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

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

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

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

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

Phenomenology: the science of personal consciousness.

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

Fickle humans

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

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

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

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

Frame of Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art and risk-taking:

ENO: Just another day at the office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groenewald, T. (2004). A phenomenological research design illustrated. In International journal of qualitative methods, 3(1). Article 4. Retrieved from

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

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

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


Think STEAM not STEM

Translation of Bauhaus Curriculum Diagram (1929).

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


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

Cognitive Operations

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

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


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

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

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

Less and better

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

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

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

Inspired by Mother Nature

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

(c) 2019 Marshall Heiser



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, at times they may severely limit the potential of the collective cohorts 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. Also: 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 its 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 and the promise of a better future (though not necessarily delivered): either in this life or an ‘afterlife’ (with celestial interest added for good measure). Conversely, prohibitions and manipulation through guilt serve the same purpose in a negative capacity. Two prominent works of 20th century fiction explore both modes of societal control taken to their logical conclusions with the help of technology: Huxley’s Brave New World (the ‘carrot’) and Orwell’s 1984 (the ‘stick’), respectively.

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) and 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 producing calm. 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.”

(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.

Huxley, A. (1932). Brave New World. England: Chatto & Windus.

Orwell, G. (1949) 1984. England: Secker & Warburg.

You’re Welcome.

Every now and then, a band comes along to remind us what really matters about making music and performing for an audience (which is what we do whether or not it’s in front of a crowd or alone at home working with a Digital Audio Workstation): stripping away all that is superfluous and foregrounding the fun-da-mentals! Thank you Peelander-Z!!

The best band in the world today, bar none. I kid you not.  Don’t forget to see their movie “Mad Tiger.”

The best band in the world today, bar none. I kid you not.  Don’t forget to see their movie “Mad Tiger.”

The best band in the world today, bar none. I kid you not.  Don’t forget to see their movie “Mad Tiger.”

The best band in the world today, bar none. I kid you not.  Don’t forget to see their movie “Mad Tiger.”

The best band in the world today, bar none. I kid you not.  Don’t forget to see their movie “Mad Tiger.”

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)

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 states in his article “Humor, play, and neurosis – The paradoxical power of confinement” (1990) 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:

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

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

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 featured in my new book Popular Music, Power and Play (Heiser, 2021: published by Bloomsbury Academic) – an in-depth case study analysis of the 1966-67 aborted SMiLE sessions. At the time of writing, 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

Click here to buy The Beach Boys: The SMiLE Sessions (2011) box set – 5 “disc” mp3 album from (*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).




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

Conditionals for Pure Data: Interactive tutorial

Computer programs need to determine how to proceed at certain points in their program flow, depending on whether certain predetermined (or variable) conditions have been met or not. Such operations are a mainstay of computing and are known as a “conditional” test. For example, when a condition has been met, a result of TRUE (“1”) is produced, otherwise a FALSE (“0”) message results: these are known as Boolean values. Conditional tests (or conditionals for short) are particularly useful in programs such as “generative” music compositions, where the “rules of the game” are predetermined, and require no further input from the programmer after the piece has started.

The conditionals provided in Pure Data (Pd) are very basic, consisting of simple relational operators (such as == [“equals”], != [“not equals”], <, <=, >,  >=) and logical operators ( && [“and”],  || [“or”]). In order to make your own conditional objects that match the complexity of what Max/MSP offers as standard, you’ll need to have a look at the 9 (interactive) examples illustrated above. By changing the values in the yellow boxes, each test will produce one of two possible outcomes.

Whereas Pd’s relational and logical operators produce Boolean values, a “Select” object is necessary in order to produce a “bang” result (which is often necessary when programming in Pd). In the examples provided, the select object has been used to produce either a bang (only if a TRUE value results) or two different bangs (one for TRUE and another for FALSE).

Click here to download the interactive tutorial. Please note, you’ll first need to have Pure Data (Pd) installed on your computer to use this app (it’s free). Once you understand how each of the provided complex conditionals work, you can then embed them in their own subpatches, making your patcher window much less cluttered (as illustrated in the orange square next to example 1. Click on the pd X==Y object to see “inside”). In order to get more information on what each discreet Pd object can do control+click (Apple users*) on the relevant object. Enjoy.

The downloadable interactive tutorial is (cc) 2016 Marshall Heiser (Attribution 4.0 International). This license lets you distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon my work, even commercially, as long as you credit me for the original creation. Any derivatives will also allow commercial use. Click here for more licence details.


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 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.

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Pure Data: Major Scale/Circle of 5ths App

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Click here to download this app for free.

This is an app I designed and coded a few years ago using Pure Data (Pd). I did it as an exercise in coding the Graphic User Interface (GUI) features of the platform. It functions as an interactive music theory learning aid and visually/aurally indicates the 12 possible major scales, their note names/scale-position numbers, and their overall relationships according to the “circle of fifths.”

To use it, simply select a scale from the red “circle of fifths” panel. The virtual piano keyboard notes will indicate the notes of the chosen scale (in green) along with their scale-position numbers. Use your computer mouse to play the notes by clicking on the green keys. To remove the green keys, hit “reset.”

You will need to have Pure Data (click here) already installed on your computer to use this app*. Turn your computer audio volume down to zero (this is standard health and safety procedure when using audio applications). Open the file and click the “AUDIO ON/OFF” toggle switch so that it shows an X (this turns Pd’s audio engine on). Now, hit any virtual piano key whilst gradually turning up your computer volume to a comfortable level. You’re ready to go.

If you are new to Pd and experience any problems hearing the audio, select the “MEDIA” drop-down menu in Pd. Here you can (amongst other things) test your audio/MIDI settings (with test tones etc). Be sure not to have your computer audio output or speakers set too high during this process!

If you would like to learn how to make an interaction virtual keyboard such as the one featured click here to read a very good free online tutorial by Johannes Kreidler (translated by Mark Barden). It’s an extract from Kreidler’s book Loadbang: Programming Electronic Music in Pd (2013). Click here to buy the paperback edition of Loadbang: Programming Electronic Music in Pd through

*Once again, apologies to PC users if you experience any problems. These instructions are designed for Apple OS users, since it has become the defacto industry-standard for audio. Please note: Pure Data is however available for Windows and Linux users.

This app is (cc) 2015 Marshall Heiser. (Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International). This license lets you remix, tweak, and build upon my work even for commercial purposes, as long as you credit me and license your new creations under the identical terms. Any derivatives will also allow commercial use. Click here for more licence details.