SMiLE: Brian Wilson’s Musical Mosaic


One of the most well documented recording projects in the history of rock music is one that was never actually completed. SMiLE was to be the follow-up album to The Beach Boys’ first million-selling single “Good Vibrations” (1966). Described by its producer, Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, as a ‘pocket symphony,’ “Good Vibrations” had taken an unprecedented seven months to complete, (Leaf, 1993). Likewise, with SMiLE, Wilson resolved to take his time. Conducting some eighty or so sessions between August 1966 and May 1967, he adopted the same montage-like compositional technique used to good effect on “Good Vibrations,” but this time over the scale of an entire album. Despite being eagerly awaited by fans, contemporary musicians and the band’s record label alike, and with Wilson working at his creative peak (Badman, 2004, Bell, 2004), the project was scrapped after ten months of sessions had produced approximately fifty hours of tape.

Such extravagance must be understood in context of the times however. 1966 was not only the year the term ‘psychedelia’ entered the lexicon of popular culture (DeRogatis, 2003), but also, rock music’s status as a disposable distraction for teens was being challenged by albums such as Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde (1966) and The Beatles’ Revolver (1966). Newcomers such as The Mothers of Invention, The Doors and The Pink Floyd were likewise taking risks, pushing the boundaries of what rock was capable of expressing, as well as, integrating musical and conceptual elements derived from outside of the pop-culture domain. Indeed, 1966 was the year that both Wilson and The Beach Boys’ status had been suddenly upgraded from passé to progressive thanks to their album Pet Sounds (1966), a work strongly influencing the English music scene at the time (Abbott, 2001). As a fledgling new member of the rock avant-garde, Wilson decided to surround himself with a ‘hip’ new group of collaborators whilst The Beach Boys were out ‘on the road’ promoting Pet Sounds. In this way, he attempted to buffer himself from those around him wanting a return to the tried-and-tested, formulaic songwriting/production style of earlier Beach Boys surf-themed records.

In contrast to the previously high-pressured, production line manner in which Wilson was obliged to deliver a new Beach Boys album every few months, he was determined to take a more unhurried approach with SMiLE and to focus on the process of creativity as something to be enjoyed. The overall mood of the project (at first titled Dumb Angel) was both comic and spiritual. That is, Wilson believed laughter lowered people’s ego defenses and opened them up to new experiences and perspectives (Leaf, 2004). To this end, a variety of imaginative and often child-like means were employed to inspire a playful frame of mind in not only himself, but also those whose help he enlisted at the time. Some in The Beach Boys camp however, including ex-Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, Beach Boy Mike Love and father-cum-manager Murry Wilson were less than sympathetic to Wilson’s increasingly unpredictable whims, wondering where all this fun and games might be leading the band. In particular, Beach Boys front man (and sometimes lyricist) Mike Love openly resented Wilson’s collaboration with the actor, composer/arranger, session musician and poet Van Dyke Parks, who provided lyrics for the project (Priore, 1997, 2005).

Instead of working on whole songs with clear large-scale syntactical structures, the SMiLE sessions were intentionally limited to recording short interchangeable fragments, or ‘modules.’ These short audio passages – many of which lasted only seconds – were somewhat analogous to single motion picture ‘takes,’ with content ranging from musical (instrumental or vocal), to spoken word, or even sound effects and role-playing. Whereas it is commonplace for filmmakers to shoot scenes according to a storyboarded structure, Wilson approached each fragment somewhat as an ‘end-in-itself’ (where near enough was not good enough) rather than as a mere musical ‘function.’ In this way, any number of larger structures, and divergent moods could be produced at a later time through a process of combining, and re-combining, the modules in a variety of linear sequences (Doggett, 2003). Very often, the syntactical basis of certain key modules was returned to several times, reinterpreted with a quite divergent new arrangement or merely refined – though not always for the better.

Whilst SMiLE contained songs in the traditional sense, it’s difficult to say exactly where each one starts and another ends. They are not always mutually exclusive entities, but rather, each constitutes a loosely unified group of interchangeable musical themes, rhythmic patterns, sound recordings and lyrics. Listening to the session tapes, it is possible to hear how an incidental idea might emerge in the context of one song, only to turn up again months later further developed as the centerpiece of another. Wilson states (regarding “Good Vibrations”): “we got so into it that the more we created, the more we wanted to create…there was no real set direction we were going in” (Zollo, 1997: 131). The process itself was clearly of-the-moment.

The problem with SMiLE was that Wilson never actually got around to the secondary process of combining the modules into a releasable sequence. He had the skills necessary to create an abundance of material, but stitching it all together was clearly a challenge too great at the time. In fact, not one song was completed to his satisfaction by May 1967, when the project was finally scrapped. Nonetheless, many of the SMiLE modules have since surfaced in a variety of contexts, both commercial and as bootlegs. By far the most significant however was in 2004 when Wilson and Van Dyke Parks finally sequenced many of the modules into a three movement ‘symphonic’ configuration using Wilson’s backing band to re-record the various fragments.

Additionally, the recent release of over seven hours of session highlights in The Beach Boys: The Smile Sessions (2011) has made analysis of the original 1966/67 recordings a much more viable proposition. This material, along with recently published session logs (Badman, 2004; Slowinski & Boyd, 2011) and anecdotal evidence from those involved (from a variety of print, film & audio documentary sources) constitutes a most useful body of data. The historical context provided by both the SMiLE sessions and the “Good Vibrations” single must be of particular interest to any consideration of the art of popular music-making since both occurred at a time of great change in record production practice – a change which this modular approach helped bring about (Martin, 2001).

This multiplicity of forms that SMiLE has taken on over the years also provides crucial insight into the relationship of the parts to the whole within artistic composition in general. And because SMiLE can be said to have failed long before it succeeded – being based upon a non-linear recording method in the days of linear tape playback – this project highlights the crucial role that digital technology plays in today’s, so often, non-linear record production processes.

Background: Mid-sixties record production practice

According to The Beatles’ producer George Martin, the “ultimate aim” of record making in the 1950s and early sixties, was an exercise in producing an audio facsimile of a live performance that was “as accurate as possible” (Badman, 2000: 256). In the case of rock music, records at that time were all about capturing a ‘vibe’ or ‘feel’ – the proverbial ‘lightning in a bottle.’ Arrangements and sound balance issues had to be sorted out before committing them to tape. Editing, whilst used extensively, was strictly a linear affair involving “the splicing together of the best pieces, no matter how small” (Southall, Vince & Rouse, 2002: 65). Recording sessions were generally conducted in three hour blocks and according to Helen Shapiro (an English pop starlet of the early sixties) it wasn’t uncommon to “easily” record four songs in a single session (p. 63).

