‘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).


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

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


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.

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.

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.


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 Forest and the Village: Between the Pairs of Opposites

Creativity-play scholar Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi likens cultures to games, stating that they differ only in terms of scale. Both present a framework made up of “more or less arbitrary goals and rules” designed to facilitate order with “a minimum doubts and distractions” (1990, p. 81). He also states that while the process of socialisation is necessary for basic survival, providing a structure that can reduce the negative impact of the randomness of existence, it can also have the unfortunate by-product of turning autonomous individuals into mere automatons. The structure of society’s game may, by its very presence, rule out so “many [valid] alternative games and beliefs” (p. 81).

Although societies, cultures and myths are constructed by the group for the benefit of the group, they may, at times, severely limit the potential of the very system they were designed to serve. At worst, they may become so concretised as to prohibit appropriate responses to changing conditions and emerging challenges: technological, environmental, or otherwise. This article will explore the vital role that art, play, and humour serve in reframing experience so that more genuine in-the-moment responses to experience can be explored and assessed, and how anxieties often experienced when dealing with a society’s taboos – or other forms of ambiguity in general – might be temporarily overcome.

The village and the forest

Comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell (1993) – to borrow Csikszentmihalyi’s analogy – contrasts two very different “games.” The first, represented by the analogy of the village and the second by the forest. The village has as it’s main goal social stability. It is an aim that can be achieved by appealing to its members’ basic instinctual drives (stimulus-response patterns) via a system of rewards, as well as, the promise of a better future (where rewards are merely promised, though not necessarily delivered). Conversely, prohibitions and manipulation through guilt serve the same purpose, though in a negative capacity. The forest represents any field of action that lay figuratively outside of the village’s established boundaries. While the image of the village connotes comfort, protection, and routine, the forest evokes darkness, disorientation, and danger. It is a place where the village’s rules no longer apply. In cases where the baser instincts of desire and fear fail to control, then the “nobler instincts” of duty or personal sacrifice can be used to exploit an individual to the same end.

Taboos as manifestations of ambiguity

Campbell explains the dual motivations of desire and fear are embodied in myth as “threshold guardians” and are analogous of all pairs of opposites (such as life and death; good and evil, and so on). They are conceptual polarities that “bind the faculties…and link the organs to deeds of defense and acquisition” (p. 89). One might say that to cross between the gaping jowls of these pairs of opposites is a seemingly crazy, incongruous act. Nonetheless, it is exactly what Campbell argues all heroes must do in myth and legend, in order harness the magical powers that so often lay beyond the limits of the village.  Csikzentmihalyi (1990) concurs, in a psychological sense, emphasising that individuals must “achieve control over instinctual drives to achieve a healthy independence of society” (p.18).

The forest can penetrate the confines of a society however, in the form of threatening and powerful by-products of the latters’ own conceptual systems. For example, ambiguous entities such as faeces, blood, or sweat – that is, neither body nor “not-body” – exist conceptually, at least, outside of society’s boundaries. They must, therefore, be reviled or protectively framed in ritual, where their imagined power can be contained and harnessed for good (Apter, 1982, p. 148-150).

Framing experience: Reversal Theory

Ritual is not the only manner, however, in which dark and dangerous aspects of life can safely be examined within society. Humour, art, and play frame experience so that the shadow of the outcast can be coaxed back into view. Michael Apter’s Reversal Theory (1982) links the concept of reframing experience to the study of psycho-physiological response mechanisms. He has succeeded therefore, in explaining psychological aspects of aesthetic experiences such as the appreciation of art and the enjoyment of play or humour, where earlier “arousal” theorists such as Daniel Berlyne (1972, 1969, 1960) failed.

Reversal Theory explains how ambiguity might be experienced as either threatening or enjoyable depending on one’s frame of mind. Apter explains that individuals continually move back and forth between the present-orientated, “paratelic” frame of mind and future-orientated, “telic” frame of mind. His theory therefore makes sense of the often contradictory behaviour of human beings. To illustrate, in the present-orientated, paratelic state, high arousal is experienced as pleasurable (i.e., as excitement), with low arousal as unpleasant (i.e., as boredom). In the future-orientated telic state however, the arrangement is reversed (hence “reversal” theory) with high arousal producing anxiety and low arousal described as relaxing. Actions that attempt maintain the status quo have as their ultimate, serious aim the low arousal produced by, for example, a comfortable lifestyle. In a playful mood however, the same individual may actively seek out incongruities, and the high arousal that they produce, in the form of thrill-seeking or kicks.

A little bit of forest in the village

Just as the paratelic frame of mind provides a zone wherein taboos and ambiguity are safely handled within society; art, games, and humour, similarly, frame experience in such ways that permit a little bit of the forest myth to be played out in the village. Apter (1991) states that a physical boundary marker will often be present to indicate that although an enchanted zone is about to be entered no harm will come. For example, the football boundary line indicates “this is a game” (not a real battle); the proscenium arch and the picture frame say “this is theatre,” or “this is art;” the clown’s black and white checkered costume says “don’t worry, its just some fun.”

