‘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.

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.

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.

The Beach Boys’ SMiLE: a complete chronological sessionography

In 2012, I published an article (Heiser, 2012) in the peer-reviewed online Journal on the Art of Record Production regarding Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys’ SMiLE project. It consisted of one half of a chapter (chapter 4) within my PhD thesis (Heiser, 2015) – a case study of the 1966-67 aborted SMiLE sessions as a means with which to contextualise the findings of a year-long review of the scholarly creativity-play-humour literature. At the time, I was frustrated by the fact there was no reliable and complete chronological sessionography, so I set about making one myself and placed it in the appendices of my thesis document.

I was surprised to find that as a result of doing so I gained some very valuable insights into the hows and whys of the project that wouldn’t have been evident without such a list. Hopefully, now you might do the same. Also of interest is the fact that I’ve included which tracks in the The Beach Boys: The SMiLE Sessions box set (2011) relate to which dates, so you make up your own chronological playlist in iTunes* as opposed to the song-by-song order featured in the box set.

Click here to download this pdf document exactly as it appears in my thesis with page numbers detailed (pp.181-191). If you want to refer to this document in your own work please reference (APA6) as:

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

Click here to buy The Beach Boys: The SMiLE Sessions (2011) box set – including 5 audio CDs, Double Vinyl LP (12″ album, 33 rpm), 2 singles (7″, 45rpm), book, poster and original artwork etc from Amazon.com

Click here to buy The Beach Boys: The SMiLE Sessions (2011) box set – 5 “disc” mp3 album from Amazon.com (*This version is a great low cost alternative if you want to build your own chronological iTunes playlist. The tracks are set out in the same order as the 5 CDs in the full box set, but with added advantage of allowing you to buy only the tracks you need individually).

Enjoy.

References:

The Beach Boys (2011). The Beach Boys: The Smile sessions. [CD, vinyl singles & album]. New York, NY: Capitol Records.

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

Heiser, M. (2012). SMiLE: Brian Wilson’s musical mosaic. In Journal on the art of record production. (7).

Societal Pressure and Play

Many of the so-called givens of our everyday lives are based on assumptions so deeply embedded in culture and language as to defy scrutiny. As for society’s sacred cows that are clearly visible, it’s easy to just ignore any niggling loose threads of doubt we might have, lest we start pulling at them and end up wholly unraveling our once neat world-view or self-image.

aragones_the-shadow-knows_1

Sergio Aragones (1969)

The danger of approaching any topic in an overly serious or reverential manner however, is that we forfeit our right to challenge the status quo. Oddly enough, some of our most cherished institutions, proverbial pillars of society, may owe their very existence to play. For example, Apter (1982) argues that religion is essentially a playful approach to day-to-day circumstances, often misinterpreted in a serious fashion by believers. Neither are the sciences immune to play and playfulness. So states Jaques Hadamard in his “On the Psychology of Invention in the Mathematics Field” (1945), a book that famously includes Einstein’s admission that for him a “combinatorial play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought – before there is any connection with logical construction in words or other signs that can be communicated to others” (p. 142).

Like religion, ritual has in common with play the fact that it creates “frames that are not grounded in the usual material of natural and social life” (Sutton-Smith, 1979, p. 317). Where ritual and play differ however, is that with the former we “comply with external patterns and objects” with an eye to future consequences (some sort of harmonisation with the greater), whereas in play those same patterns are challenged simply for the thrill of it and sense of self-direction it engenders (Henricks, 2008). The patriarch Abraham is said to have smashed his own father’s idols before going on a joyride across the Euphrates that saw him unwittingly spearhead three religions for the price of one. Sounds like play to me.

Organised religions may even formally acknowledge the necessity of providing much-needed psychic relief for believers from time to time. On certain feast days, the usual order of things may be upended. Examples include the medieval Christian Feast of Fools, where the normal church hierarchy was inverted, or the Jewish Feast of Purim, with its masquerades and merry-making that would normally contravene Rabbinic laws regarding dress and conduct. Halloween also, has its roots in religious festival.

Although both play and festivals keep participants firmly rooted in the present moment, they differ in that during the latter “we are amazed by the novelty, power, and even splendor of the world and by our own sense of being taken up and transformed by such events. In play, we are fascinated instead by our own powers—that we can somehow confront the world and shape our own experiences within it” (p.178).

Sergio Aragones (1969)

Sergio Aragones (1969)

When it comes to our own young children, parents wearied by the hussle and bussle of life can, at times, be less than tolerant of the little ones’ attempts to momentarily challenge the givens of their own lives. Dr J. Singer warns that societal pressures can indeed overcome children’s natural urge to play: “One of the things that we’ve been concerned with is that while most children show some make-believe by the age of two and a half or three, the continuation and expansion of pretend play seems to require a certain kind of social nurturance” (Singer & Singer, 1979, p. 197).

Singer goes on to add that the whilst more structured play is commonly condoned by societies, subcultures and families (probably because it more closely resembles work), more fantastic, spontaneous outbursts of make-believe are all too often met with derision. And yet the benefits of such play are many. Children displaying greater instances of make-believe play display “better waiting behaviour, self-control, capacity for self-entertainment, reality discrimination, and resistance to temptation…creating elaborate alternative environments” (p. 199). Meares (2005) adds that “play, or a playlike activity of mind, may be a crucial element in linking together…the distinct and separable facts of ordinary existence” necessary to forming a coherent sense of self (p. 51).

So, parents please don’t be too harsh about that necessary “speck of dust” in your young child’s eye next time they start talking to their imaginary friend. It might just be possible that you have so many “logs” of your own to consider first.

(c) 2016 Marshall Heiser

Please note: Portions of some of the articles and postings contained in this website were presented in thesis form in fulfillment of the requirements for the PhD of Marshall Heiser from Griffith University.

Bibliography:

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

Aragones, S. (1969, December) Who knows what evils lurk in the hearts of men? The shadow knows. [Cartoon] Mad magazine (131). New York, NY: William Gaines.

Claxton, G. (2006). The wayward mind: An intimate history of the unconscious. London, England: Little, Brown Book Group.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

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

Henricks, T. (2008). The nature of play. In American journal of play, 1(2), 157-180.

Meares, R. (2005). The metaphor of play: Origin and breakdown of personal being. London, England; New York, NY: Routledge.

Singer, J., & Singer, D. (1979). The values of the imagination. In B. Sutton-Smith (Ed.), Play and learning (pp. 195-218). New York, NY: Gardner Press.

Sutton-Smith, B. (1979). Play and learning. New York, NY: Gardner Press.