Drivin’ in my car I’m cruisin down my street There are placards People voicing their opinions So this is Liberty Effervescing orifices chewing up the town There are stairways unto heaven Some climb up, but most slide down Life is good when it’s trapped beneath my hood
Look to the right Look to the left Look to the right again Wishful thinking Won’t stop us sinking Back to the soup my friend
Rockin up to work About to start my shift Does HR really need to hack our webcams? They say it’s ‘policy’ God used to watch over us Til Neitzsche killed him dead Now it’s facial recognition reads The bad thoughts in your head Why so glum, just be glad you’re in the club.
Swipe to the left Swipe to the right Swipe to the left again Jokes shall not feature her alopecia If you want the gig my friend
See the angry mob They’re ’bout to storm the hill Here’s a little something should you get subpoenaed And here’s your black capsule Now, if you can’t admit defeat Then repeat after me: “God bless Fed Ex, Home Depot, GM, AT&T”. You play nice, when your junk is in the vice.
Buy off the Right Divide the Left That is the dream my friend Carvin’ up planets Make like a bandit Then pull the plug. The End.
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.
“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
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.
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
Use the following discount codes to save 35% on this book when purchasing on Bloomsbury.com UK (bloomsbury.com/uk/): GLR 9XLUK Americas: GLR 9XLUS Canada: GLR 9XLCA Australia and New Zealand (bloomsbury.com/au/): GLR 9XLAU This offer is available to individuals only. Please note price and availability subject to change without notice. Discount code only valid for books showing as available on bloomsbury.com (including eBooks). We regret that we’re not able to deliver directly to EU territories at this time.
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 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.
One of things I find most frustrating about life on this planet is how humans tend towards setting up scenes and communities, with all of their inherent rules, shared values, mythologies and hierarchies, only to eventually become enslaved by the very institutions they perpetrate. Neitzsche argues that the urge to join together, so as to exert greater influence than one might alone, is fundamental to the human condition: the [communal] “will to power” (Neitzsche, Kaufmann & Hollingdale, 1968).
Fair enough. It’s nice to be part of something, to feel a sense of belonging and to enjoy all the rewards forthcoming when you do good according to the (often unspoken) rules of the group. The problem, as Huizinga (1949) puts it, is that ‘the feeling of being “apart together” in an exceptional situation, of sharing something important, of mutually withdrawing from the rest of the world and rejecting the usual norms, [all too often] retains its magic beyond the duration of the individual game’ (p. 12).
When we can no longer distinguish where (and when) the boundaries of such games are located, or don’t want to because the perks are so good, therein lies the danger. Many are unaware perhaps that such boundaries even exist at all. And for those who would question the rules of the game-clan, ostracism usually awaits.
‘It is curious to note how much more lenient society is to the cheat than to the spoil-sport. This is because the spoil-sport shatters the play-world itself. By withdrawing from the game he [sic] reveals the relativity and fragility of the play-world in which he had temporarily shut himself with others. He robs play of its illusion-a pregnant [sic] word which means literally “in-play” (from inlusio, illudere or inludere). Therefore he must be cast out, for he threatens the existence of the play-community’ (p.11).
I prefer the term spoil-sport to that of iconoclast since the former shows up the status quo for what it is – just one of many possible games people play. Arguably the most influential artistic spoil-sport of the 20th century was Marcel Duchamp, followed closely by John Cage. Their example paved the way for a new wave of artists and composers such as the Fluxus and minimalist movements, likewise eager to challenge the self-important gate-keepers of the “art world.”
Alvin Lucier is one such individual whose work opens our ears to an array of beautiful sonic experiences only made possible by filtering out so much of what is assumed to be fundamental or necessary to music. Importantly, his work shares with the two former “movements” an accessibility and a playful, child-like, sense of wonder.
