School of Music and Fine Art

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Dr Sean Williams

Lecturer in Audio Electronics



Sean Williams is a researcher and lecturer in electronic music and music technologies with a strong background in music practice. He has released a number of records on various labels in the UK, Europe and the USA, and performs solo and with groups including Grey Area, and the Monosynth Orchestra.

His PhD thesis dealt with the relationship between composition, performance practice, and instrument design in electronic music, and featured case studies focusing on Karlheinz Stockhausen and King Tubby. This was gained at the University of Edinburgh under the supervision of Martin Parker and Simon Frith.

He has given seminars at Oxford University, the HFG in Karlsruhe, Sonic Arts Research Centre Belfast, UEA, Liverpool Hope University, and regular seminars at the Stockhausen Summer Courses in Kürten (2013, 2015, 2017).

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A. Publications with peer review process:

  • Williams, S (2016) Interpretation and performance practice in realizing Stockhausen’s “Studie II”. Journal of the Royal Musical Association Vol 141 Issue 2. (publication date Autumn 2016).
  • Williams, S (2016) The practice of electronic music: Interviews with Gottfried Michael Koenig. Contemporary Music Review – Special edition. Accepted (2016) subject to revision.
  • Green, Owen and Sean Williams (2016) Negotiating Sonic Space for Group Electronics. Music and Sonic Art. (ed. Mine Dogantan Dack)Cambridge Scholars Press, Cambridge. (scheduled for 2016).
  • Williams, S (2016) Osaka Expo ’70: the promise and reality of a spherical sound stage. Insonic, HFG Karlsruhe. (due for publication 2016).
  • Williams, S (2015) Funktion Black (Karlsruhe, June) – improvisation for solo electronics after G.M. Koenig.
  • Williams, S (2013) Stockhausen meets King Tubby’s: the transformation of the stepped filter into a musical instrument. Frode Weium and Tim Boon (eds.) Artefacts: Studies in the History of Science and Technology. Vol. 8. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. Washington, D.C. Published in cooperation with Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 163-188
  • Williams, S (2012) Tubby’s Dub Style: the live art of record production. Simon Frith and Simon Zagorski-Thomas (eds.) The Art of Record Production: An Introductory Reader for a New Academic Field. (2012) Ashgate, London  235-246. (Ashgate popular and folk music series)
  • Williams, S (2011) Ghost Door: Way of the Cylinder – interactive sound art piece for Sounding Doors installation, ZKM, Karlsruhe.
  • Williams, S (2010) (Sound of Music)’ – sound installation, Dundee, May 2010 and Dialogues Festival, Edinburgh, Feb 2010.

B. Publications without peer review

  • Williams, S (2015) Stockhausen Concerts Database 1952-1972 (public beta, due for publication with Stockhausen Verlag website 2016).
  • Williams, S (2015) Funktion CMYK – fixed media composition for 4 channels. Edinburgh.
  • Williams, S (2015) Funktion Cyan (Science Museum, London), Funktion Magenta (Edinburgh), Funktion Yellow-b (Stuttgart) - improvisation for solo electronics after Koenig.
  • Collings, M and  Sean Williams (2015) Tron – live performance for enhanced film screening, New Media Scotland, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh..
  • Williams, S (2015) Sounds of the World – 8 channel sound installation at Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh.
  • Williams, S (2014) Gemini 8 – composition for small ensemble, performed in Edinburgh.
  • Boteas, O, Matt Collings, and  Sean Williams (2013) Dune – live performance for enhanced film screening, New Media Scotland, Inspace, Edinburgh.

C. As a performer-interpreter or sound projectionist:

  • Mobile With Differences (Hugh Davies 1973-82), Galactic Interfaces (Davies 1967-8), Not to be Loaded with Fish (Davies 1968-9), The Birth of Live Electronic Music (Davies 1971) Leeds, October 2015, Edinburgh March 2016
  • Stimmung (Stockhausen 1969), I am Sitting in a Room (Lucier 1969), Studie II (Stockhausen 1954) Stuttgart, June 2015
  • Quintet (Hugh Davies 1967), Edges (Christian Wolff 1968), Verbindung and Intensität (Stockhausen 1968), Leeds May 2015, Edinburgh March 2016
  • Hymnen: electronic music for 4-channel tape, (Stockhausen 1967), Edinburgh, Feb 2015 (Scottish premiere)
  • Kontakte: electronic music for 4-channel tape, (Stockhausen 1958), Edinburgh, Feb 2015
  • Requiem for Edward Snowdon, (Collings 2014), Edinburgh, Nov 2014, Glasgow March 2015
  • Set Sail for the Sun (“Aus den Sieben Tagen”), (Stockhausen 1968), Edinburgh, June 2014
  • Spiral für Solisten, (Stockhausen, 1969). Science Museum, May 2014 (using historic electronic instruments played through early 20th Century equipment from the collection), Edinburgh, 2012 and 2013 (using self-built quadraphonic mixer and synthesizer modules).
  • Separation – Integration. Concert of works centred on David C Johnson, including Yoko Ono’s Tape Piece III (Snow Piece) realised by Williams, April 2014.
  • Kontakte with piano and percussion (Stockhausen, 1958), with Nicolas Hodges (piano) and Colin Currie (percussion), Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow (5-star review, Scotsman), November 2013.
  • Studie II (Stockhausen, 1954 – new realisation: Williams, 2013). Works for piano and 4-channel tape by Stockhausen and Ligeti, with Simon Smith (piano), Edinburgh, November 2013.
  • Songs for an Airless Room (Parker 2009), Opera for 5.1 surround sound, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Liverpool February 2010
  • Fontana Mix (Cage 1958), new realization for two fridges (Williams 2007), Edinburgh, August 2007.
  • Live electronic performance of own works, and Djing in Europe, Japan, USA, Canada, Mexico, India, 1997-2002 and occasionally thereafter.

