Dr John Richards

Job: Reader in Music

Faculty: Computing, Engineering and Media

School/department: Leicester Media School

Research group(s): Music, Technology and Innovation Research Centre (MTIRC)

Address: De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, UK, LE1 9BH

T: +44 (0)116 207 8269

E: jrich@dmu.ac.uk


Personal profile

John Richards explores performing with self-made instruments and the creation of interactive environments. He has worked with many leading improvisers and musicians in the field of live electronics. In 2002, his work with kREEPA helped initiate the OIK project at STEIM, Amsterdam, that involved the hacking of commercially available hardware to create economic musical interfaces. He has released numerous pieces in various guises on Gabriel Prokofiev’s nonclassical label including a work for piano and electronics performed by GéNIA with re-mixes by Vex’d and Max De Wardener amongst others. He has also worked with Tim Wright developing systems for live performance and music for Japanese choreographer Saburo Teshigawara.

Since 2003, John Richards has been exploring the idea of Dirty Electronics that focuses on face-to-face shared experiences, ritual, gesture, touch and social interaction, as well as directing the Dirty Electronics Ensemble. The group have performed specially commissioned pieces by Merzbow, Pauline Oliveros, Howard Skempton (founder member of the Scratch Orchestra), Gabriel Prokofiev and Nicholas Bullen (ex-Napalm Death and Scorn). Other notable collaborations include working with Rolf Gehlhaar (original Stockhausen group), Chris Carter from Throbbing Gristle, Keith Rowe and STEIM (Amsterdam). As Dirty Electronics he has explored the intersection between artwork and printed circuit board and has created various artworks/circuit boards. In 2011, Dirty Electronics collaborated with graphic designer Adrian Shaughnessy to create a specially commissioned hand-held synth for Mute Records. Workshops and performances with Dirty Electronics have taken place internationally including: the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre (London), Bent Festival (Los Angeles), Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) (Germany), Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) (London), Supersonic Festival (Birmingham), FutureEverything (Manchester), Tokyo University of the Arts (Japan), University of the Arts (Berlin), and IRCAM (Paris). 

John Richards has written numerous articles on hybridity, post-digital theory and dirty electronics. He completed a doctorate in electroacoustic composition at the University of York in 2002. He has also taught improvisation at Dartington International Summer School, and has been a visiting lecturer at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam (CvA) and in the School of Architecture, Design and Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University.