Gilbert Gottfried for POTUS 2020!

(c) 2013 Marshall Heiser

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


Apter, M. J. (1991). A structural phenomenology of play. In J. H. Kerr & M. J. Apter (Eds.), Adult play: A reversal theory approach (pp. 13-29). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.

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

Berlyne, D. E. (1972). Humor and its kin. In J. H. Goldstein & P. E. McGhee (Eds.), The psychology of humor; Theoretical perspectives and empirical issues. New York, N Y: Academic Press.

Berlyne, D. E. (1969). Humor, laughter, and play. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (pp. 795-852). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Berlyne, D. E. (1960). Conflict, arousal, and curiosity. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Campbell, J. (1993). The hero with a thousand faces. London, England: Fontana Press.

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

Freedom, Inspiration and Limitation: Hermes Trismegistus

Hermes. Early Classical period Greek Vase: 480-470 BCE (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

In my PhD dissertation (2015), I assert that a playful sealing off of the ‘real world’ to create a confined psychological space is conducive to creativity. Interestingly, this claim, based upon a review of 20th & 21st century psychological creativity literature, has a precedent in Hellenic mythology:

During Hellenic times an amalgamation of [the trickster god] Hermes and Thoth was effected in the figure of Hermes Trismegistus, “Hermes Thrice Greatest,” who was regarded as the patron and teacher of all the arts, and especially of alchemy. The “hermetically” sealed retort, in which were placed the mystical metals, was regarded as a realm apart — a special region of heightened forces comparable to the mythological realm; and therein the metals underwent strange metamorphoses and transmutations, symbolical of the transfigurations of the soul under the tutelage of the supernatural. (Campbell, 1993, p. 73)

Freedom (and insight) through limitation

The story of Hermes Trismegistus is the story of freedom-through-limitation (i.e., limitation with regard to time as well as space). As stated above, the Hellenic trickster/messenger god of Hermes was amalgamated with the Egyptian god of Thoth, representing a new deity not to be confused with the god Hermes alone.


Amongst other things, Thoth was the god of time/limitation, just as Chronos and Saturn were in classical Greece and Rome respectively. This correspondence is confirmed by the alchemical Latin name for Hermes Trismegistus of Mercurius senex;  the co-joining of the Roman trickster/messenger god Mercury (Hermes) with Saturn (Thoth), “ a symbol of the law of limitation which gives shape to life, or the localised expression in time and space of the universal life” (Cirlot, 1971, p. 279).

This collision of the impish trickster with the ponderous devourer of his own children seems at first paradoxical, but is made possible by their common, though often overlooked, point of bisociation: that is, both gods relate to communication (though in quite different fashion).

The Bard’s two cents worth: Control and chaos

Prospero and Ariel. Statue by Eric Gill (1933) , BBC Broadcasting House.

The pairing of the elderly Saturn and youthful Mercury finds its echo in William Shakespeare’s characters Prospero and Ariel. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Ariel’s mischievous powers are (at first) unwillingly and temporarily (i.e., for two days) limited by Prospero’s ‘arts’ and aligned to the will of ‘Providence.’ The result of this binding of forces — that would otherwise be discharged chaotically — results in a powerful transformation of consciousness for all the play’s key protagonists.

The theme of confinement, and the great power it can unleash, is a central one in The Tempest; a state of being that (the otherwise incompatible) Prospero and Ariel have in common. Butler asserts:

No other play creates a space which runs so entirely according to its own laws. This island setting – with its sharp boundaries, and magic that works here but nowhere else – makes its world seem isolated and self-sufficient, an autonomous theatrical laboratory with its own internal logic. (2007, p.xxii)

Likewise, the appropriate incongruity of combining supposedly opposite archetypes in the figure of Hermes Trismegistus results in Herme’s powers becoming ‘thrice great.’

Stravinsky on limitation and art

Stravinsky. Photo by Arnold Newman (1946)

The composer and virtuoso orchestrator Igor Stravinsky once commented on the necessity (Stravinsky, 1997 version) of binding himself tightly with limitations as a means to traverse the terrifying “abyss of freedom” where too many creative possibilities make creative action daunting. Within a field of limitations however, he states, the composer is not burdened by rules like a penitent, but rather “is in quest of his [sic] pleasure” (p. 192).

As for myself, I experience a sort of terror when, at the moment of setting to work and finding myself before the infinitude of possibilities that present themselves, I have the feeling that everything is permissible to me…and I cannot use anything as a basis, and consequently every undertaking becomes futile. Will I then lose myself in this abyss of freedom? However…I possess solid and concrete elements which offer me a field of experience…It is into this field that I shall sink my roots… (p. 194, bold emphasis added) 

The following observation made by Herbert Fleischer in 1931 demonstrates that Stravinsky’s framing of free play within chosen boundaries was not always lost on outside observers:

What a difference between Schoenberg’s pure, abstract constructivism and Stravinsky’s most natural music-making using earth soaked in blood! Stravinsky proves that the most stringent, almost mathematical construction and the most natural idea are not mutually exclusive opposites…(quoted in Cross, 2003, p. 243)

It was Stravinsky’s awareness that even arbitrarily chosen limitations/rules could facilitate great freedom that allowed him to adopt, and discard, a variety of compositional styles throughout his career (ranging from jazz to serialism!), just as, for example, an actor might a character’s costume and personae.