This isn’t to say that there weren’t exceptions to the rule. Certain record producer auteurs existed who’d somehow attained a high level of creative autonomy (and autocracy). Phil Spector – famous for his ‘wall of sound’ – was one such notable American example. He was a record maker fashioning soundscapes that seemingly defied the limits of sonic reality and normal conventions of ensemble performance. In England, Joe Meek was a similarly innovative and eccentric maverick. During the years 1964-5, Spector’s influence on Wilson’s record production style cannot be overstated; as Wilson later explained: “When I got really familiar with Spector’s work. Then I started to see the point of making records. You design the experience to be a record rather than just a song. It’s the record that people listen to” (Leaf, 1990). Wilson even went to the extent of adopting the same group of session musicians (‘The Wrecking Crew’); studio (Gold Star in Hollywood); and engineer (Larry Levine), in his efforts to emulate Spector.

With Spector’s influence well and truly assimilated by early 1966, Wilson found his own production voice with the album Pet Sounds – a work that sustains a consistent reflective mood from beginning to end. It’s as a whole that the album succeeds, and begs to be listened to in one uninterrupted sitting. When the disc ends, one gets the feeling of having come back to ‘reality’ – not unlike surfacing from a darkened cinema after watching a beautiful, deftly-paced movie. Pet Sounds diverges from previous Beach Boys’ efforts in several ways: its sound field has a greater sense of depth and ‘warmth;’ the songs employ even more inventive use of harmony and chord voicings; the prominent use of percussion is a key feature (as opposed to driving drum backbeats); whilst the orchestrations, at times, echo the quirkiness of ‘exotica’ bandleader Les Baxter, or the ‘cool’ of Burt Bacharach, moreso than Spector’s teen fanfares.

Although the album was slightly less successful than previous Beach Boys efforts in the US, it found a new market for the band in the UK and Europe. Just as Spector had once set the benchmark for Wilson, Pet Sounds was now having a similar effect upon other prominent bands at the time. The Who, Eric Clapton (and his band Cream) and particularly, Paul McCartney – who along with Beatles producer George Martin cited it as a major influence on that band’s seminal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album (1967) – were all singing Pet Sounds’ praises (Leaf, 1990; Abbott, 2001). Martin has since gone as far as describing the album as “the criterion of excellence” in the popular music world (Martin, 2001). One major benefit of Pet Sounds’ resounding critical acclaim in England was that it convinced Capitol to trust Wilson’s new direction. For a time at least, he now was free to take even greater creative risks, knowing the label would finance and promote his next effort regardless. Beach Boy Bruce Johnston recounts his reaction to the first commercial fruits of Wilson’s new indulgent approach in October 1966: “When we finally heard ‘Good Vibrations’ edited and mixed, we thought we were going to have the biggest hit in the world or the career was over” (Abbott, 2001: 113).


It was pieces of music. That’s why I’ve had trouble over these years, in terms of people trying to put a SMiLE record together. It’s my recollection that Brian was still experimenting with units of music. Just from the musical point of view, there never was a SMiLE. As a finished product. – David Anderle (quoted in Boyd, 2011)

Trying to describe SMiLE isn’t an easy task, simply because it has no definitive form and content. For several decades, it was a most elusive thing, seemingly changing its size and shape as the years progressed. What can be said about SMiLE is that it isn’t a specific album, nor is it a particular group of songs. Possibly the best term offered yet to describe the project is: “sonic menagerie” (Wolfe, 2011). According to Mark Linett – the person chiefly responsible for collating the session tapes since 1988 – all that remained from the eighty or so sessions conducted between August 3rd, 1966 and May 18th, 1967 was “a bunch of bits and pieces – a few songs that were more or less completed later” (Peters, 2011). By the time the project was scrapped, Wilson states that he’d recorded more than enough backing tracks to fill an entire album but The Beach Boys hadn’t sung on most of these at that point (McCulley, 2003: 198). Another reason given by Wilson for the album not being completed in 1967 was the difficulty he experienced finding an acceptable sequence for all the many component parts (Leaf, 2004). Nonetheless, over the years various SMiLE modules – and the various superstructures that can be made from them – have made their way into the public arena.

Wilson once described his compositional process as one emerging from playing with fragments:

I go to the piano and play ‘feels.’ ‘Feels’ are specific rhythm patterns, fragments of ideas. Once they’re out of my head and into the open air. I can see them and touch them firmly. Then the song starts to blossom and become a real thing. (quoted in Leaf, 1990: 8 )

In particular, his evoking the senses of touch and sight as metaphors for shaping ideas is noteworthy. Wilson’s modular record production technique – first used during the “Good Vibrations” sessions – can, arguably, be interpreted as a logical extension of Wilson’s earlier  ‘feels’ approach. In fact, SMiLE’s modules can be defined as the primary artefacts of a compositional process adopted by Wilson during this project – not unlike musique concrète – whereby musical idea fragments could be transformed (long before any final song form has been envisaged) into, not only, ephemeral sound waves to be heard, but also, pieces of tape to be touched, seen, held, scrutinized, torn apart and recombined like pieces of clay shaped by an artist’s hand. Record producer/composer Brian Eno has gone as far as stating that once music is recorded onto tape it becomes a “plastic art” (Tamm, 1995: 41), and describes any such ‘empirical’ compositional process so dependent upon recording technology as constituting a new artform altogether.

The, at times, tenuous relationship between the SMiLE songs – music ‘written’ by Wilson with lyrics by Van Dyke Parks – and their manifestations as recordings (whether as modules, complete songs or parts of larger ‘movements’) finds a parallel in the Russian Formalist distinction between a unifying, overriding abstract pattern (fabula) and the specific linear sequencing of the various substructures inspired by it (syuzhet) (Holmberg, 1996). SMiLE’s basic, unifying theme was, arguably, the national myth of the “relentless European expansion across America, westward from Plymouth Rock to Hawaii” (Badman, 2004:151). This explains, not only, the abundance of ‘tack’ pianos featured in the recordings (mimicking the saloon pianos of Hollywood Westerns) and ukuleles, but also, more imaginative references to Americana such as a musical evocation of the ‘iron horse’ in “Cabin-Essence.”

Much of the material recorded for SMiLE has little, if anything, to do with this Americana theme however. And even if it did – a theme is not quite a story. There are no central characters. No Black Jack Daveys or House Carpenters populate the SMiLE pantheon. Nor do any specific pilgrims progress onwards westward from Plymouth Rock with whom the listener can relate. Names arise, but only in passing. It’s the potential experience rather than actual resulting narratives that hold SMiLE together. For example, the many modules specifically inspired by the ‘song’ “Heroes and Villains” (produced between November 1966 and March 1967) admirably demonstrate the divergent quality claimed by both Guilford (1975) and Ziv (1983) as a key component of creative action. However, clear patterns of convergence necessary to inform their sequencing was sorely lacking. Without such limitations as the adoption of clear, even arbitrary, criteria with which to evaluate the suitability of these various modules for inclusion into subsequent “Heroes and Villains” structures, attempts to compile them must have seemed like an insurmountable task.