Publications and outputs

  • Dirty Electronics Mute Synth 4.0 Synth
    Dirty Electronics Mute Synth 4.0 Synth Richards, John The Dirty Electronics MUTE 4.0 SYNTH is a synth with inputs, a digital wavetable synthesiser, an analogue noise circuit, and programmable sequencer. These features can all be combined in an environment to experiment with sound. Being hand-held, battery-powered and with headphone and line out, the synth is ideal for music making on the move as well as in the studio. At a turn of a knob and press of a button, sequences, control voltages, and cut-up loops can be programmed; or listen to the Voltage Collection by Dirty Electronics. The MUTE 4.0 SYNTH is on-going research by Dirty Electronics into making music with wires and code, objects and materials; and an artwork printed circuit board collaboration with Adrian Shaughnessy and Regular Practice. Printed circuit board meets album cover. Expand the Synth with a limited edition chip by Dirty Electronics and Max Wainwright with mangled waveforms and accompanying fold-out booklet on microcomputer music. Adrian Shaughnessy, Regular Practice, Max Wainwright Richards, J. (2018). Dirty Electronics Mute Synth 4.0 Synth. Mute Records [hand-held synthesiser, composition and booklet].
  • Speculative Sound Circuits
    Speculative Sound Circuits Richards, John Alternative approaches to electronic music through speculative sound circuits are discussed. These approaches borrow from emerging theories in speculative design and the work of designer/theorist Anthony Dunne. Dunne’s post-optimal technological object is also discussed along with slow tech and the slow movement. George Brecht’s Water Yam and the absurdist creative strategies of the Fluxus movement are seen as prototypes for speculative design. With particular reference to electronic music and speculative sound circuits, the instruments of Percy Grainger and Gijs Gieskes are considered. Speculative sound circuits are viewed as part of a broader theoretical framework in relation to critical making, as referred to by Garnet Hertz, John Cage’s ‘music of objects’ and David Tudor’s ‘composing inside electronics’. Finally, a specific example of the author’s work as Dirty Electronics, Making for Radio and Speculative Circuit, are offered up to illustrate speculative sound circuits along with spontaneous and intuitive approaches to circuit building, rapid prototyping strategies, and making as a processual part of performance. Indeterminate and chance-based music, models for extended instrumental techniques, and questions arising concerning physiologies in performance and human-machine interaction are also reflected upon. HAMU, Prague and Český Rozhlas Richards, J. (2018) Speculative Sound Circuits. EVA Copenhagen 2018 - Politics of the Machines - Art and After, EVAC18.33
  • Sacrificial Floors Tour
    Sacrificial Floors Tour Richards, John A floor strewn with beer cans, bits of scrap metal, ceramic bowls, curious, miscellaneous electronics and wires: a collection of sundry things to make sound. Tetsuya Umeda, Dirty Electronics and Tim Shaw create a series of performance-installations that embrace ‘working in public’. Objects and things are explored in situ, in time, in memory. There is a prioritisation of sound. It is only through the dismantling and analyzing of things that we may understand their structure … making and unmaking become a processual part of performance. This unique collaboration focuses on performing in ‘each other spaces’; and how prototypic, extended electronic circuits and technological processes may intersect with materials and physical objects within a space. Dates: Newcastle, Weds 26 Sept, Northern Charter / Birmingham, Fri 28 Sept, Centrala / London, Sat 29 Sept, IKLECTIK / Bristol, Sun 30 Sept, Arnolfini Tetsuya Umeda, Tim Shaw Richards, J., Shaw, T. and Umeda, T. (2018) Sacrificial Floors Tour [music performance/composition, sound objects].
  • 57mm Wavetable Protest Synth
    57mm Wavetable Protest Synth Richards, John; Wainwright, Max Calling all activists, sound artists, and pseudo philosophers. Dirty Electronics and Max Wainwright will set up an in house press with live publishing straight to 57mm width paper roll. Contribute to the ‘scroll’ through the writing of individual political texts, protests and manifesto. The texts will be indelibly written to EEPROM of a chip on an artwork printed circuit board and manifest as noise. The noise blast/text can be hacked and customised. Performance and publication will co-exist. The event will conclude with a ritualistic ‘blessing of the text’ by throwing hard grains of rice at the scroll as the text prints. The grains will create an almost-silent protest, disrupting and jamming the printer and by making small percussive sounds as they strike paper. The silent protest will be disrupted by violent noise interjections and DIY shouting horns. Richards, J. and Wainwright, M. (2018) 57mm Wavetable Protest Synth. [music performance/composition, sound object].
  • Dirty Electronics Soho Radio Residency
    Dirty Electronics Soho Radio Residency Richards, John Dirty Electronics Soho Radio Residency 19 – 23 March celebrating Music for DIY Electronics. With special guests, workshops, micro forum & performances, broadcast, and exhibition featuring artwork PCBs and graphic scores: Adrian Shaughnessy (Mute Synth), DIYer Victor Mazon and James Joslin (Edition Peters). Prints by Natalie Kay-Thatcher; Isambard Khroustaliov (Sam Britton) code as score and instrument; Duncan Chapman’s collection of rare scores from Universal Edition; scores from Tudor, Cage, Oliveros, and Skempton; and more. Richards, J. (2018) Dirty Electronics Soho Radio Residency [music performance/live broadcast/composition/exhibition]. March 2018..
  • Making for Radio
    Making for Radio Richards, John A small ensemble is formed to realise the work (DMU/HAMU) The making of the device/devices becomes part of the work and is documented for radio Making becomes a processual part of performance or broadcast Listeners are informed of the process through spoken word and sound Score is extended to the idea of other schema: circuit diagrams, graphic notations, text, dramaturgy, parts list, etc. Sound and spoken word for the work may be pre-recorded Musical interludes Fact and fiction can co-exist – sounds do not have to be ‘literal’ Making for Radio can also be performed live — Making for Radio is part-hoerspiel, part-performance, part-documentary about DIY electronic music culture. The making of an impossible and ‘real’ electronic instrument circuit become the starting points for the work. Processes, tools and their relationship to makers/musicians are crossed examined through short, humorous sketches and radio curios. Fact and fiction co-exist. There are musical interludes. The work brings together researchers and musicians from De Montfort University, Leicester, UK, and the HAMU, Prague in a unique collaboration for radio. With the Academy of Performing Arts (HAMU), Prague Richards, J. (2017) “Making for Radio” Czech Radio. [music performance/live broadcast/composition], Prague, November 2017.