In his essay Poetics of Music (1997 version) Stravinsky simply likens the unprecedented ‘language’ of his so-called revolutionary music in The Rite of Spring to the breaking of a habit. But he qualifies that once such a break with the past has occurred, it must be replaced by a similarly constricting new framework: “The more art is controlled, limited…the more it is free” (p. 194).

Confinement and limitation in rock music

This analogy of a creative ‘field’ of limitations within which play can take place is also mentioned by King Crimson co-founder Robert Fripp. In a 1982 interview, he outlines the approach using the analogy of sports and the rules of the game:

I wish to determine the parameters of the band’s action. Not to be a dictator, but more like a guy saying, ‘This is the sports field; now go and play sports and I’ll play sports with you.’ It’s initiating a situation so you can concentrate energy…(Fricke, 1982, p. 25)

In the same interview, Bill Bruford, drummer with King Crimson, gives an illuminating account of how this approach feels from his perspective:

lt starts out as a stream of negatives first off, which cracks many a lesser man. ‘Don’t do this, don’t do that, and I suggest you don’t do this. By the way, I also recommend you don’t do that.’ You’re in a prison and you’ve got to find your way out of things. I quite like that. I must be a masochist or something, but I don’t feel right unless I’m imprisoned and told to find a way around it. That’s the challenge. (p. 25)

Neuroses, play and confinement

The multidisciplinary researcher/scholar Avshalom Elitzur in his article “Humor, play, and neurosis – The paradoxical power of confinement” (1990) states that “any form of perception or communication…by their nature require the elimination of the “noise” of irrelevant information” (p. 18). Elitzur argues that a common link between humour and play (as well as neuroses) is a “period of confinement.”

In other words, in order to play a game, or make a joke, one must temporarily limit or suspend key elements of awareness. However, in play the confinement to a ‘local logic’ (Ziv, 1984) is relatively longer than that experienced in the telling of a joke, so that, at least temporarily, the “play or the game becomes our entire world, and the broader realm of reality is mainly ignored…subject to denial, suppression, and other defenses” whereas, the neurotic is, at length, confined to a kind of pathological “enforced play” (Elitzur, 1990, p. 20).

Pink Floyd (1967). Syd Barrett centre.

Perhaps, this proposed link between neuroses and play could help explain original Pink Floyd frontman Syd Barrett’s eventual pathological withdrawal from society in favour of a self-imposed artistic confinement (physical, as well as, cognitive he continued solitary painting, but not the more social music making) in the safety of his mother’s home in Cambridge, until his death in 2006 (Chapman, 2010).

Parrallels with Carl Jung’s Bollingen Stone

In 1922, after the death of his mother, psychologist Carl Jung purchased some land on the side of Lake Zurich near a small island where he and his family used to go camping. Soon after, starting off alone, he first built a modest circular stone tower, eventually enlisting professional help after the structure reached the height of about a metre (van Kralingen, 2018). Four major extensions were added over the next 30 or so years, with the last being in 1955 after the death of his wife. He reflects:

Words and paper did not seem real enough to me. To put my fantasies on solid footing, something more was needed. I had to achieve a kind of representation in stone of my innermost thoughts and of the knowledge I had acquired. Put another way, I had to make a confession of faith in stone. That was the beginning of the tower, the house I built for myself at Bollingen. (Jung, 1963, p. 212)

Jung spent all his subsequent summers living at this stone house in Bollingen (it being too cold to inhabit during the winter). He felt that the structure and its gradual development somehow mirrored milestones with regard to his inner psychic life, and providing much-needed respite from the demands and quickening pace of 20th century life.

I have done without electricity and tend the fireplace and stove myself. Evenings, I light the old lamps. There is no running water, I pump the water from the well. I chop the wood and cook the food. These simple acts make man simple; and how difficult it is to be simple! Here, at Bollingen, the torrent of creation is lessened; creativity and play are close together. (p. 214, bold emphasis added)

In 1950, after he had ordered the delivery of stones cut to specific size, one large stone cube was delivered in error. Jung saw this “orphan stone” as a portent of sorts and demanded that it be left with him. He proceeded to inscribe three of its four sides, placing it prominently near the lakeshore and tower entrance. After completing the Orphan Stone, Jung told Maud Oakes, “I need not have written any books; it is all on the stone.” (Oaks, 1987, p. 88). The inscription by Jung (in Greek) reads: “Time is a child — playing like a child — playing a board game — the kingdom of the child. This is Telesphoros, who roams through the dark regions of the cosmos and glows like a star out of the depths. He points the way to the gates of the sun and to the land of dreams” (Jung, 1963, p. 227).

