My recent brush with academia has been exhausting, illuminating, provocative and dispiriting – sometimes all at once. It’s been a longish journey beginning Autumn 2011 when I enrolled at Surrey University in the UK. I spent most of the first year, as many do, reading all the wrong books in the library in an effort to locate the scope of my investigation. Then learning to find the right literature, to be a researcher, to research; bringing that new information to the argument, persuading others of its usefulness in a quietly terrifying viva voce (by voice) oral examination in which one is required to defend the thesis, and hopefully being awarded a degree. Having been a doctoral student, (broadly, one rung above being an idiot, who, because he knows less than nothing, is exempt from serious criticism) who slowly metamorphosed, chrysalis-like, into a doctoral candidate, (one who, having satisfied others that he is worthy, is now favoured with the honour of serious critique), and been awarded a degree, I wanted to communicate my thinking to a wider public.
No, my book “Uncharted” – about drummers and their perceptions of creativity – is not my dissertation. It is informed by some of my findings, but has been entirely rebuilt structurally, formally and stylistically. If my autobiography was a cosy chat down the pub, my dissertation was a stylistically severe, utterly humourless, evidence-based argument, as it should be. Jokes and journalism, adjectives and adverbs, anecdotes, opinions and anything that smells of subjectivity are viewed with suspicion in a doctoral dissertation. We touched on this briefly in a recent podcast for the Jazziz Not What You Think series.
But while supported evidence, solid argument, theoretically grounded reasoning and new information are welcome, this level of high formality is unlikely to get you in the New York Times best seller list unless you are Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins. The linguistic style of Uncharted hopes to strike a middle-ground between the formality of the scientific investigator and the friendly backstage musician after a good gig and a couple of pints. Much of the time the reader is situated as looking in on an informative conversation (or ‘semi-structured interview’ in the jargon) between the author and his nine participants. While these expert drummers were unaware of each other’s contribution, I was privileged to have them all to riffle through in the hunt for patterns as I tried to make sense of their making sense of their drumming world.
With luck and a fair wind, the book may make a tiny contribution to the creativity discourse, but a lasting tiny contribution may be too much to ask. But next time you pick up a peer-reviewed book by an expert in some field of endeavour, rest assured that – if it has the blessing of a top University – the author has been to hell and back defending his ideas in peer review and you are holding quality state of the art information. I may only be so for a week or two until a better book comes along, but right now, I’m a good port of call if you want to talk about creativity and drummers.
I reckon a little creative exploration of your own playing is a good thing because you might discover something about the music or yourself that gives meaning to your playing, and that in turn might make you, if not happy, then less unhappy! Others take a less philosophical, more practical approach to this growing discussion in the community. Andy Ziker, for example, offers 15 distinctive ways to up your creativity. The sensational Mark Guiliana, whose philosophical and aesthetical goals are set out in ‘Uncharted’, lifts the lid on his own systematic approach in his own book “Exploring your creativity on the drumset” with Hudson Music. Finally, Adam Budofsky’s thoughtful article in April’s Modern Drummer adds further weight to the developing argument laid out at the top of this paragraph.