D. Conference Papers

  • Creative agency in non-standard notation and the collapse of the Stockhausen Ensemble. RMA, London September 2016.
  • Stockhausen Concerts Database – research report. Performance Studies Network, Bath, July 2016.
  • The mythical Modul 69A Klangwandler and the viability of composer designed instruments. MUSA. Karlsruhe, June 2016.
  • The Hohner Electronium: a 1950s portable  monophonic valve synthesizer. Alternative Histories of Electronic Music, Science Museum, April 2016
  • Osaka Expo ’70: the promise and reality of a spherical sound stage. (invited paper) Insonic, HFG Karlsruhe, November 2015.
  • Technical influence and physical constraint in the realisation of “Gesang der Jünglinge”. Tracking the Creative Process in Music, IRCAM, Paris, October 2015.
  • Faders and Meters: primary electronic musical instruments. International Symposium on Music/Sonic Art (MUSA), Karlsruhe, June 2015.
  • Strict serialism or structured improvisation? The performance practice inherent in the technical realisation of early electronic music in the WDR Studio, Cologne. Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice (CPMCP 3), Cambridge, July 2014.
  • Negotiating Space for Group Electronics. (co-authored with Owen Green). MUSA. Karlsruhe, June 2014.
  • Distributed Creativity in Stockhausen’s “Aus den Sieben Tagen”. Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, June 2014.
  • Pinging Filters: From serialism through the 808 to DIY. Simon Frith conference. University of Edinburgh, April 2014.
  • From centimetres to seconds: sound design’s shift from technical serialism to musically informed performance practice in the 1950s WDR Studio, Cologne. What is Sound Design? University of Edinburgh, November 2013.
  • Performing shapes: studio performance practice in Realizing Stockhausen’s “Studie II”. RMA, Researching music as process: methods and approaches Study Day, Oxford University, Nov. 2013.
  • LLEAPP: Laboratory for Laptop and Electronic Audio Performance Practice (Research report). Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice Conference, Cambridge University, June 2013.
  • Noisy Treasures: how incidental noise can bridge the gap between recording and listener. Supersonix Conference, Science Museum, London, July 2012.
  • Tubby’s Dub Style: the live art of record production, Art of Record Production Conference, Leeds 2010.
  • Noise and Fidelity – Poles Apart? (Poster) International Conference for Music Perception and Cognition, University of Washington, Seattle, August 2010.
Stockhausen meets King Tubby: the stepped filter and its influence as a musical instrument on two different styles of music, British Society for the History of Science, Aberdeen 2010. back to top

Sean is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and has taught Undergraduate and Masters students since 2007. Based at the University of Edinburgh until August 2016, where he still supervises two PhD students, he now lectures at the University of Kent, and from January 2017 will also lecture at the Open University.

He redesigned the Sound Recording course at the University of Edinburgh expanding the intake of students considerably, and achieving a near 50:50 male/female ratio of students.  He has designed and is running the Audio Electronics course at the University of Kent as well as lecturing on Audio Technologies 2, and other courses.

He has taught on courses including Sound Recording, Sound Design Media, Sound and Fixed Media, Community Arts Practice, Music and Technologies, Digital Media Studio Project, Interactive Sound Environments, and Composition.

Current PhD supervision topics are:
“A revisionist history of rock 1967-1973:
Music Aesthetics from a Live Sound Perspective”

“A study of key periods of technical research and development at Rundfunk DDR between 1952 and 1991”

He is happy to take on more PhD students

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Sean’s research interests are in electronic music performance practice from the 1950s to the present day, both in the studio and on stage, and across musical domains. He has published articles on King Tubby’s dub style, and Stockhausen’s studio performance practice as well as papers on particular electronic instruments.

His background in electronic music production and performance performing his own music and pieces by others feeds directly into his research which is led by his practice. In addition to DJing and performing dance music in the UK, USA, Japan, etc. he has more recently performed a number of pieces by Karlheinz Stockhausen, including Kontakte with Nic Hodges and Colin Currie, and sound projection of the Scottish premiere of Hymnen. With his group Grey Area, has performed pieces by Hugh Davies, Christian Wolff, Yoko Ono, Stockhausen, and members of the ensemble, as well as performing with improvisers including Phil Minton, Steve Beresford, and Aleks Kolkowski.

He also designs and builds electronic instruments as part of his research practice, often for historic performance practice of 1960s or 70s compositions. These include a quadraphonic panning mixer for Stockhausen’s Spiral and other 4 channel pieces, a rotary telephone dial mixer for Hugh Davies’ Not to be Loaded with Fish, a eurorack varispeed tape machine controller for live dub performance of his own piece Eectronic Skank, and two hybrid analogue/digital mixing devices for sound projection.

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Last Updated: 19/09/2017