack

Work and Play: It’s just a frame of mind…and why it matters.

Apter states that the individual may switch back and forth between the paratelic (playful) frame of mind or the telic (serious) in a process of mutually exclusive “psychological reversals,” much like that of a Gestalt figure-foreground perceptual switch. (Heiser, 2015, p. 87)

Rabbit or Duck? A gestalt groundshift much like the shifting serious & playful metamotivational states described by British pyschologist Michael J Apter.

One of the major trends in creativity research in recent times has been socio-cultural and historical approaches to the topic. These perspectives are not hing new, but rather represent a resurgence of ideas popularised in the early twentieth century by Soviet psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria. In the arts, theories such as Mihalyi Csizkszentmihalyi’s Systems Model of Creativity (1999) and Pierre Bourdieau’s Field of Cultural Production (1993) have proved most popular. So much so, that “individual” psychology has become something of a dirty word for academics.

Nonetheless, creativity researchers such as R. Keith Sawyer are starting to acknowledge that individual psychology still has an important role to play in understanding creative endeavour. Nowhere is this more the case than with regard to the inner experience of creative practitioners, and more specifically, their motivations. These concepts can best be approached systematically using phenomenology as a basis.

Phenomenology: the science of personal consciousness.

Pure phenomenology is most commonly associated with Husserl’s philosophical method, a self-proclaimed science of pure phenomena where the only reliable data is not from the “outside” world but rather how aspects of it are “reduced to the contents of personal consciousness” (Groenewald, 2004, p. 4). If you’ve ever used the terms “flow”or “optimal experience” (coined by Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) to describe aspects of your creative practice, then you’ve grappled with phenomenological concepts.

Fickle humans

Both Csikszentmihalyi and British psychologist Micheal J. Apter have in common an approach to phenomenology that emphasises the temporal aspects of experience, and describe how the contents of personal consciousness are in a constant state of flux. Apter describes his theoretical perspective as structural phenomenology since it relates to, not only, the temporal structure of conscious experience, but also the role that motivation and emotion play in that structure.

“Why is this important?” you may well ask. Well, it’s crucial because humans behave differently in any given situation depending upon their motivation(s). The problem being that motivations can change at any given moment depending upon how individuals chose to frame their direct experience.

Apter rejects the traditional concept of “trait” psychology where people are described as being unchanging and rigid in their responses to the world around them. We all know from personal experience with ourselves and others that humans are anything but predictable. Perhaps, this goes some way to explaining contemporary art-based academics’ overwhelming mistrust of individual psychology (those pesky human individuals have been brushed into the “too-hard” basket). Apter explains:

Personality is dynamic not static: we are more like dancers than statues….The reason for this seems to be that there is an ever-changing internal context to our actions as well as external environmental forces. We want different things at different times and, partly as a consequence, we see things differently. In this respect our personalities are shifting and unconstant….to be healthy is to be unstable – to be able to move between different kinds of personality to suit the occasion….If biodiversity is necessary to the health of an ecological system, then what we might call “psychodiversity” is just as important to the health of the individual. (2003, p. 474)

Frame of Mind

The concept of “frame of mind” is of key importance to creative practice in the arts, since it explains why mediocre practitioners prefer to “not fuck with the formula,” while (according to Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi, 1976) artists of greater talent and insight follow their material where it wants to go (and take creative risks doing so). The former are most likely motivated by extrinsic rewards that the work might bring: praise, money, fame, influence etc.

According to Apter, when individual focus on the future and the consequences of their actions: They are working. When, instead, they focus on the present moment without fear of consequences: They are playing. It is no wonder that creativity scholar J Nina Lieberman calls artists the practitioners of play.

Viewed phenomenologically, it is only how an activity is framed in one’s mind that defines it as work or play.

Consider the following: The (paratelic) playful frame of mind can be characterised with regard to three dimensions. Apter (1982) explains:

• time-dimension (i.e., it is present-oriented, spontaneous, “sufficient unto itself,” and brings the pleasure of immediate sensation)
• means-end (for e.g., its goals are freely chosen, or may even be inessential; it is both process and behaviour-oriented; proactive, and attempts will be made to prolong the activity, since it is pleasurable)
• intensity (i.e., make believe is prevalent, and high intensity or arousal are preferred).

So, when an activity is approached playfully, the participant attempts to prolong engagement since the process itself brings the reward of pleasure in the present moment. Pleasure, in the serious (telic) case, is derived from the anticipation of reaching a goal and collecting the reward. One will attempt therefore, to complete the activity as soon as possible in order to receive benefits sooner rather than later (p. 52).