Even a work as inscrutable as Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) – likewise famous for its many playfully divergent perspectives and stylesadopted the overall story of Homer’s Odyssey, as well as, featuring key episodes based upon that epic’s structure (though, compressed into the 24 hour sequence of ‘Bloomsday’ – June 16th, 1904). The mention of historically accurate events that took place in actual locations within the limited arena of Dublin that day, also further support an otherwise fragmented text, making it more manageable for both writer and reader alike. The early Cubist paintings of Braque and Picasso, similarly, limit their gaze to the restricted field of a particular ‘still life’ scene. The SMiLE modules that are most successful are the ones that simply evoke a singular setting. The more they restrict their figurative gaze to a particular limited zone the more detailed and sensuous they become.

What does SMiLE sound like?

If SMiLE is best considered a sonic menagerie, then describing how ‘it’ sounds is a pointless exercise. Rather, it’s preferable to describe the many musical inhabitants of this complex, nebulous macrocosm. Sometimes the music might sound not unlike a Renaissance-era vocal motet by Carlo Gesualdo, filled with manneristic, unpredictable chromatic turns (though treated with a typically glissandi-laden Beach Boys approach). Other modules sound like young men pretending to be animals or performing an ‘underwater’ chant populated by word-beasts such as “swim swim fishy” “underwater current” “jellyfish” “shark” “dolphin” “goldfish” and “eel”. Some fragments are reminiscent of a ‘panoramic’ wild-west movie score or The Beach Boys faking a group orgasm. A musical ‘sound painting’ of a steam locomotive gives way elsewhere a spoken word skit portraying a man trapped inside a microphone. Some modules feature the guttural chanting of cartoon-esque cavemen or a group of french horns ‘talking’ and ‘laughing’ with each other.

What is consistent about SMiLE is that it usually sounds ‘playful’ or ‘colourful’ – not unlike what you might expect to hear in an animated Sesame Street segment. The music often simultaneously employs instrumental and vocal elements that are widely varied with respect to timbre and pitch range, combining them in a somewhat contrary ‘interlocking’ fashion. That is, they fit but also feel autonomous. A plethora of sound densities result from these combinations. The vocal arrangements create a kind of ‘tapestry’ of sound, using a wide range of pitch centres, antiphonal effects, rhythmic variations, juxtapositions of legato and staccato figures, rounders-like echoes, and vocal effects not usually associated with mid-sixties rock records. Harpsichords and ‘tack’ pianos abound (often played in unison); mallets are also used extensively, as is quirky/echoey percussion. SMiLE exemplifies a somewhat naïve and playful ongoing search for novel ways of recombining elements. It could just as well be titled ‘Things to do for composers on a rainy day.’

When one compares SMiLE – and indeed Pet Sounds – to earlier Beach Boy records, their unique sense of rhythm becomes evident. Whereas, the Beach Boys surf and hotrod songs displayed a constant, rollicking sense of metre/pulse well suited to dancing, SMiLE never lets the listener settle into a groove for too long. Even the Smiley Smile version of “Heroes and Villains” (released as a single in mid-1967) only runs for 40 seconds before the strident, and typically 1960s-sounding, instrumental backing disappears, leaving only a barbershop quartet-like ritardando cadence and then, silence, which is followed by a genteel 18th century dance feel (the ever-present “Bicycle Rider” theme), so on and so forth.

SMiLE sounds in many ways ‘visual.’ That is, many of the modules constitute ‘word painting’ or allude to visual concepts or physical entities. For example, the four elements are evoked in the tracks “Wind Chimes,” “Fire,” the earthen “Vega-Tables” and “Cool Cool Water” (aka “I Love To Say Da Da” & “In Blue Hawaii”). By lyricist Van Dyke Parks’ own admission, the project was approached in “cartoon terms. To me it was a musical cartoon” (Priore, 2005: 102). SMiLE’s individual modules are indeed analogous to cartoon panels, though each module is like a panel without a fixed narrative to attach itself to. Like Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop Art painting Drowning Girl (1963), each module seems to have been granted a sense of autonomy from the start. They are detached both in the sense that they’re not linked, and also with their zen-like lack of emotional charge. They are meditations upon a scene, rather than commentaries. Whether or not the modules are embedded within a larger whole is a secondary concern – they are, as David Anderle has pointed out, “of the moment” (Leaf, 2004). And their sense of singularity is evident in the disjointed and abrupt fashion with which they’re often spliced together.

The boldness of “Good Vibrations’,” and SMiLE’s, many jumpcut edits is, indeed, their most striking characteristic. Due to the relative lack of multitracking options in sixties-era record making practice, modern day listeners might be surprised to learn that tape editing was at that time a fine art and extensively used as a means of compiling the best takes from recording sessions into a seamless, sequential whole. Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner (cited in Cavanagh, 2003: 48) recalls that EMI Records engineers in 1967 were so expert at the art of editing it was impossible to discern a tape splice even in the most delicate of instrumental passages. SMiLE’s highly noticeable edits therefore, must be acknowledged as compositional statements in themselves, giving the music a sonic signature every bit as noticeable as the performances themselves. There was no way this music could be ‘real.’ Wilson was therefore echoing the techniques of musique concrète and seemed to be breaking the audio ‘fourth wall’ – if there can said to be such a thing.

This isn’t to say that the modules don’t share any sense of unifying structure. Many musical themes featured in SMiLE are given some sort of development, re-arrangement or recontextualisation – bringing certain, otherwise divergent, modules a subtle sense of unity. The 2004 ‘symphonic’ remake of SMiLE, in particular, recognises their homogeneity and structures the modules accordingly. One gets the impression with SMiLE of a seemingly inexhaustible source of creativity and inspiration that is nonetheless, defiantly anti-intellectual and of-the-moment. Wilson’s child-like ability to find wonder in the ordinary fills this musical cornucopia unselfconsciously to the brim. No idea seems too silly, or incidental, to be tried out, and no one version of any idea seems to be accepted as definitive – everything is ‘fair game.’