Like Stravinsky’s sinking roots down into a metaphorical “field of experience.” Jung is grounding his mercurial imagination here in something that is ancient, ponderous, resistant to change, seemingly eternal: stone. Herein lies the paradox, the more one constricts one’s actions, slows down, thinks less, the greater one’s capacity for turning Hermes’ dim, half-heard whispers into tangible creative acts. And tellingly, at the centre of Jung’s carved, sealed space (an eye or a mandala), who do we find? A playful child.

The (First and) Last Word: Shiva and Maya


It would seem that not only has self-limitation been acknowledged in the past as being capable of heightening creativity with a small ‘c’. According to a major Hindu tradition known as Shaivism – where Shiva (Siva) is proclaimed as the Supreme Being and creator/destroyer of worlds – self-limitation and playfulness are understood as being responsible for all of creation as we know it. Devadatta Kali Jaya (2008) explains:

The universe is Siva’s own self-expression, consciously projected out of his own overflowing joy, born of his own sense of wonder (camatkara), and willingly entered into in a spirit of spontaneous playfulness. Siva does this through the power of maya, which is his own power of self-limitation.

…Now, that’s creativity with a big ‘C.’ ‘Nuff said.


Please note: Portions of this article were presented in thesis form (not the mythological bits, that’s for sure) in the fulfilment of the requirements for the PhD of Marshall Heiser from Griffith University.


Butler, M. (2007). Introduction. In M. Butler (Ed.), The Tempest (pp. xxi-lxiv). London, England: Penguin.

Campbell, J. (1993). The hero with a thousand faces. London, England: Fontana Press.

Chapman, R. (2010). Syd Barrett: A very irregular head. London, England: Faber and Faber.

Cirlot, J. E. (1971). A dictionary of symbols. London, England: Routledge.

Cross, J. (2003). The Cambridge companion to Stravinsky. Cambridge, England; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Devadatta-Kali (2008). Time and Eternity. Retrieved from: https://vedanta.org/2008/monthly-readings/time-and-eternity/

Elitzur, A. C. (1990). Humour, play and neurosis: the paradoxical power of confinement. Humor, 3(1), 17-35.

Fricke, D. (1982). Old Cult Groups Never Die (They Just Become More Popular): King Crimson Hits the Road. Trouser Press.

Hutt, C. (1966). Exploration and play in children. In Symposia of the Zoological Society of London (18), 61-81.

Jung, C.G. (1963) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. (Recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé. Winston, C., & Winston, R., Trans.). London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Oakes, M. (1987). The Stone Speaks: The Memoir of a Personal Transformation. Asheville, NC: Chiron Publications.

Stravinsky, I. (1997 version). Poetics of Music. In F. Barron, A. Montuori, & A. Barron (Eds.), In Creators on creating: Awakening and cultivating the imaginative mind (pp. 189-194). New York, NY: Putnam.

van Kralingen, A. (2018, March 7). An alchemist’s lair. (Web log post). Retrieved from http://appliedjung.com/an-alchemists-lair/

Ziv, A. (1984). Personality and sense of humor. New York, NY: Springer Pub. Co.

Where did all the benevolent gatekeepers go?

I first became involved in the Australian independent music scene at the dawn of the 1990s. I was young, idealistic and full of passion to make music that challenged the status quo of the “normals” and bean-counters of the world. The state in Australia where I lived had only just got rid of an oppressive, 20 year-long political regime that pandered to religious fundamentalists, big business and was fond of declaring a “state of emergency” each and every time it felt the need for extra political muscle. (There was much to be feared by young educated people who asked too many questions…don’t even dream of being indigienous).

Bums on seats

Imagine my shock and horror to discover that the music industry, even at this grass roots level was no safe-haven from the facts, figures and logics of the mundane world. In fact, not once did I personally meet anyone in a position of power, a “gate-keeper” you might call them – for example, a booking agent, pub owner, record distributor or Artist and Repertoire (A & R) person – that cared in the slightest what my band’s music actually sounded like. It simply didn’t matter.

The one and only factor that ever had any bearing on whether we would be gifted an opportunity or not related to how many bums we could put on seats. Even an unknown band such as ours (The Young Adults) could get a gig at a really big rock playroom such as The Corner Hotel in Richmond (Melbourne) but if you didn’t pack the room full you wouldn’t be going back. There was one gate-keeper who actually listened to the music and was supportive: JJJ’s Richard Kingsmill. Why? Because JJJ radio was part of the editorially-independent Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) network and didn’t have to deal with the grubby realities of generating profits. But it was too little, too late.

I don’t want to sound jaded but…

I have since realised in no uncertain terms that the music business is just that – a business. So the question remains ( even moreso today) how does one get from zero to hero. The stories of the early Alice Cooper band and the young David Bowie, with their long and winding roads to fame and fortune, present possible answers – [i] irritate the listener’s mums and dads, or [ii] become “someone else” entirely (preferably both).

