Research seminar: Dr Bill Bruford ‘Give the drummer some: Distributed creativity in popular music performance’

Wednesday 4 October 2017, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Dr Bill Bruford (University of Surrey)

This lecture concerns itself with the relationship between creativity and popular music instrumental performance. What do instrumentalists do, is there anything creative about it, and, if so, how might such creativity inform practice? The discussion, framed within an action theory view of distributed creativity, examines the creative actions of four very different drummers, and their creative responses in four very different music situations.

The argument is developed in three sections. First, a broad look at the phenomenon of creativity in music performance - its origins, importance, locus, and definitions - funnels down to one creativity model in particular. Second, creative music performance is situated on a continuum of control over two modes of performance, the ‘functional’ and the ‘compositional’, and framed within four performance contexts. Finally, the ways in which creativity is mediated by each performance context are illustrated in case studies from the ‘real world’ of the kit drummer.

The lecture does not seek to draw hard conclusions, nor does it instruct attendees how to be creative, nor how to be creative in different ways. The objective rather is to focus on the slippery yet powerful nature of the phenomenon and promote critical thinking in the sphere of creative music performance.


Bill Bruford is an English drummer, percussionist, songwriter, producer, and record label owner who first gained prominence as the original drummer of the rock band Yes, from 1968 to 1972. After his departure from Yes, Bruford spent the rest of the 1970s playing in King Crimson, touring with Genesis and U.K., and eventually forming his own group, Bruford.

In the 1980s, Bruford returned to King Crimson for three years, collaborated with several artists including The Roches, Patrick Moraz, and David Torn, and formed his jazz band Earthworks in 1986. He then played in Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe which led to his return to Yes, lasting until 1992. Bruford played in King Crimson for his third and final tenure between 1994 and 1997, after which he continued with Earthworks and further collaborations.

On 1 January 2009, Bruford retired from public performance. He released his autobiography, and continues to speak and write about music. He operates his record labels, Summerfold and Winterfold Records. In 2016, after four-and-a-half years of study, Bruford earned a PhD in Music at the University of Surrey. In 1990, he was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Yes in 2017.

Location: Music Research Centre: Rymer Auditorium