A case in point is Lucier’s ‘Music on a Long Thin Wire.’ The piece is generated by suspending a taut long wire (up to 80 feet in some cases) between miked up bridges (the musical sort, not the ones you drive over) and allowed to vibrate with the help of a magnet and oscillator set at a fixed frequency. The system is highly susceptible to the slightest influence – ‘Fatigue, air currents, heating and cooling, even human proximity could cause the wire to undergo enormous changes’ (Lucier, 1992).
I first heard this piece in a Materials of Music class when studying at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music. According to my lecturer, in the late 1970s the piece had been broadcast on public radio for five straight days and nights without interruption and New York cabbies had tuned in en masse. This meeting of the avant-garde and mundane fascinated me and made a big impact on my musical ideas ever since.
In an interview with Jason Gross (2000), Lucier explained his inspiration for the piece: ‘I was sharing an acoustics class here at Wesleyn with a physics instructor. We were doing the Pythagorian experiment with a monochord on a table. We had an electro-magnet that was driving the string and an oscillator. It was sort of a cut-and-dry sound experiment. I just got the idea to extend that in size-to have an really extraordinary long wire would really generate something amazing. When I started making the piece, I just didn’t bother to do any analysis or learning about the wire tension, mass and weight. I just set it up between a couple of tables and discovered that the imperfection of the way it was installed made a very interesting and wonderful sound. It was always changing. That’s the interesting thing about it- it isn’t fixed like a string on a piano. It’s subject to all kind of internal and external things.’
Many of Lucier’s compositions are informed by a curiosity of how sounds are produced and interact together. For those who might find his work inscrutable, an understanding of the cultural context out which it arose might provide an ‘in.’ Lucier studied composition at a time when the musical ‘establishment’ was dominated by post-War (Darmstadt School) composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio and Pierre Boulez. Each, in his own way, had taken the ‘serialist’ compositional approach developed by Arnold Schoenberg in the 1920s to its extreme. Even the mighty Igor Stravinsky, who had long been a vocal critic of Serialism, was composing in the style by the 1950s. The influence exerted by the Darmstadt School – typified by music that was atonal and uncompromising in its pushing performers to ever-increasing levels of exactitude – was so all-pervasive that by time I was studying music in the mid-1980s it was still considered the norm for composers.
A number of attendees at the annual summer Darmstadt ‘International Vacation Courses for New Music’ later reacted against the serial orthodoxy thanks to the influence of John Cage, a visiting American composer and a former student of Schoenberg’s. Cage’s music – influenced by Dada, Marcel Duchamp and Zen Buddhism (via the lectures and writings of D. T. Suzuki and Alan Watts) – rejected the idea that the composer should always be in control. While his lectures at Darmstadt in the late 1950s failed to make any significant impression on Stockhausen et al, Cage’s ideas resonated powerfully with attendees Lucier, Nam June Paik and La Monte Young.
One of the gripes that Lucier had about ‘total serialism’ (along with his contemporaries Steve Reich and Philip Glass) was that for all the precision and order that informed not only pitch but timbre, note duration and expression, a sense of comprehension of those structures was not part of the listener’s experience. Lucier’s work, since then, has been an attempt to explore sound at its most fundamental level, framing various sonic phenomena (such as the beating produced by simultaneous tones, evolving harmonic spectra and resonance etc.) within coherent compositional premises that invite the audience to open up to the world of sound that we so often take for granted.
Here’s a nutty little instrumental jazz tune I wrote called “Sunday Sho.” Hope you like it. I wrote it using a technique I call “playframing” (for more details go to: playframesphd.wordpress.com). In this particular piece, a simple syncopated 2-bar rhythmic motif was applied to a number of different virtual instruments in Apple Logic Pro software, leaving myself free to play with the pitch values and instrument combinations.
Regarding the video: The footage was sourced/compiled from the creative commons repository “archive.org” and was originally created by Karl Sims as part of a research project titled “Involving simulated Darwinian evolutions of virtual block creatures.” Visit him at karlsims.com Sho nuff.