John Stead

My compositions use a wide palette of sounds involving the investigation of natural sounds through the use of computer technology, synthetic sounds and environmental sounds as well as conventional instrumentation.

The overwhelming influence in my life as an artist is that of Olivier Messiaen - as a composer, a lover of nature and as a remarkable human being, although others including, Michael Tippett, Pierre Henry, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Pierre Boulez, Jonathan Harvey, Toru Takemitsu and Jean Guillou continue to influence my development as a composer.




My main areas of work are composition, often using graphic scores, the exploration of sound and the development of son et lumiere installations. Research into and the use of musique concrete techniques gives me a rich and wonderful palette of colours and textures to draw upon and together with my love of natural sound are important elements in my work.

The purely musical work includes acousmatic music for spatialisation over arrays of loudspeakers such as 'Rock Mass' (1998), 'Music for Bells and Spaces' (2003), 'Natural Histories Book 1' (2005/6), "... another mighty angel..." (2006) and 'Lamina Lux Suite' (2010) - all utilising quadrophonic or octaphonic diffusion.

Electro-acoustic works include a group of pieces called PLAY which explore improvisation and graphic notation - 'Play 2' (1985, revised 2003), 'Play 2.5' (2009) both for harpsichord, synthesiser and live electronics, and 'Play 4.1.1' (2013) for solo 'cello and live electronics.

P5 for piano and computer (2014) is a more interactive performance with electronics utilising a tablet device with Lemur and GRM tools from INA.

The most recent work is DUET 1 for 'cello and computer (2017) and is the first of two works to the explore the acoustic properties of the 'cello - in this piece the explorations involve live gestural responses from the computer and a graphic score.

The scores for 'Play 2' and 'Play 2.5' have recently been exhibited at the Guadeamus Muziekweek in Utrecht (Sept. 2012) and Notations 21 Architecture in Sound in Clermont-Ferrand (Nov. 2012) as part of Theresa Sauers' Notation 21 project. 'Play 2' is published in her book 'Notations 21' (ISBN: 0979554640) celebrating the famous Notations book by John Cage.

Other projects have included film music for "The Sweeper", a poem by Jacques Prevert for the film maker Anne Parouty, a sound environment for the film "Rangoli Afloat" (2004/5) for British Waterways and sound design for the website which won the 2004 BAFTA Digital Arts Award.

Son et lumiere:


During the development and composition of the music for the Tidal Barrier Event in 1984, I became interested in the use of lighting and installation with music, and spent some time researching the art form of son et lumiere. Performing with the sound artist Max Eastley, utilizing 'sound to light' lasers, led me to larger events. Works involving the use of lasers, pyrotechnics ( such as 'Celebrations' for Hull in 1989 - 91), film and still images projected on enormous screens, were used to celebrate the opening of buildings, civic events and civil engineering projects throughout the country, with audiences of up to 12,000 at a single performance.

Since 1994, the son et lumieres have incorporated unique hybridised 3D fractal geometries, complex projection screen installations (developed for the installation 'The Persistence of Memory', commissioned for the re-opening of the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, U.K.) and the spatialisation of music over multiple loudspeaker systems. 'Fractals' (1994) was made possible with a Gustav Holst Foundation Award, whilst 'Chaos of Rainbows' (1997) was made possible with a National Lottery award through the Arts Council of England and Hull City Council.

Recent son et lumieres have been installed in sacred spaces, exploring the relationship between nature and spirituality - 'Patterns and Emanations' performed at Day of Light at Lastingham in 2004 is an example.


Works in progress:


Open Bridges (2017) - a commission to celebrate freedom as part of the Hull 2017 City of Culture events.This is an acousmatic work for 8 channels.U.K. Premiere: 22nd September 2017venue: The Stage @ The Dock, Hull. U.K.

Play 2.5.1 for harpsichord, keyboard and computer - updating Play 2.5, adding specific transformations via GRM Tools and replacing the synthesiser with a sampling keyboard.(for performance in 2018)

DUET 2 for cello and computer - the second of a set of three pieces exploring the acoustic properties of the 'cello via live interactive computer transformations.(for performance in 2018)

A son et lumiere installation (due 2019)


click here for selected work list


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