Sean Williams is a practice-led researcher in the field of electronic music and performance. He has published research on a range of electronic music practices across genres, specializing in the Cologne studio and the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as Jamaican dub producer King Tubby. He designs and builds instruments, incorporating them alongside early electronic devices in historically informed performance practice. He has performed electronic pieces by Hugh Davies, Karlheinz Stockhausen, David Johnson and others, as well as having performed his own music internationally both as a DJ and live performer.
After several years as an independent engineer and recording artist, Sean took an MSc in Sound Design at the University of Edinburgh and continued on a PhD in Creative Music Practice with Simon Frith and Martin Parker, focusing on the relationship between performance practice, instrument design, and composition in electronic music. He was awarded DAAD funding for several months research in Germany, which was followed by a 3 year Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh. He currently divides his time between lecturing at the University of Kent and the Open University.
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.
Sean is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and has taught Undergraduate and Masters students since 2007. Based at the University of Edinburgh until August 2016, he now lectures at the University of Kent, and joined the Open University as Lecturer in Music in 2017.
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 several new Music Technology modules at the University of Kent inclduing Audio Electronics, Sound Synthesis, Advanced Audio Production, Audio and Recording Techniques, and others.
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.
Recently completed PhD theses:
Sergio Pisfil Zavaleta
“A revisionist history of rock 1967-1973: Music Aesthetics from a Live Sound Perspective”
Cormac Ó Callanáin
“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.
Sean was a consultant on the BBC World Service series 'A History of Music and Technology' broadcast from April-June 2019.
He has given seminars at the HFG in Karlsruhe, Sonic Arts Research Centre Belfast, Oxford University, University of East Anglia, Liverpool Hope University, York University, and regular seminars at the Stockhausen Summer Courses in Kürten (2013, 2015, 2017).
Sean teaches seminars at the Stockhausen Summer Courses in Kürten, Germany.