Art and risk-taking:

ENO: Just another day at the office.

The “protective frame” of play provides a “somewhat disengaged psychological stance characterized by minimal defensiveness” (Lieberman, 1977, p. 69) and promotes risk taking. Music producer Brian Eno asserts that the protective frame engendered by a playful approach to creativity is a key feature of art: “‘Art is safe.’ …You’re creating a false world where you can afford to make mistakes” (quoted in Tamm, 1995, p. 21).

When the “protective” playful frame of mind is adopted:

  • High arousal and protective frame = excitement
  • Low arousal and protective frame = boredom

In the opposite serious frame of mind, each of these characteristics are simply reversed:

  • High arousal and no protective frame = anxiety
  • Low arousal and no protective frame = relaxation (Apter, 2018, p 58).

So, when in a playful mood risks feel exciting. When we are looking at things seriously, the same risks make us feel anxious. As ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland remarks, the “worst musical train wreck hurts absolutely no one” (p. 248), but try telling that to the concert promoter (or Sting).

Csikszentmihalyi likewise explains, “Since what we experience is reality, as far as we are concerned, we can transform reality to the extent that we influence what happens in consciousness and thus free ourselves from the threats and blandishments of the outside world” (1990, p. 20). If you’d like to know more check out my PhD dissertation (2015).

banner_P_M_P_P_3‘Popular Music, Power and Play’ by Marshall Heiser – available now.


Please note: Portions of this article were presented in thesis form in the fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD of Marshall Heiser from Griffith University.

Apter, M. J. (2018). Zigzag: Reversal and Paradox in Human Personality. (p. 58). Matador. Kindle Edition.

Apter, M. J. (2003). On a certain blindness in modern psychology. In The Psychologist, 16(9), 474-475.

Apter, M. J. (1982). The experience of motivation: The theory of psychological reversals. London, England; New York, NY: Academic Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1993). The Field of Cultural Production. New York, N Y: Columbia University Press.

Copeland, S. (2009). Strange things happen: A life with The Police, polo, and pygmies. New York, NY: HarperStudio.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). Implications of a systems perspective for the study of creativity. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of creativity (pp. 313-335). Cambridge, England; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Csikszentmihal yi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, N Y: Harper & Row.

Getzels, J. W., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1976). The creative vision: A longitudinal study of problem finding in art. New York, NY: Wiley.

Groenewald, T. (2004). A phenomenological research design illustrated. In International journal of qualitative methods, 3(1). Article 4. Retrieved from http://www.ualberta.ca/~iiqm/backissues/3_1/pdf/groenewald.pdf

Heiser, M. S. (2015) The playful frame of mind: An exploration of its influence upon creative flow in a post-war popular music-making context. (Doctoral dissertation). Brisbane, Australia: Griffith University.

Lieberman, J. N. (1977). Playfulness: Its relationship to imagination and creativity. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Tamm, E. (1995). Brian Eno: His music and the vertical color of sound. New York, NY: Da Capo Press.

Think STEAM not STEM

Translation of Bauhaus Curriculum Diagram (1929).

“I believe that art and design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century like science and technology did in the last century” (Maeda, 2013, p. 2).


Former Rhode Island School of Design president, John Maeda states, “Innovation happens when convergent thinkers, who march straight ahead towards their goal, combine forces with divergent thinkers – those who professionally wander, who are comfortable being uncomfortable, and who look for what is real” (2013, p. 1). I first noticed Maeda’s name reading Casey Reas and Ben Fry’s wonderful Processing Handbook (2014). I later checked out his (equally wonderful) book Creative Code: Aesthetics + Computation (2004), a work that grapples with such issues as information visualization, interaction design, and education. For more on Maeda and the current gap between art and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), check out this article, as well as, The Steam Journal.

Cognitive Operations

The distinction between convergent and divergent thinking was first popularised by creativity theorist J.P. Guilford (1959). Both are cognitive operations, discreet – and, importantly, measurable – components of thought. Convergent thinking describes cognitive operations that aim to narrow down possibilities in the search of a solution to a set problem. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, logically generates alternatives that branch off from a common starting point. Both operations are necessary for creative thought.

