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Dr Sean Williams

Profile summary

Professional biography

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. Alongside Anna Brathewaite he runs the Free Range Orchestra, an improvising orchestra based in Canterbury with members drawn from all across East Kent.

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.

Research interests

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.

Teaching interests

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, the University of Kent from 2016 to 2020, and joined the Open University as Lecturer in Music in 2017 switching to full-time in 2020.

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.

Current PhD students:

Daniel Brew "Expanding Idiomatic Electric Guitar in Contemporary Music"

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.

Impact and engagement

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 has taught seminars at the Stockhausen Summer Courses in Kürten, Germany, and given seminars on electronc music, and 20th Century American literature at the University of Cologne.


Instrumental, Hermeneutic, and Ontological Indeterminacy in Hugh Davies’s Live Electronic Music (2022-07-04)
Mooney, James; Green, Owen and Williams, Sean
Contemporary Music Review, 41(2-3) (pp. 193-215)

Interpretation and Performance Practice in Realizing Stockhausen's Studie II (2016-11)
Williams, Sean
Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 141(2) (pp. 445-481)

Negotiating sonic space for group electronics (2018-10-01)
Williams, Sean and Green, Owen
In: Doğantan-Dack, Mine and Dack, John eds. Music and Sonic Art: Theories and Practices (pp. 200-217)
ISBN : 978-1-5275-1353-2 | Publisher : Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Stockhausen meets King Tubby's: the stepped filter and its influence as a musical instrument on two different styles of music (2013-01)
Williams, Sean
In: Weium, Frode and Boon, Tim eds. Material Culture and Electronic Sound. Artefacts: Studies in the History of Science and Technology (pp. 163-188)
ISBN : 978-1935623106 | Publisher : Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press

Tubby's Dub Style: The Live Art of Record Production (2012)
Williams, Sean
In: Frith, Simon and Zagorski-Thomas, Simon eds. The Art of Record Production: An Introductory Reader for a New Academic Field. Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series (pp. 235-246)
ISBN : 978-1-4094-0678-5 | Publisher : Ashgate Publishing

The EMS Synthi 100: Rare, expensive and not actually very good (2019)
Williams, Sean
In : Sustainable Sounds: Interrogating the Materials of Music Making Technologies (11 May 2019, University of Edinburgh)

New composition strategies and the EMS Synthi 100 (2019)
Williams, Sean
In : Music and Sonic Art conference 2019 (31 Jun - 2 Jul 2019, Karlsruhe, Germany)

Architecture for musical performance: backstage at the West German spherical pavilion at Expo 70, Osaka (2018)
Williams, Sean
In : Performance Studies Network 2018 (5-8 Jul 2018, Norwegian Academy of Music, Oslo)

Performing Hugh Davies’s Live Electronic Music (2017)
Mooney, James; Green, Owen and Williams, Sean
In : Performing Indeterminacy (30 Jun - 2 Jul 2017, University of Leeds)

Reinterpreting Koenig’s Funktion pieces: historic reconstruction and recontextualisation (2017)
Williams, Sean
In : Tracking the Creative Process in Music (14-16 Sep 2017, University of Huddersfield)

Organic to electronic and vice versa: acoustic and electronic noise through Stockhausen’s compositional practice (2017)
Williams, Sean
In : Music and Sonic Arts conference 2017 (7-9 Jul 2017, Karlsruhe, Germany)

Negotiating sonic space for group electronics (2016)
Williams, Sean and Green, Owen
In : Fifth International Symposium on Music/Sonic Art: Practices and Theories (26-29 Jul 2014, Karlsruhe, Germany)

The Hohner Electronium: a 1950s portable monophonic valve synthesizer (2016)
Williams, Sean
In : Alternative Histories of Electronic Music (14-15 Apr 2016, Scinece Museum, London)

Stockhausen Concerts Database report (2016)
Williams, Sean
In : Performance Studies Network conference 2016 (14-17 Jul 2016, Bath Spa University)

Performing Notations: Relational Approaches to Musical Materials (2016)
Payne, Emily; Schuling, Floris; Stroud, Rachel and Williams, Sean
In : Royal Musical Association Conference 2016 (3-5 Sep 2016, The Guildhall, London)

The mythical Modul 69A Klangwandler and the viability of composer designed instruments (2016)
Williams, Sean
In : Music and Sonic Art conference 2016 (1-3 Jul 2016, Karlsruhe, Germany)