Back in the “arsehole of the world” (as Keith Richards once lovingly referred to parts of the Antipodes), the only bands from our “scene” that made it to a “major” record deal – with all the trappings of excess such as videos, promotion and tours etc – got there by becoming gatekeepers in their own right (ingenious yet unsporting). That is, one band had a member volunteer as a DJ at a university radio station and preceded to give his band all the best promotional opportunities afforded by such privilege. The other band was formed by the two individuals who booked bands for the premium indie venue in the city (if not Australia). Today, it looks like you’ll have more luck with the ol’ sob-story, rags-to-riches TV talent show approach.

Like it or lump it, popular music doesn’t get made in a vacuum…

Creativity and the music industry: Person versus the person-environment

(McIntyre, 2008)

McIntyre (2008) states that conceptions of creativity that focus on the individual betray a Romantic or inspirationist bias. He champions Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of creativity (1999) as a way to include the other “necessary factor[s] in creativity” residing outside of the individual (p. 2). According to Csikszentmihalyi, only when information, ideas, and creative products flow between (a) the domain, (b) the person, and (c) the field can true creativity occur. McIntyre is suspicious of those who criticise the commercial side of record production, saying such people see it as the opposite of individual creative autonomy.

Csikszentmihalyi (1999) states that a set of rules and practices must be transmitted from the “domain” (the culture) to the “person” (the individual creative practitioner), given some sort of novel variation, and then assessed by the “field” (the experts and gatekeepers) to see if it’s worthy of inclusion back into the domain.

When one places Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model within the broader context of creativity theories that have emerged since Guilford’s (1959) groundbreaking structure-of-intellect framework that spear-headed creativity scholarship during the “space-race” between the US and the Soviet Union, it becomes clear that the systems model is a confluence approach to creativity (i.e., one that emphasises the need for multiple components, both within and without the individual, to converge in order for creativity to occur), having much in common with Amabile’s componential concept of creativity (1996, 1983).

The main difference between such approaches and the psychometric method employed by Guilford (1959) is that his model factorises the various cognitive components at play within the individual, whereas confluence approaches also factor in the environment. The systems model does not refute or negate Guilford’s work, it simply places it in the wider context of creative flow that is larger than any lone individual.

By addressing popular creative practitioner’s individual concerns (such as the question of “frame of mind”) when appropriate – and by using the appropriate theoretical models to that level – greater positive impact will be made possible for them when the creative “ball is in their court.” In some cases, their actions might even influence the greater cultural domain. Taylor (1975) uses the term to transactualisation for instances when the creative person-environment is altered in addition to the sole self-actualising creativity practitioner (Taylor adopts Maslow’s humanistic terminology to describe the different levels of fulfilling creative potentials).

It’s therefore possible to observe creativity using a variety of theoretical tools, each as appropriate to differing levels of creative granularity that nonetheless factor in both the individual, small groups of collaborators and the wider socio-cultural context; along with the possibility that one’s attempts at self-actualisation might get past the gatekeepers (i.e., Csikszentmihalyi’s “field”) so that transactualisation may occur.

Each new theory that brings with it new understandings does not necessarily make previous ones redundant. At times they might simply enlarge their scope. Componential approaches, in particular allow for a certain degree of conceptual synthesis. However, great care is needed to deal with issues of terminology that can be a source of potential misunderstanding. Whilst some component factors of competing theories may possess considerable similarities, they might still be, by degrees, inconsistent.You have to really “know your stuff.”

Who’s minding the store?

Beatles producer, George Martin.

Ground-breaking recording artists such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles were clearly embedded within a larger socio-political and cultural matrix. They were also dependant upon the experience, refined sensibilities, tenacity, power sharing, and sense of humour of the record producers who signed them, guided them, and helped them reach their fullest potential, particularly during their early years in the studio.

Multiple Grammy award-winning producer and engineer George Massenburg has bad news for today’s would-be music makers:

‘[Today] there are no “gatekeepers” that recognize [sic] great recordings (that is, great tunes, great performances, and/or great innovations) and introduce them to a broader audience. Now it’s many-to-many, with what seems to be at once a hugely democratic opportunity and a denial of the requirement for uniquely individual, idiosyncratic talent…the music business has gone through overwhelming upheaval…what once were big labels have simply come apart…everything started going into the toilet around 1989 to 1991 – not coincidentally, the dawn of the leveraged buyout. More specifically, I remember when we started taking direction from accounts rather than the “gatekeepers” we had grown up with…Music men – people like Mo Austin, Lenny Waronker, and Bob Krasnow, among others – were ousted to be replaced by accountants…Among those axioms brushed aside were the importance of building an artist’s long-term career and the expectation that no more than one out of 20 recordings would turn a profit…Projects were directed by numbers alone; gone were the men and women who made decisions from their instincts, quick brains, sincere heart, and guts.’ (in Massey, 2009, p. ix, italics in original)

Being in the world, but not “of it”

I agree with Csikszentmihalyi that in order to be truly creative, practitioners must both take from, and give back, to the larger world around them. Such a model, when applied to the concerns of contemporary popular music begs the question: “Who are the gatekeepers in the brave new digital world of popular music dissemination?” Search engines? “Reality” TV producers (what could be less “real” than a reality TV show)? Apple? The accountants running the last multi-national record company left in the world? The answer to this rhetorical question is dealt with in Chapter 2 of my forthcoming book, sorry no spoilers.