Wilson recently chose the following words to describe the project: “Childhood. Freedom. A rejection of adult rules and adult conformity. Our message was,  ‘Adults keep out. This is about the spirit of youth’” (Myers, 2011). It was this rejection of the usual ‘rules of the game’ that ultimately caused SMiLE to remain in a state of limbo for so long. The standard verse/chorus/middle-eight schtick of mid-sixties pop song forms clearly wouldn’t suffice here, but that isn’t to say SMiLE required structures of great sophistication. Rather, a means of organisation that honoured the regressive nature of the modules and their reluctance to form unequivocally meaningful statements was what was needed. This lack of clear, logical meaning was a key problem for Mike Love, as epitomised by his reaction to Van Dyke Parks’ lyrics, particularly for “Cabin-Essence” and “Surf’s Up.” He simply couldn’t fathom what all this was supposed to ‘mean’ and fretted that Beach Boy fans would feel the same (Badman, 2004: 149 & 163; Priore, 2005). The fact is SMiLE’s many musical and lyrical elements don’t really mean anything. Its modules, when considered as discreet units, represent a return to the pre-grammatical, non-linear and analogical (as opposed to logical) thinking of early childhood (Meares, 2005) – they are artefacts of play.

Technology and frame of mind

Notwithstanding the practice of linear editing – commonplace ever since magnetic tape replaced direct-to-disc recording (Southall, Vince & Rouse, 2002) – multitrack recording (though long extant by the late sixties) facilitated a means of joining together many disparate musical utterances ‘as if’ they were one (albeit, now in a concurrent manner). Such developments in technology alone however, didn’t inspire practitioners to fully exploit the potential of the medium. Instead, a thoroughly playful frame of mind also informed such fanciful productions as “Good Vibrations,” SMiLE and The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And in doing so, these key works ushered in new standards of popular record making practice (Miles, 1998; Leaf, 2004) whereby ever-increasingly it was required of listeners to suspend their disbelief of the productions’ obvious acoustic implausibility. If this were not the case, then the Beatles should have attempted a tape-loop filled “Tomorrow Never Knows” (1966) instead of the energetic rave-up ‘performance’ of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” in late 1963 when four-track recording was first made available to them.

Not surprisingly perhaps, in today’s world where analogue tape recording is largely all but a memory, turning original compositions into record productions – even for skilled musicians – has less in common with traditional real-time performance than, for example, the process of film making (with all of its story-boarding, multiple takes, various camera angles and editing). This synchronisation of quite separate audio events to create the impression of concurrency, or cutting and pasting together musical takes sequentially, can now be achieved with programs as rudimentary as GarageBand or similar. Nor, is it uncommon for even novices to combine their own audio recordings with virtual instruments in software, ‘played’ by programmable sequence recordings: a process that can be either implemented in real-time (using the computer keyboard to input notes), or stepwise fashion. When mixed together, these interdependent parts should, at best, integrate sufficiently to create the illusion of a unified musical event.

However, if the proliferation in recent years of low-cost, broadcast quality Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) is to facilitate anything more than greater convenience for practitioners, a corresponding challenging of certain tacit assumptions must be forthcoming. The manipulation of sound so well facilitated by DAW technology (which brings multitrack recording, non-linear editing, looping and automated mixing to the masses), potentialises a process of combinatorial play (Hadamard, 1945). Such an approach however, is equally dependent upon a frame of mind where “implications beyond the present moment” are temporarily banished from awareness (Apter, 1991: 14). In this way, developing any given musical arrangement using a program such as Logic Pro (where the central editing window is its linear time-line based “Arrangement” window) might produce very different results to that made using a similar software application which additionally provides a virtual workspace encouraging a decidedly more non-linear approach to accessing/triggering audio files (such as Ableton Live’s “Session View” window wherein multiple loops and samples can first be playfully combined in real-time before the serious task of committing them to any concrete linear organization rears its head).

The parts and the whole: Non-linearity, regression and emergence

The 2011 SMiLE Sessions box set demonstrates that since the release of Wilson’s ‘symphonic’ remake in 2004 there are now, arguably, two SMiLEs – the linear and the non-linear versions. These could also be described, respectively, as the quasi-narrative and the ludic versions. The original modules (as featured on the 2011 CDs 2 to 5) are like the many rooms within Steppenwolf’s “Theatre of the Mind” – for madmen only (Hesse & Creighton, 1929). Willingness is required on the listener’s part to leave preconceptions of linear flow behind and take each module as a discreet experience, just as one might take the separate rooms of a funhouse. They possess no logical connection. In their unorganised state, one module doesn’t modify or contextualize the other, in order to form a statement or argument. They resonate rather than respond to each other – like pictures hanging side-by-side on the same wall.

In The Metaphor of Play psychiatrist Russell Meares (2005) contrasts the ‘inner’ non-linear language of playful thought with the linear language of mundane public discourse. He writes: “The language of the playing child has a peculiar form. It shows abbreviations, it jumps, and it is not grammatical. It moves by analogy, resemblance, and other associations” (p. 38). Similarly, Givón uses the term “pre-grammatical” to describe a form of communication common to both ‘pidgin’ speech and that of young children at an early stage of language acquisition (cited in Robert & Chapouthier, 2006: 165). Here, words are starkly juxtaposed rather than integrated into the complex syntactical relationships of true language.

Koestler explains that pre-grammatical communication is inherently visual, like the unfolding panels in a cartoon strip, and states that the reason that the highest compliment possible is to call a thinker ‘visionary’ stems from the fact that “true creativity often starts where language ends” (1964: 177):

…the poet who reverts to the pictorial mode of thought is regressing to an older and lower level of the mental hierarchy – as we do every night when we dream, as mental patients do when they regress to infantile fantasies. But the poet, unlike the dreamer in his sleep, alternates between two different levels of the mental hierarchy…The poet thinks both in images and verbal concepts, at the same time and in quick alternation…The dreamer floats among the phantom shapes of the hoary deep; the poet is a skin-diver with a breathing tube. (p.168)

Just as the Koestler’s poet is the master of two evolutionary realms, Meares (2005) suggests that in normal development, children, after about the age of four or so, manage these two modes so that “embedded in the linear language of social speech are the elements of…non-linear language, which relates to inner life” (p. 39). He strongly qualifies that this developmental process occurs within the context of a nurturing environment. However, in cases where individuals experience particularly adverse circumstances in their early lives, the various parts of their personality may not be sufficiently integrated into a unified whole. This might result in individuals displaying varying degrees of ‘discontinuity’ of consciousness, ranging from cases that are not behaviorally evident to, in extreme situations, multiple personality disorder. In such instances, life is experienced devoid of a sense of ‘innerness,’ with their consciousness being at the mercy of outer stimuli. Meares suggests that “play, or a playlike activity of mind, may be a crucial element in linking together…the distinct and separable facts of ordinary existence” necessary to forming a coherent sense of ‘self’ (p. 51).