Osaka Expo '70: The promise and reality of a spherical sound stage (2015-11-27)
Williams, Sean
In : Insonic (26-28 Nov 2015, Karlsruhe, Germany)

Technical influence and physical constraint in the realisation of Gesang der Jünglinge (2015-10)
Williams, Sean
In : Tracking the Creative Process in Music (8-10 Oct 2015, Paris, France)

Pinging Filters: From serialism through the 808 to DIY (2014-10)
Williams, Sean
In : Studying Music: An International Conference in Honour of Simon Frith (10-12 Apr 2014, Edinburgh, United Kingdom)

Strict serialism or structured improvisation?: The performance practice inherent in the technical realisation of early electronic music in the WDR Studio, Cologne (2014)
Williams, Sean
In : Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice 3 (17-20 Jul 2014, Cambridge, United Kingdom)

Negotiating Sonic Space for Group Electronics (2014)
Williams, Sean and Green, Owen
In : Fifth International Symposium on Music/Sonic Art: Practices and Theories (14 Jun 2014, Karlsruhe, Germany)

Distributed creativity in Karlheinz Stockhausen's Aus den Sieben Tagen (2014)
Williams, Sean
In : (Dis-)Owning the Sound: A Workshop on the Historical Development of Music Property & Authorship (16 Jun 2014, Edinburgh, United Kingdom)

From centimetres to seconds: sound design’s shift from technical serialism to musically informed performance practice in the 1950s WDR Studio, Cologne (2013-11-27)
Williams, Sean
In : What is Sound Design? (27-29 Nov 2013, Edinburgh, United Kingdom)

Performing shapes (2013-11-22)
Williams, Sean
In : Researching music as process: methods and approaches (22 Nov 2013, Oxford, United Kingdom)

Stockhausen Concerts Database (2015-11)
Williams, Sean
Edinburgh College of Art

Requiem for Edward Snowden (2015-10-23)
Collings, Matthew; Rawlinson, Jules and Williams, Sean
Sound Scotland

Celebrating the work of Hugh Davies 3 (2015-10-17)
Williams, Sean; Mooney, James and Green, Owen
University of Leeds

Concert with Aleks Kolkowski and Grey Area (2015-10)
Green, Owen; Williams, Sean and Murray-Rust, Dave
Edinburgh College of Art

Requiem for Edward Snowden (2015)
Collings, Matthew; Rawlinson, Jules and Williams, Sean
Edinburgh College of Art

Grey Area Performs: Hugh Davies, Stockhausen, Christian Wolff, Owen Green (2015)
Williams, Sean; Moonie, James; Green, Owen; Green, Owen; Lloyd, Emma; Sturm, Armin and Murray-Rust, Dave
University of Leeds

Orchid House - world of sounds: Sound from around the world, between 3 am and 6 am (2015)
Williams, Sean
Edinburgh College of Art

"Hymnen - electronic music" sound projection (2015)
Williams, Sean and Stockhausen, Karlheinz
Edinburgh College of Art

"Kontakte - electronic music" sound projection (2015)
Williams, Sean and Stockhausen, Karlheinz
Edinburgh College of Art

"Set Sail for the Sun", from "Aus den Sieben Tagen" by Karlheinz Stockhausen (2014-06-16)
Williams, Sean
Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities

The Exponential Horn: In Search of Perfect Sound: "Spiral for soloist", Karlheinz Stockhausen (2014)
Williams, Sean and Kolkowski, Aleks
Science Museum, London

Gemini 8 (2014)
Williams, Sean
Artifact Music Limited

Separation/Integration (2014)
Williams, Sean
The University of Edinburgh

Light Entropy (2014)
Williams, Sean and Strang, David
Contemporary Music Festival, Plymouth

Making and Writing about Music: Spotlight on Practice-led Research (2013-12-01)
Williams, Sean
The Royal Musical Association, London.

Kontakte with piano and percussion (2013-11-27)
Williams, Sean; Currie, Colin; Hodges, Nicolas and Stockhausen, Karlheinz
Glasgow Life

Ligeti and Stockhausen: A concert of piano and electronics works from the 195 (2013-11)
Williams, Sean; Stockhausen, Karlheinz; Smith, Simon and Ligeti, György
Edinburgh College of Art

Noise and Fidelity (2013)
Williams, Sean

Elektronische Studie II (2013)
Stockhausen, Karlheinz
Universal Editions

Lachenmann's "Toccatina'' performed by Emma Lloyd: Sound Projection (2012-12-18)
Williams, Sean
Edinburgh College of Art