So what can the ‘person’ do? When practitioners sit down to make music, whether they be individuals or small groups, they negotiate the terms of each specific instance of play (playframing, as I call it). Regardless of whether they do so tacitly or overtly, consciously or unwittingly, in doing so they temporarily overturn the givens of the real world as they re-create it. They are, in fact, building a psychological protective bubble around themselves in play. That is, to achieve creative flow with a playful frame of mind is to “be in the world, but not of it.” Only by developing an awareness (and eventually a mastery) of this powerful process can we creatives survive, and given half a chance, flourish. That is what we can do to hold up our side of the bargain.

(c) 2015 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 (Qld. Conservatorium of Music).


Amabile, T. (1996). Creativity in context. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Amabile, T. (1983). The social psychology of creativity: A componential conceptualization. In Journal of personality and social psychology, 45(2), 357-376.

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.

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

Massey, H. (2009). Behind the glass. Volume II: Top producers tell how they craft the hits. Milwaukee,WI: Backbeat Books.

McIntyre, P. (2008). The systems model of creativity: Analyzing the distribution of power in the studio. In Journal on the art of record production, (3). Retrieved from http://www.artofrecordproduction.com/content/view/2 172/2109/.

Taylor, I. A. (1975). An emerging view of creative actions. In I. A. Taylor & J. W. Getzels (Eds.), Perspectives in creativity (pp. 297-325). Chicago, IL: Aldine.

Godley and Creme: Playfulness, pastiche and the grotesque.

“We tend to treat the studio rather like a sort of sophisticated sandpit. So it’s just a place to play around in. Which is how we usually work. We get an idea, which might be a word or a lyric or an idea for a sound and we play around with it. We literally do play with the sound. We enjoy ourselves with sound and music. And we construct tunes and songs in that manner.” (Kevin Godley in Oakley, 2008)

Regardless of the medium or era, most of Kevin Godley and Lol Creme’s creative output is notable for its playful, imaginative take on subject matter, its eclectic nature, and a love of the silly and grotesque. As detailed in the above quote, it also emerges from an atmosphere of fun.

In a 2012 article, the interviewer commented that Creme’s old band (10cc) came across on record as enjoying themselves and having fun. Creme responded: “SOME fun?! A LOT of fun! We certainly didn’t take ourselves seriously in 10cc at all and I think that it does show in all of our records” (Man On The Moon, 2012). The same can be said for Godley and Creme’s subsequent work. Ex-Beatle, George Harrison has referred to the duo as “a couple of loonies, especially Lol” (Badman, 2001, p. 358).

Godley and Creme’s musical output consists, as often as not, of pastiches of musical styles that usually don’t feature comfortably in a post-Beatles hit parade: showtunes, Doo-wop, movie soundtracks, Gershwin-esque “spiritual” choirs. In particular, the duo relish resurrecting genres and stylistic conventions that have not aged so well, playing up (though affectionately) past the point of parody into the realm of absurdity (Lol’s impersonation of the female object of the singer’s desire in the bridge of “Donna,” 1972 – their first hit as members of 10cc – is a case in point).

Godley and Creme are mostly widely known as:

  1. writer/directors of seminal music videos for acts including The Police, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Duran Duran, Herbie Hancock, Elton John and George Harrison,
  2. producers of their own videos and songs as a duo (for e.g., the hits “An Englishman In New York,” 1979, and “Cry,” 1985), and
  3. members of the band 10cc, along with Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart.

This list accounts for only a small portion of the team’s creative output since meeting as teenagers in the late 1950s (to collaborate on a homemade 8mm film of “Dracula”). Since that time, Godley and Creme have worked professionally as creatives in a variety of media, including: print, film, cinema/TV advertising, and musical instrument-related design/manufacture (Blair, 1988).

Diverse Creative Output

A small sample of Godley and Creme’s creative output between 1969 and 1988 includes:

  • book design for Pan publishing (including cut-out 3D models, designed and/or illustrated by the duo)
  • album cover design for bands such as The Alan Parsons Project
  • writing and illustrating a satirical, quasi-fictional memoir
  • the invention, production, and marketing of a mechanical musical device called the Gizmotron that bows the strings of an electric guitar (see photo). This device’s launch was accompanied by a separate three record-set concept album called Consequences, 1977, that showcases the wide variety of musical and timbral possibilities it’s capable of producing
  • the writing and directing of TV commercials for Wrangler Jeans, Nissan, and Yellow Pages (among many other notable clients)
  • the writing, storyboarding, and signing a deal for the production of a Hollywood feature film (never put into production)
  • playing as session musicians for a wide variety of clients including Neil Sedaka, (“bubble-gum” producers) Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffrey Katz, Mike McGear, Hermin’s Hermits and others (Inoue, 2014)
  • Click Here for an up-to-date and exhaustive listing of both Godley and Creme’s creative output.

