‘Popular Music, Power and Play’ by Marshall Heiser – available November 4th.

Available November 4th from Bloomsbury Academic and all good booksellers.

Pre-order now: Bloomsbury US , Bloomsbury UK , Bloomsbury AU * (*Australian release – 30th December).

Description

Once the domain of a privileged few, the art of record production is today within the reach of all. The rise of the ubiquitous DIY project studio and internet streaming have made it so. And while the creative possibilities available to everyday musicians are seemingly endless, so too are the multiskilling and project management challenges to be faced. In order to demystify the contemporary popular-music-making phenomenon, Marshall Heiser reassesses its myriad processes and wider sociocultural context through the lens of creativity studies, play theory and cultural psychology.

This innovative new framework is grounded in a diverse array of creative-practice examples spanning the CBGBs music scene to the influence of technology upon modern-day music. First-hand interviews with Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads), Bill Bruford (King Crimson, Yes) and others whose work has influenced the way records are made today are also included. Popular Music, Power and Play is as thought provoking as it will be indispensable for scholars, practitioners and aficionados of popular music and the arts in general.

Table of Contents

Introduction
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
References
Index

Reviews

By assigning an individual fader to numerous theories on creativity, then incorporating case studies and reflections from several working musicians as filters and processors, Heiser has crafted the equivalent of a classic pop album; balancing compositional elements that proudly bear their influences coupled with new ideas and insights that spark the mind. Popular Music, Power and Play holds up to repeated listens and is a welcome addition to both popular music studies and creativity research literature.

Alan Williams, Professor of Music, University of Massachusetts Lowell, USA

This book heads into territory desperately needed to understand the playful side of creativity and its role in popular music. Marshall Heiser is wise enough to understand that it is in the interaction of technology with the social, the interaction of social and cultural structures with a creative individual’s agency, and the interaction between individual psychological perspectives with sociocultural understandings of popular-music production, that is where we all need to go. The book takes us on a journey through the confluence of interdependent components which must converge, both within and without the individual, in order for creativity to emerge in popular music. It adopts a playful frame of mind and picks its way through the latest theoretical concerns. It exemplifies these with adept case studies and, in doing so, it puts the person, in all their glorious playfulness, back into the map of the system of creativity.

Phillip McIntyre, Professor, University of Newcastle, Australia, and co-author of Paul McCartney and his Creative Practice: The Beatles and Beyond (2021)

Focusing on the intangibles — uncertainty, risk, playfulness, contingency — Heiser brings a fresh vibrancy to the study of the art of record production. An insightful guide to the exploratory nature of studio practice. 

Albin Zak, Professor of Music Emeritus, University at Albany, USA

About the Author

Marshall Heiser is an Australian academic, classically trained instrumentalist, producer and music-technology developer. His previous publications explore such varied topics as sound in cinema; the interrelatedness of humor, play and creativity theory; the music of Brian Wilson, and the phenomenology of record production.

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.

Why should Brian Eno have all the fun?

ENO

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.

References:

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

INSIDE_BEST

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.

uses

  • recording
  • rehearsal
  • stage
  • bedroom

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DISTORTED TONE

CLEAN TONE

LIGHT OVERDRIVE TONE

(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).

FEATURES:

AMP:
● 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

CABINET:
● 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)

COMPONENTS:
● 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).

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.

References:

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).

STEM + Art = STEAM

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?

Institutionalised

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

References:

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.

Cellular Automaton Music

This video presents an instance of two discreet apps programmed by Marshall Heiser (using the Processing & Max/MSP platforms respectively) and interfaced with the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol. LEVEL: Intermediate. LENGTH: 3min. 38 sec. (No voice over, music starts at 0.49 sec.).

Getting Processing to talk and Max/MSP to listen.

This video demonstrates a computer music project I created in order to see if I could get two different programming environments to “talk to each other” successfully – or rather, have one talk and the other repeat parrot-fashion. The two platforms involved were Processing 2 and Max/MSP 6, featuring a cellular automaton app and frequency modulation (FM) synthesiser made from the ground up respectively.

Rationale

I chose to make a cellular automaton app for the data generator partly to see if I could make up a set of rules that would produce aesthetically pleasing pitch and rhythm events with minimal input from the user. Unlike some music produced by similar apps I’d previously tried (which looked good but sounded less so), I aimed to fashion one that would generate events that struck a pleasing balance between variation and repetition. I also wanted to make an app better suited to my own personal needs (for e.g., one able to send data to a variety of destinations, potentially over a network). It was also a fun challenge to see if I could program something of this complexity (well…complex for me anyhow) using Processing.

The Interface

The linking of the two apps was achieved using the OSC protocol, which can be thought of as a internet-friendly alternative to the comparatively archaic Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI). The automaton app outputs a number between 0 and 8 each time a moving coloured square hits the edge of the grid. These numbers are then converted to form a steps within a pentatonic scale inside Max, but can easily be set to any desired configuration.

The code

The code for the automaton component was developed by looking at a variety of open source “Game of Life” Processing sketches as a starting point. This mathematical problem, originally developed by John Conway, allows for any single cell on a grid to be in one of two possible states (i.e., “dead” or “alive”), based on the previous state of its neighbours. When viewed over successive iterations, this “zero-player” game produces quite complex behaviour using very simple rules.

Rules

By comparison, my automaton (inspired by the “Otomata” app, Bozkurt, 2011) produces behaviour of a vastly less complex nature than Conway’s (thus is the want of the minimalist aesthete). This rule-set produces patterns with a certain degree of repetitiveness (pleasing to the ear), depending upon the initial “seed” (starting pattern) chosen by the player. For each cell, one of six possible states are adopted as a result of its “neighbours'” previous states.

Depending upon their colour, green, brown, peach or purple cells each “pass” their current state to an adjacent cell (see below). If passed on to a cell at the edge of the grid however, each is sent back in the opposite direction, with its colour modified accordingly. When more than one neighbour is non-blue, subsequent collisions (indicated by the colour black) are either reversed or cancelled out. This latter condition is where my app varies from “Otomata,” and is responsible for the important variation element.

User Interface

1 mouse click on any cell = green (move west)
2 clicks = brown (move east)
3 clicks = peach (move north)
4 clicks = purple (move south)
5 clicks = blue

Space Bar = START
X = PAUSE
Z = STOP (repeat for CLEAR)
S = SEP THRU

Playframing

Both negotiating the rules of the game and implementing them, are good examples of playframing and, in this case, a lengthy process (depending upon one’s programming skills). The task of designing/programming the whole system represents one over-riding level of frame negotiation. The creative choices made by the player with regard to planting the seed and controlling any other timbre-related parameters (in subsequent “receiver” programs, perhaps in real-time) represents a sub-level of negotiation with the “givens” of the system.

(c) 2017 Marshall Heiser

References:

Bozkurt, B. (2011). Otomata. [Computer software]. Istanbul: Earslap.

Gardner, M. (1970). Mathematical games: The fantastic combinations of John Conway’s new solitaire game “life.” In Scientific American, 223, 120-123. London, England: NPG.