Whilst convergent thinking is not necessarily the go-to mode of thinking of STEM scholars any more than divergent thinking is for the arts, what can be said is that historical and cultural trends informing postwar intellectual life in the West have given rise to certain tacit biases and identifications that have fragmented the knowledge base and led to the valuing of specialisation over integration, and analysis over synthesis. Lets face it, divergent thinking has been theorised and discussed for some 60 years now. And yet, so many people still have trouble distinguishing between divergent thinking and its country cousins “thinking outside the box” (how I loathe that phrase) and “brainstorming.” Be honest. Can you tell the difference?


The manner in which higher education institutions are structured according to groups of related disciplines results in a tendency for research and knowledge to remain isolated within de facto boundaries of relevancy. Great creative leaps are all too often inhibited, rather than facilitated, by the necessary structures and conventions of what have become mini-cultures in their own right. Just try getting peers from different arts departments to collaborate, or even speak the same language, let alone for humanities scholars to collaborate with those from STEM backgrounds. As for socialising with groups outside of one’s own discipline. That seems just downright weird.

Examples whereby disciplinary barriers have been intentionally broken down – such as the Bauhaus School during the short-lived Weimar Republic – stand as a testament to what can be achieved when integration is valued as much as specialisation. New emerging interdisciplinary fields such as humour studies, popular music, and record production are yet further examples. Be warned however, even in these latter interdisciplinary instances, the danger remains that blind orthodoxy can replace rational discourse once effective means of study have become firmly established.

Perhaps, a mandatory tearing down and rebuilding of disciplinary conventions, along with a removal of its gatekeepers, every once in a while could be an effective way of letting new ideas through. This, along with its DIY ethos, was a key motivation informing the rise of punk music in the 1970s. Moreover, tearing down and rebuilding does not necessarily equate with iconoclasm, but can also engender inclusiveness, communal activity and longevity of diverse cultures so often threatened by the thrill and shock of the (hegemonic) new. This is the case with the Ise Jingu grand shrine in Japan, which has been torn down and rebuilt every 20 years for approximately 1,300 years.

Less and better

As Maeda notes, the 20th century was defined, in part, by great technological leaps. Unfortunately, humanity is now in the unenviable position of having to sift through the good, the bad and the useless, before working out how to actually use [or even find and focus on] all this stuff. Industrial design is one area that considers how technology can best interface with real humans, and their very real needs.

If you’ve ever used a product by a certain computer company (beginning with an A…) whose design ethos was influenced by, amongst other things, architect-turned-designer Dieter Rams, you’ll get the point. In fact, in a recent article Rams laments that, if anything, such design efforts have been too successful for society’s own good. Record production scholar Simon Zagorski-Thomas (2014) likewise discusses the significant ways in which technological devices covertly influence creativity via their design ‘scripts.’

It’s apt that the above 2018 film titled Rams (by film-maker Gary Hustwit) features an original score by self-confessed ‘reductive’ creative Brian Eno. My own research into creativity (2015) found that a reductive approach to creativity (whereby all but a few core elements are filtered out as options as a means of concentrating mental energy) is a necessary condition of the playfulness so often encouraged by innovative practitioners belonging to a wide variety of fields (Heiser, 2015). Therefore, designers should always consider how their design scripts influence the inner experience (phenomenological state) of the user as well as the usual ergonomic and aesthetic considerations.

Inspired by Mother Nature

Before signing off, I’d like to draw your attention to quite a different, but awe-inspiring, example of the fruitful application of the STEAM approach (in this case, an Engineering-meets-Art approach): The famous kinetic Strand Beest sculptures of Dutch artist Theo Jansen. Once you’ve been featured in the Simpsons, as Jansen has, then you’ll know you’ve made it. Enjoy.

(c) 2019 Marshall Heiser



Feynman, R. P., Leighton, R., & Hutchings, E. (1985). “Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a curious character. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Guilford, J. P. (1959). Three faces of intellect. In American Psychologist, 14(8), 469-479.

Hadamard, J. (1945). An essay on the psychology of invention in the mathematical field. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Heiser, M. S. (2015). The playful frame of mind: An exploration of its influence upon creative flow in a post-war popular music-making context. (Doctoral dissertation). Brisbane, Australia: Griffith University.

Koestler, A. (1964). The act of creation. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Maeda, J. (2013). STEM + Art = STEAM, In The STEAM Journal: 1(1), Article 34.

Maeda, J. (2004). Creative Code: Aesthetics + Computation. New York, NY:  Thames & Hudson.

Reas, C. & Fry, B. (2014). Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists (Second Edition). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Zagorski-Thomas, S. (2014). The musicology of record production. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.