Notable works

A selection of Godley and Creme’s work follows (both audio and audio-visual), demonstrating the scope of their imagination, sense of fun, novelty, and irreverence. It spans their time with 10cc (1972-1976) and as a duo (1977-1989):

“Hotel” (1974): The 80 second-long introduction features a jungle soundscape created by Lol Creme using a moog synthesiser to emulate bird sounds and unidentified cooing animals, in addition to exotic-sounding melodic fragments. Complete with ominous, muffled, distant drums, this piece wouldn’t sound out of place in a 1940s Hollywood Tarzan feature.

“I Wanna Rule The World” (1976): This record production comes across as pantomime-like exploration of the motivation behind a would-be dictator. The music features (once again) clichéd Hollywood musical signifiers, this time adopted from the war movie genre (for e.g., snare drums and timpanis). It’s also notable for a maniacal Hitler-esque rally rant and some cartoon-esque “villainous” organ chords. Lol Creme’s lead vocal sounds not unlike a young Woody Allen playing the role of fumbling, would-be ruler-of-the-world Jimmy Bond, from the James Bond spoof Casino Royale (Hughes, Huston, McGrath, Parrish & Talmadge, 1967).

“Seascape” (1977): The first minute of this piece–the opening track of the triple-album Consequences–is an evocative musical representative of the ocean, featuring undulating musical waves and intermittent splashes of sonic surf. All musical sounds heard are created using multi-tracked electric guitars fitted out with Godley and Creme’s mechanical bowing device called the “Gizmotron.” The piece is something like a movie soundtrack without visuals to pin it down. It’s therefore, a poor attempt at program music in the Romantic-era sense (but that was never the point): the last two minutes suffering from a lack of sufficient extra-musical cues to bring much-needed coherency. The sounds and atmosphere of this track are nonetheless stunning.

The following track “Wind” (1977) was used in a Benson and Hedges cigarette commercial in the late 1970s, and in that context, gains greater coherence as a result of the visual narrative. The track “Stampede” (1977) works better as program music, with a strong melodic figure adding formal strength, along with the musical signification of charging animals being stronger than the more abstract elemental themes of water, wind, fire and earth.


“This Sporting Life” (1978): Consider the following words spoken as if over a telephone receiver (at 4 minutes, 17 seconds into the song): “This is the Bad Samaritans. Hello, loved one. Sorry there was nobody here to take your call personally. However, we understand what you’re going through. How you’ve travelled life’s highway with your smile on upside down. And now you think you’ve found the ultimate answer to all your problems. Don’t be hasty. Why waste a life. Wait ‘til there’s a crowd down below. Give a little when you go.”

I Pity Inanimate Objects” (1979): A simple premise with fascinating-yet-grotesque results. A study in dissonance and distortion anchored by a one-bar acoustic guitar ostinato. The vocal is fed through a digital harmoniser and contorted to all manner of whimsical pitch leaps and contours. A piercing, improvised solo electric guitar obbligato adds much-needed contrast between most verses.

“The Problem” (1981): Lyrics: “If a man, A, who weighs 11 stone, leaves his home at 8.30 in the morning in a car whose consumption is 16.25 miles per gallon at an average speed of 40 miles an hour to his office which is 12 miles away and he stops for coffee on the way for 15 minutes…”

“Cry” (1985): This video has a simple premise. A wide variety of faces, ranging from striking to unexceptional are photographed close-up in black and white, steadily dissolving from one into another as their owners mime the song lyrics. The use of digital audio sampling (then a relatively new gimmick) to create an impossibly high-pitched, corny, and emphatic “Mickey-Moused” major-chord vocal arpeggio finale is hilariously incongruent and grotesque, given that up until that point it was a brooding, yearning, and quite serious song.

No Money Down” (1986): This video was directed for client Lou Reed who had requested not to be in it. In a way he isn’t and yet, is. The video is unnerving from the very beginning as, at first, its not clearly evident if the single visible figure is Reed or not. Once it becomes clearer that it’s in fact an animatronic double, it isn’t long before “his” own hands start violently tearing away his prosthetic face, tongue and jaw. Grotesque yes, but also very funny.

Mondo Video” (1989): This piece was conceived, directed, composed, and performed by Godley and Creme as a fully integrated audio-visual whole (it was never released in an audio-only format). The edits and movements on screen each correspond to musical motifs in such that way that it’s difficult to detect which came first. The visuals adopt a similar approach to that of audio sampling techniques popular at the time. Divorced from any clear context, they’re triggered and retriggered continuously. There’s no message or narrative here, other than a combining of synchronised visual and sonic elements for the sheer delight of doing so.

It’s as if Godley and Creme are saying: “Here are some motifs, visual and sonic, and this is what we did with them. We not only played them, but we played with them.” Of all Godley and Creme’s creative output, this piece stands out as one of the most playful (defined by Lieberman, 1977, as a fun observable element occurring within specific instances of play). It’s more like an etude (a “study”) or experiment rather than a composition done with paying audiences in mind. “Mondo Video” comes across as a by-product of playfulness: an “artefact of play.” Click here to watch Goldey and Creme discuss the project with Terry Wogan (notice Lol’s emphasis on the importance of having fun with the project).