This coherency can be described as an emergent property, residing in none of the component parts, but only “in the pattern that emerges from their interaction” (Capra, 2002: 36). In simple terms, the whole can be said to be qualitatively different to ‘the sum of the parts.’ In this way, an understanding of the parts themselves cannot sufficiently explain complexity. In order for any analysis of non-linear systems to be successful, an additional consideration of the dynamic processes involved must also be forthcoming. Natural systems ranging from the simple, such as vortexes (thermodynamics), up to complex ones like the human body (biological), as well as, social systems, and cultural phenomena such as language, and artistic works-in-progress can all be described as behaving in a non-linear fashion. Even consciousness itself is an ongoing process, an emergent phenomenon whereby neural mechanisms alone (the parts) cannot explain the whole – despite being experienced as a ‘unity’ (Capra, 2002; Meares, 2005; Robert & Chapouthier, 2006; Chapouthier, 2009).

The 2004 ‘symphonic’ sequencing of SMiLE displays a complexity that none of the parts themselves could hint at. Its overall affect is an emergent property, displaying a surprising sense of flow, given the varied, and disjointed nature of the modules. Capra states: “Emergence results in the creation of novelty, and this novelty is often qualitatively different from the phenomena out of which it emerged” (2002: 36). Equipped with ProTools digital editing facilities, and urged on by supportive and nurturing (new) family, friends and co-artists (Leaf, 2004), Wilson finally displayed the artistic agility of Koestler’s proverbial, masterly skin-diver. There is a necessary trade off, however. Something grand is gained, but the SMiLE-as-game phenomenon has perhaps, since been overshadowed somewhat by this aesthetically successful integration of the modules. What for so long had been a lively subject of speculation, as well as a source of great interactivity, was now in danger of being mistaken for an audio fossil. Similarly, Meares suggests: “Words for affect are dead metaphors” (2005: 182). It could be argued then that the ‘symphonic’ SMiLE constitutes dead play – concretised process. The 2011 SMiLE Sessions box set has clearly addressed this situation by including both the linear sequence and the separate modules.

Not all cultural artefacts necessarily display this degree of fit, or compositional integration – this artistic integrity. As creativity scholar Teresa Amabile explains (1983), whenever practitioners approach their work, they may chose to follow, on one hand, a tried-and-tested path to a clearly identified goal, or at the other extreme, they might not only design their own path, but even define the goal itself. The degree with which any creative process leans towards the former or latter scenarios can be described as representing (predominantly) algorithmic or heuristic approaches respectively. It’s this latter heuristic (a ‘whatever works’) method that best allows creative products to slowly emerge into complexity, rather than hurriedly rushing into banality and predictability.


A key element of emergence is feedback. That is, creative individuals need to occasionally, figuratively ‘stand back’ and observe what’s developing before them. Only after considering what is gradually coming together can the artist know how to proceed in a way that honours the integrity of the piece. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) expands:

Whereas a conventional artist starts painting a canvas knowing what she [sic] wants to paint, and holds to her original intention until the work is finished, an original artist with equal technical training commences with a deeply felt but undefined goal in mind, keeps modifying the picture in response to the unexpected colors and shapes emerging on the canvas, and ends up with a finished work that probably will not resemble anything she started out with. If the artist is responsive to her inner feelings, knows what she likes and does not like, and pays attention to what is happening on the canvas, a good painting is bound to emerge. On the other hand, if she holds on to a preconceived notion of what the painting should look like, without responding to the possibilities suggested by the forms developing before her, the painting is likely to be trite. (p. 208)

The occasional, or (optimally) moment-to-moment, awareness necessary to allow a work to emerge somewhat on its own terms – instead of merely following a formula – achieves its aim by sending a flow of valuable feedback to the artist. In this way, the artist responds, observes again, responds once more and so on. Such feedback loops are a key characteristic of non-linear systems in general. Whereas in the case of simple thermodynamic systems, for example, the system is open with regard to the flow of energy, it is information that feeds back into the artist’s consciousness in the above example (Capra, 2002).

The Beatles producer George Martin uses the analogy of a painter looking at their canvas to explain the Beatles’ creative process on their Sgt. Pepper album (cited in Badman, 2000):

[it] grew of its own accord. I don’t think they really knew what they were doing on it, and I didn’t have a great deal of an idea either…They would come in and say, ‘We’ve got an idea for a bit here, but we’re not quite sure how it’s going to develop. So, let’s put it down and we’ll go away and think about it…In many incidences this just grew…It was rather like painting an enormous canvas in a way, and putting a bit of extra colour on it every day and standing back and looking at it, saying, ‘Yes, I think we’ll do a bit more here.’ (p. 258)

The emergent work can be described as a ‘dissipative structure’ (Prigogine & Stengers, 1984). That is, it is simultaneously changing-yet-stable. At first, the system can be said to be structurally constant but open with regard to the flow of feedback. However, if the flow continues to increase past a certain critical point, the system in its present state can’t accommodate the stress, and one of two things must happen: it either (a) breaks down into chaos; or (b) spontaneously changes into a complex new ordered state, qualitatively different to its predecessor. Importantly, it’s impossible to predict in advance what form such transformations might take (Capra, 1997).

Whilst a psychological application of Prigogine’s dissipative structures model, as described by Bütz (1997), justifies stress and anxiety as necessary to the creative process, there is only so much an individual might choose to tolerate before giving up. Despite demonstrating the ability to complete many of the actual SMiLE modules (in particular the backing tracks, for which he wasn’t dependent upon the Beach Boys’ help), Wilson’s ability to withstand the emotional and psychic stress necessary to facilitate the metamorphosis of the modules into finished songs, and a pop album of appropriate length, wasn’t forthcoming in 1967.

Indeed, Wilson wasn’t an island, but was accountable to the larger network of both Capitol Records and The Beach Boys as the commercial vehicle for his artistry. By January of 1967, the label was anxious to further exploit the recent success of the single “Good Vibrations” before it faded from the public’s memory, even going to the extent of printing up four hundred thousand record covers, complete with full-colour photographic booklet inserts (a lavish package for the time), and taking out trade advertisements heralding the imminent arrival of the album (Priore, 2011). Wilson was therefore increasingly under pressure to finish the project quickly and to do so in a manner that didn’t adversely effect The Beach Boys’ innocuous public personae by being too ‘far-out.’

Additionally, the process of trialing tape edits, with razors, was a much more time consuming, and potentially destructive practice at the time than today’s high-speed, non-linear computer editing process – as was the need to cut trial acetate discs to play outside the studio. Wilson was also concurrently juggling the multiple roles of composer, arranger, performer, musical director, producer and mixdown co-engineer. It’s not surprising he simply scrapped the project in May 1967, unable to bridge the gap between his artistic vision and the confines of 1960s pop formulae. Perhaps it wasn’t so much Wilson who couldn’t withstand the mental and emotional chaos of the creative journey any longer but those around him. He later claimed he felt SMiLE was too self-indulgent and feared he was letting The Beach Boys down: “It was too fancy for the public. I was getting too fancy and arty and doing things that were just not Beach Boys, at all. They were made for me” (Badman, 2004: 163).Thirty-seven years later, in 2003, within the context of a new supportive environment, Wilson was finally able to stand back and look at SMiLE for what it was, or might be, rather than what some less visionary individuals wanted to reduce it to.

Mosaic structure

Whereas Capra (2002) describes the manner in which emergent forms display characteristics not inherent within their parts, Chapouthier (2009), conversely, highlights the fact that whilst being integrated into a larger whole, the component parts of many complex systems, living or otherwise, retain a surprisingly large degree of autonomy. This uneasy sense of belonging together and yet remaining apart can be described as a mosaic quality. For example, he describes a cell as a mosaic of organites, an organ as a mosaic of cells, an organism a mosaic of organs, and so on. When a higher level of complexity has emerged, the parts may be said to have ‘integrated.’ In cases however where no new level of interaction has emerged, the parts can be described as merely being ‘juxtaposed.’ Whilst such a distinction might be obvious within simple systems, situations where the component parts are more strongly integrated requires a much greater discerning facility to detect – as for example, in complex systems such as consciousness and memory (Robert & Chapouthier, 2006).

Likewise, whilst it’s easy to ascertain this mosaic quality in SMiLE due to the widely varied sonic textures of each module, this is in fact a characteristic of all works of art on their journey from inspiration to completion. As in the case of more complex systems described above, it can be difficult for analysts to perceive the joins, which are smoothed over as the work is refined, giving the impression of inspired genius, rather than repeated interaction with the materials or concepts. Indeed, if the component parts have been ordered well enough, they’ll display a sense of ‘belonging,’ as if somehow predetermined. Certain combinations seem to possess a kind of fit that is simultaneously aesthetically pleasing, appropriate and functional. The ongoing activity of combinatorial play, rather than abstract logic, provides the opportunity for vital clues to emerge during the process that hint at possible fruitful paths onward through the chaos. As SMiLE lyricist Van Dyke Parks states: “Brian’s music had an … audio novelty to it. The invention was Edisonian, empirical – it had to be toughed out by this process of trial and error” (Priore, 2005: 80).

Whereas the affect of Brian Wilson presents SMiLE (2004) is that of a well integrated symphonic whole, it was nonetheless, famously, an afterthought. Thirty-seven years of cognitive incubation preceded the process, a period of time that allowed recording technology to catch up with Wilson’s artistic vision. Whilst the primary process of creating the modules themselves – as separate texts – was one of combinatorial play, the task of fashioning these resultant texts into larger structures was a similar, but secondary, compositional process of combinations and associations, albeit on a larger scale. Once again, the process was a heuristic one rather than algorithmic. When a high degree of fit is evident however, analysts can mistake it as the product of conscious adherence to deterministic principals.

A key example of such a successful join, one that gives the impression of real premeditated compositional intention, is the 2nd movement segue from the “Child is Father to the Man” (2004) into the “Surf’s Up” (2004) section. This is achieved by the inclusion of a thirty-six second long module best described as containing a ‘wandering/searching’ piano figure. In this context, the fragment functions as a bridge between the two sections. In the SMiLE Sessions (2011) CD 1 sequencing however, this module is featured earlier on in the piece (see CD 1: Track 11) resulting in a less convincing sense of integration. In this way, even though the modules featured are the same, simply re-arranging their order can make an easily discernable, qualitative difference to the whole. This asymmetrical phenomenon has its counterpoint in language. Robert & Chapouthier (2006) use the term ‘anchoring’ to explain how “the development of the meaning of an utterance emerges from a series of connections between the different component parts” (p. 162).  The initial polysemy of any given term is reduced by its linear context; and so too, it can be argued that the musical function of any given motif can, likewise, be transformed by its placing. Robert & Chapouthier go on to say that “language is nothing more than relationships” (p. 162).

The term “compositional morphology” can be used to denote how a new emergent whole displays characteristics not reducible to the ‘sum of its parts’ -whilst the parts themselves have their own individual characteristics (p.161). Though this concept has above been described in terms of linear organisation, it can also occur within a musical context in a concurrent fashion. Brian Wilson discusses how by studying the work of Phil Spector he learnt to produce new emergent sounds:

achieving one sound out of two, mixing two things to become one. Making a guitar and a piano sound like a third thing. Rather than, ‘Hey! I hear that as a guitar and piano.’ They say, ‘Hey! Dig that sound! (Brian Wilson interview 2, 1997).


Whilst SMiLE’s ‘modular’ methodology was quite an innovation for pop music practice in 1966 (Martin, 2001), it’s nonetheless simply an externalisation of what many artists and thinkers do during the process of cognitive ‘combinatorial play.’ Albert Einstein once described his creative process using exactly this phrase (Hadamard, 1945). That is, the recombining of discreet modules into unique and original larger patterns is analogous to the manner in which creative individuals move around and reshuffle known ‘facts’ and ‘givens,’ or familiar images to produce fresh new ideas and configurations. Lieberman (1977) uses the analogy of a kaleidoscope to clarify how combinatorial play operates, so that a limited number of components are continually twisted, turned and reflected to produce a myriad of new patterns. This process depends on how comfortable the individual is with ‘playing with ideas’ rather than just collecting them, and requires a level of cognitive spontaneity (one of the components of Lieberman’s playfulness [PF]). Getzels and Jackson (1962) specify that, indeed, facts need not be considered immutable, explaining: “today’s fact was yesterday’s fancy and today’s fancy may very well turn out to be tomorrow’s fact” (p.127). Koestler likewise states how creativity and the act of playful combinations relate to each other:

The creative act is not an act of creation in the sense of the Old Testament. It does not create something out of nothing; it uncovers, selects, re-shuffles, combines, synthesizes already existing facts, ideas, faculties, skills. The more familiar the parts the more striking the new whole. (1964: 120)

In 1973 Beach Boy Carl Wilson discussed the combinatorial quality of SMiLE‘s modular process: “We did things in sections. There might just be a few bars of music, or a verse, or a particular groove, or vamp… They would all fit. You could put them one in front of the other, or arrange it in any way you wanted. It was sort of like making films I think” (quoted in Boyd, 2011). Indeed, like cinema, post-“Good Vibrations” recording methods constitute an illusory fabrication. Whereas, multitrack recording allows the process to occur concurrently, tape editing techniques (as used during the original SMiLE sessions) rearrange recorded components in linear succession. Beatles producer George Martin states that, even in the 1970s, producers, engineers and musicians so often came together to “create something which in terms of normal acoustics, is not possible, something which is larger than life” (Martin & Hornsby, 1994: 243). Such productions are assemblages of recorded artefacts, the joining together of many disparate musical utterances.