Regarding the grotesque in creative practice

Along with Eno, John Lennon, and Bob Dylan, Godley and Creme’s love of the grotesque is a quality observable in the work of many creatives. Consider the following quote taken from Getzels and Jackson’s (1962) study of “gifted” students:

“The stories, the drawings, and in a measure the autobiographies of our highly creative adolescents demonstrate quite clearly that the world of fantasy contains anxieties as well as delights. It is a world that may be entered to escape the mundane, the pedestrian, and the trivial aspects of reality–a secret chamber providing solace to the Walter Mitty in everyone–but it is also a world containing the shock of the unexpectedly grotesque, a carnival funnyhouse in which the daydream may be transformed into a nightmare. Although it is customary to portray the “dreamer” as the person who shies away from the battle of practical affairs by retreating from the onslaughts of reality, there is a special sense in which he [sic], the explorer of his own fantasy, may exhibit a courage unknown to those whose vision remains focused only on the means and ends of everyday existence.” (p. 104)

Their own words regarding their creative process

Kevin Godley: Click Here to buy Kevin Godley’s new multimedia e-book Spacecake (2015). It’s part memoir, part discussion of his creative works over the years. Importantly, in it he gives a contemporary re-appraisal of Godley and Creme’s formidable Consequences (1977) album.

Lol Creme: Click Here to read a 1997 interview with Lol Creme regarding the making of Consequences. In the interview he states (regarding the album’s commercial failure): “I didn’t give a shit, I really didn’t. And I never have, to me it’s the doing of something that’s the vibe, it’s not necessarily the result” (Booth, 2015).

Creme has described here what Apter (1991) calls the paratelic (playful) frame of mind where “the activity comes first and the goal is secondary and chosen in relation to the activity” (p. 16). Within the protective frame of a playful (paratelic) mindset, incongruous categories no longer seem to create the anxieties they would for a “reasoned” (telic) frame. In the paratelic state, the future results of one’s thoughts and actions are pushed aside. Therefore, incongruities–along with the high arousal that they produce–are not only tolerated but also experienced as enjoyable and exciting. In the telic frame of mind the situation is reversed.

My favourite Lol Creme quote regarding the making of Consequences says so much about the inter-relatedness of science and art: “To us, doing ‘Consequences’ was like a laboratory of music, a scientific experiment but instead of being built on fact, it was built on emotion” (Doherty, 1977, p. 45). Nuff said.

(c) 2015 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 (Qld. Conservatorium of Music).


Apter, M. J. (1991). A structural phenomenology of play. In J. H. Kerr & M. J. Apter (Eds.), Adult play: A reversal theory approach (pp. 13-29). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger.

Badman, K. (2001). The Beatles–The dream is over: Off the record 2. London, England: Omnibus Press.

Blair, I. (1988). The weird and wonderful world of Godley & Creme (or how two old friends took to multimedia wizardry like ducks to water). In Pulse!, 66-72.

Booth, G. (2015). Lol Creme’s interview for Uncut magazine, 14th December 1997. [Web log post] Retrieved from http://www.suppertime.co.uk/blint/lol.shtml.

Doherty, H. (1977, September 24) The things we do for art. In Melody Maker, 10-45.

Getzels, J. W., & Jackson, P. W. (1962). Creativity and intelligence; Explorations with gifted students. London, England; New York, NY: Wiley.

Godley, K., and Creme, L. (1978). This sporting life. On L. [Vinyl album]. London, England: Phonogram Ltd.

Godley, K., and Creme, L. (1981). The Problem. On Ismism. [Vinyl album]. London, England: Polydor Records.

Hughes, K., Huston, J., McGrath, J., Parrish, R., & Talmadge, R. (Directors). (1967). Casino Royale [Motion Picture]. USA: Columbia Pictures.

Inoue, K. (2014). The works of Godley and Creme. Retrieved from http://gcworks.web.fc2.com.

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

Man on the moon. (2012). Lowdown Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.thelowdownmagazine.com/Man_on_the_Moon-4918.html

Oakley, A. (2008, February 27). Lol Creme & Kevin Godley interview 1980(ish) [Video File]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbNBygTzjlo.

Inspirations 1: Alvin Lucier’s “Music On A Long Thin Wire” (1977)

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.’

You can buy Alvin Luciers’ “Music on a Long Thin Wire” at Lovely Records HERE or just listen at youtube.


Arts at MIT (2015, June 5). Evan Ziporyn interviews minimalist composer Alvin Lucier [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daDdiITVuWU.

Gross, J. (2000, April). Alvin Lucier on “Music on a long thin wire.” Perfect sound forever [Online magazine]. Retrieved from http://www.furious.com/perfect/ohm/lucier.html

Huizinga, J. (1949). Homo ludens: A study of the play-element in culture. London, England: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Lucier, A. (1992) Liner notes. In Alvin Lucier: Music on a long thin wire [CD]. New York, NY: Lovely Music.

Nietzsche, F. W., In Kaufmann, W., & Hollingdale, R. J. (1968). The will to power. New York, NY: Vintage Books.