Thanks to the recent proliferation of Digital Audio Workstations, the general public today can also create music in non-linear fashion. After cutting their teeth on affordable programs such as Apple’s GarageBand, novices can upgrade to more sophisticated platforms like Logic Pro – a program that provides its own sample (loop) library along with an all important (that is, convergent) search function for recalling the most appropriate ones according to various criteria (including: tempo, genre, texture, mood, instrument type, or any other quality the user wishes to define). And if discarding actual recording studio spaces in favour of the ‘virtual studio’ wasn’t liberating enough, hand-held iOS platforms have now made DAW operation possible in relaxed or spontaneous situations, environments, timeframes, and in manners, truly conducive to playful music-making. Therefore, a discussion of SMiLE’s playful non-linear approach; the challenges such an approach engenders; and interrelated theoretical constructs from a variety of disciplines, provides valuable insight for the makers of popular music recordings today – whether professional or amateur – who, as individuals, are increasingly, and often single-handedly, engaging the many divergent component crafts (such as songwriting, performing/programming, arranging, recording, editing and mixing) involved in this “multifaceted creative process” (Zak, 2007, 2010: 321).

About The Author

Marshall Heiser

Qld Conservatorium of Music, Griffith University

Appendix: The Many Manifestations of SMiLE

SMiLE’s many manifestations are listed, and discussed, below in chronological order (N.B.: tracks are only dated when referring to specific commercial releases):

  1. 1966: A solo performance by Brian Wilson of the song “Surf’s Up” (voice and piano) was filmed by producer David Oppenheim on Saturday December 17th, 1966 and broadcast the following April as part of the Inside pop: The rock revolution (1967) television special. This program, hosted by Leonard Bernstein, was originally to include footage recorded two days earlier at a Beach Boys vocal session for the track “Wonderful.” The group session went badly however, and was shelved (Badman, 2004). With the TV cameras rolling, Mike Love “picked a fight” with Wilson regarding the “validity” of performing the ironically titled “Surf’s Up” for the show (Priore, 2005: 99).
  2. 1967: Shortly after SMiLE was scrapped, The Beach Boys hastily recorded the album Smiley Smile (1967) in two weeks mostly at Brian Wilson’s home. This album features several remade SMiLE songs with stripped back arrangements (mostly organ and vocal) and a conspicuous lack of echo/reverb (usually a key sonic signature of Beach Boy records). Only four of the SMiLE backing track modules were used on this album – two for the single “Heroes and Villains” (1967) and two for “Vegetables” (1967) (Boyd, 2011).
  3. 1967: A SMiLE vocal module formerly known as “Do A Lot” or “Sleep A Lot” is remade acapella-style and featured on The Beach Boys album Wild Honey (1967) as “Mama Says” (1967). This piece was considered at various times to be part of both “Heroes and Villains” or “Vega-Tables” (but wasn’t featured in either’s Smiley Smile versions).
  4. 1968: In November 1968, without Wilson’s cooperation, two incomplete SMiLE tracks were prepared for inclusion on the Beach Boys album 20/20 (1969). The song “Cabin-Essence” (1969) was edited together from a variety of SMiLE modules (“Home on the Range,” “Who Ran The Iron Horse” & “The Grand Coulee Dam”) with lead & backing vocals added. The October 4th, 1966 recording of the acapella track “Our Prayer” (1969) is also featured with some additional vocals overdubbed (Badman, 2004).
  5. 1970/71: The Beach Boys were released from their Capitol Records contract in 1969 with Warner Bros. Records signing the band largely with the intention of releasing SMiLE (Priore, 2005). Despite the unfinished album gaining a level of speculative notoriety in the rock press at the time (Priore, 1997), Wilson was uninterested in revisiting the project. When unable to convince him otherwise, the band attempted to revive a few tracks to pacify the label. “Cool Cool Water,” a track loosely based on SMiLE’s “I Love To Say Da Da”/”All Day,” and dating back to October 1967 (with rehashed Mike Love lyrics) was added to the Sunflower album (1970). This was followed by the – somewhat more substantial – remake of “Surf’s Up” (1971). Featuring only limited involvement from Brian Wilson, this new track featured several SMiLE-era modules including: (a) a backing track recorded on November 4th, 1966; (b) part of an outtake of a Brian Wilson solo demo of the song taped on December 15th, 1966 for the Inside Pop CBS television special; and (c) the coda includes a December 2nd, 1966 SMiLE module from the SMiLE piece “Child Is Father To The Man” (Badman, 2004).
  6. 1990: With the re-issue of Smiley Smile on CD (1990), “Heroes and Villains (Alternate Version)” (1990) was included as a bonus track. This piece differed considerably from the Smiley Smile version of the song and contained the “Cantina” and “Whistling” modules (as included on the 2011 SMiLE Sessions: CD 2: Tracks 15 & 16).
  7. 1993: Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and The Beach Boys eventually gave Capitol Records permission to include approximately 40 minutes of previously unreleased SMiLE material as part of the Good Vibrations: Thirty years of The Beach Boys box set (1993). Although this was hereto the most significant commercial release of SMiLE material, there was still much unreleased. The mixes were warm, clear and under-stated – avoiding some of the excess echo of 1960s era bounces – and with little attempt made to create a sense of flow. The modules are mostly presented ‘as is,’ as the booklet liner notes states: “Remember, what you’re listening to are unfinished productions, fragments, demos and tracks…with a programmable CD player you can make your own order” (Leaf, 1993: 42). As well as featuring previously released tracks such as “Our Prayer,” “Cabin-Essence,” “Surf’s Up” and (both versions of) “Heroes and Villains,” many additional SMiLE pieces were also featured, including a December 15th, 1966 Brian Wilson solo recording of “Surf’s Up” from the first aborted Inside Pop TV session (1993); over 15 minutes of compiled “Good Vibrations” session tapes (1993); “Wonderful” (1993), “Heroes and Villains (Sections)” (1993), “Heroes and Villains (Intro)” (1993), “Do You Like Worms” (1993), “Wind Chimes” (1993), “Vega-Tables” (1993) and “I Love to Say Da Da” (1993).
  8. 2004: In late 2003, Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and Darian Sahanaja (Wilson’s musical secretary) set about preparing a three movement ‘symphonic’ version of SMiLE. The work was sequenced with the aid of a non-linear computer editing system (ProTools) and rehearsed with Wilson’s band before being premiered in front of a live audience in London. An album was then recorded for the Nonesuch label titled Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE (2004), with the overall process being documented on film. The TV special/DVD release Beautiful dreamer: Brian Wilson and the story of SMiLE (Leaf, 2004) augmented this footage with interviews with many of Wilson’s 1960s SMiLE collaborators – but, conspicuously, not The Beach Boys. In fact, none of the original Beach Boys tapes were used in making this new production. All necessary modules were re-recorded, once again, as separate fragments to be edited together later. Each movement was loosely unified by a theme: [i] ‘Americana,’ [ii] ‘Ages of Man,’ and [iii] ‘The Elements.’ In addition to what had already been released were: “Barnyard” (2004), “Old Master Painter” (Gillespie/Smith)/”You Are My Sunshine” (Davis/Mitchell) (2004), “Song For Children” (originally titled “I Ran,” or alternatively, “Look”) (2004), “Child Is Father To The Man” (2004), “I’m In Great Shape” (2004), “I Wanna Be Around” (Mercer, Vimmerstedt) (2004), “Workshop” (2004), “On A Holiday” (2004), “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow” (originally titled “Fire”) (2004); “In Blue Hawaii” (based on “I Love To Say Da Da” & featuring new Van Dyke Parks lyrics) (2004), and “Good Vibrations” (using the original lyrics by Tony Asher) (2004). A strong sense of unity and flow exist in this forty-eight minute work, with each module progressing with a true sense of compositional purpose. In particular, the second movement has a high degree of ‘fit,’ due to the presence of a unifying, rhythmic keyboard pattern throughout much of the section.
  9. 2011: In a recent interview (Myers, 2011) Brian Wilson claimed that due to the positive public reaction to his 2004 remake, he felt comfortable in approving the release of a sizable portion of the original SMiLE session tapes. On November 1, 2011, The Smile Sessions box set was released by Capitol Records to ‘celebrate’ the fiftieth anniversary of The Beach Boys’ formation. This collection consists of two major components: the first [CD 1] is a fairly close reconstruction of Wilson’s three movement 2004 sequencing, but this time using the original recordings as its source. More significantly however, is the inclusion of many hours of session ‘highlights’ across four additional CDs in the set (representing about ten percent of the total session material recorded). The modules featured on the 2011 CD 1 are often different to those used in the 1993 edits, with some songs using either alternate, or additional, fragments. For example, the new edit of “Wind Chimes” (2011) uses the “Wind Chimes Version 1” ‘tag’ module (2011: CD 4: Track 4) recorded on August 3rd, 1966; whilst the 1993 edit uses a module recorded later on October 5th, 1966 – referred to here as “Wind Chimes (Version 2 Tag)” (2011: CD 4: Track 6). Whereas, the 1993 presentation featured relatively minimal editing/mixing/polishing, the 2011 CD 1 is clearly an attempt to present the fragments in a manner that more closely resembles a ‘finished’ product. Echo and reverb feature more prominently, and many vocals have been ‘flown in’ as overdubs from a variety of variety of post-SMiLE remakes. The SMiLE Sessions CDs are accompanied with meticulously researched studio, time/date and personnel details.
  10. Bootlegs [1980s – present]: This is where SMiLE takes on a life of it’s own. For many years after the project was scrapped in 1967, Brian Wilson was reluctant to deal with the SMiLE legacy. Nonetheless, by the early 1980s a core group of enthusiasts in both the US and UK were instrumental in reviving interest in the project through fanzines and conventions. Some of these individuals have since gone on to either document the SMiLE story in the mainstream media or even assist Wilson to create his remake in 2004. These include memorabilia collector (now ‘archivist’) Peter Reum; the writers, David Leaf and Domenic Priore; musicians, Darian Sahanaja and Probyn Gregory (later to become members of Brian Wilson’s backing band); and in England, members of the ‘Beach Boys Stomp’ fan club including writer Kingsley Abbott (Priore, 2005). Priore (ibid.) implies that Curt Boetcher, a record producer working with The Beach Boys in the late 1970s, had access to the band’s tape vaults and was an indirect source of leaked tapes via his connection with a rock journalist. More significantly, in 1987, Andy Paley – a collaborator on Brian Wilson’s first solo album – “provided an opportunity to hear hours of unreleased tapes from the Smile sessions at his home” (p.153). Elsewhere, Priore admits to his part in distributing the material, dubbing “tape after tape” for “inquiring musicians” which included amongst other prominent devotees, the band XTC (Jarnow, 2011: 3). Regardless of the bootlegs’ sources, a phenomenon began to build with fans constructing their own sequences of the modules and speculating on what might have been if the album had only been finished in 1967. In this way, SMiLE became “all things to all fans” (ibid.). Van Dyke Parks states in a filmed conversation with Brian Wilson (Leaf, 2004) that together with SMiLE, they inadvertently created the world’s first ‘interactive’ album. Interestingly, even only three weeks after the release of the 2011 box set, fans had started uploading their own edits of the new High Definition Compatible Digital modules to


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The Beach Boys, ‘Wonderful’, Good Vibrations: Thirty years of The Beach Boys. [CD] Capitol Records, 1993.

The Beach Boys, The Beach Boys: The SMiLE sessions. [CD, vinyl singles & albums] Capitol Records, 2011.

The Beach Boys, ‘Wind Chimes’, The Beach Boys: The SMiLE sessions. [CD, vinyl singles & albums] Capitol Records, 2011.

The Beach Boys, ‘Wind Chimes Version 1’, The Beach Boys: The SMiLE sessions. [CD, vinyl singles & albums] Capitol Records, 2011.

The Beach Boys, ‘Wind Chimes (Version 2 Tag)’, The Beach Boys: The SMiLE sessions. [CD, vinyl singles & albums] Capitol Records, 2011.

The Beatles, ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’. [Vinyl 7″ single] Parlophone Records, 1963.

The Beatles, Revolver. [Vinyl album] Parlophone Records, 1966.

The Beatles, ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, Revolver. [Vinyl album] Parlophone Records, 1966.

The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. [Vinyl album] Parlophone Records, 1967.

Wilson, B., ‘Barnyard’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘Child Is Father To The Man’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘Good Vibrations’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘I Wanna Be Around’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘I’m In Great Shape’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘In Blue Hawaii’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘Old Master Painter/You Are My Sunshine’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘On A Holiday’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘Song For Children’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘Surf’s Up’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.

Wilson, B., ‘Workshop’, Brian Wilson presents SMiLE. [CD] Nonesuch Records, 2004.