  • DIY and Maker Communities in Electronic Music
    DIY and Maker Communities in Electronic Music Richards, John Since the late 1990s, there has been huge growth in new do-it-yourself (DIY) and maker communities, reflecting the democratisation of technology. Such practitioners have tended to reject pervasive and ubiquitous technologies and ‘virtualness’, and have moved towards working directly with materials through arts and crafts approaches. Running alongside the growth of digital technologies and culture, a counter-culture took hold, built on grassroots initiatives that had ‘much in common with punk rock, knitting clubs or ham radio societies’ (Richards 2013, p. 274). This maker spirit was also deeply rooted in an ideology of self- sufficiency and self-expression and the empowerment of the individual. Perhaps self- contradictory, DIY often became more about doing-it-together (DIT) or doing-it-with-others (DIWO). Workshops and maker participatory events flourished. Hackspaces/Hackerspaces and Fab Labs (fabrication laboratories) began to emerge as physical locations where active participants could meet, share tools and ideas and learn through making and taking things apart. This maker ideology and cultural activity has had a major influence on music and music technology, from how music is disseminated and consumed to, most significantly, how music is experienced culturally. What could be considered as a maker music scene is replete with enthusiasts who build their own modular synthesisers, create their own Theremins and musical robots, deploy microprocessors for control mechanisms and sound generation, share open-source hardware and software and explore the resources of electronic music at a fundamental level of components, wires, and solder. Richards, J. (2017). DIY and Maker Communities in Electronic Music. In: Collins, N., and Escrivan, R. J. The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 238-257
  • Dark Electronics (Sapporo International Arts Festival)
    Dark Electronics (Sapporo International Arts Festival) Richards, John; Horio, Kanta Darkness – a room without a window Make a sound circuit Blow into a whistle to generate electric current, light and sound A collective performance Take part in an all-day event making a Dirty Electronics’ sound and light circuit in oblique conditions. What happens when darkness descends on our workbench? And mains electricity becomes scarce and precious? Dirty Electronics’ and Kanta Horio’s Dark Electronics is an event where the making is set out like a score with preconditions. These preconditions are designed to test and challenge us. A performance unfolds. Success and failure are both possible. The event will include making the Dirty Electronics’ Whistle Turbine that uses the breath to generate electric current, light and sound, and a public performance. more info The preconditions will: Force the simplification of designs and constructs Question optimisation and efficiency in production Act as a call for collective action and do-it-together (DIT) Critique maker culture and tokenistic making Celebrate the hand-made and manual labour Emphasise touch and listening Create an holistic practice of making and performing Richards, J. and Horio, K. (2017) Dark Electronics [music performance/composition, sound object]. Sapporo International Arts Festival, September 2017.
  • Dirty Electronics: Dommune Live Broadcast (Tokyo, Japan)
    Dirty Electronics: Dommune Live Broadcast (Tokyo, Japan) Richards, John Live broadcast and video stream of Dirty Electronics performance of new work with Kanta Horio, Dark Electronics, for Sapporo International Art Festival (SIAF) 2017. Richards, J. (2017) Dirty Electronics: Dommune Live Broadcast (Tokyo, Japan). [music performance/live broadcast/composition], Sapporo International Art Festival, Tokyo, Japan, September 2017.
  • Wonky Shapes and Wrong Code
    Wonky Shapes and Wrong Code Richards, John Shapes, patterns, colours, materials, objects and things: all belonging to the making of sound. The materials of sound are no longer restricted to the sound itself, but the materials that are used to create sound. Some of these materials are technological, electronic, or even rooted in the idea of computer or microprocessor code as material. The growth in DIY electronic music and the act of making has challenged artists to re-evaluate the materials and processes from which work is created. Musical instrument has become object, a collection of things or set of raw materials. And exploring these objects and materials has become a processual part of the performance or artwork. There has been a gravitation towards object-orientated approaches and how an object or material may reveal hidden or latent musical or performance potential; whilst all this ‘stuff’ leaves the question of how things may relate or be connected. Particular reference is made to Richards’ recent work Violations: a hybrid digital-analogue printed circuit board and sound object. The work examines a feedback system built around digital to analogue conversion and how this throws up new material phenomena, trans-media, found in the hidden corners of esoteric technological processes. Richards, J. (2017) Wonky Shapes and Wrong Code. Practices, Processes, and Materials: re-configuring Practice as Research in a post-digital age, Canterbury Christchurch University, Canterbury, 1 June, 2017

Click here to view a full listing of John Richards' publications and outputs.

Key research outputs

Richards, John, Collateral Damage article, the Wire, 338, April 2012

Richards, John, Lead & Schemas, Institute of Contemporary Arts: Roland Magazine, Issue 9, 2011

Richards, John, Getting the Hands Dirty, Leonardo Music Journal, 18, 2008

John Richards, A Case Study in The Digital Musician: Creating Music with Digital Technology, ed. Andrew Hugill, London, Routledge, 2007

Richards, John, 32kg: Performance Set-ups for the Post-Digital Age. Presented at NIME06, IRCAM, Paris, June 2006

Areas of teaching

All aspects of the Music, Technology and Innovation program. Predominantly: performance, composition, programming and outreach.


  • Preparatory Course in Music, Dartington College of Arts, 1987 - 1989
  • BA (Hons), First Class, University of York, 1996
  • MA in Music, Distinction, University of York, 1997
  • PhD, Electroacoustic Composition, University of York, 2002

Courses taught

  • Music, Technology and Innovation BA (Hons)
  • Music, Technology and Performance BA (Hons)

Honours and awards

Paul Hamlyn Awards for Composers Nomination, 2010, 2012


Current research students

PhD supervision (1st) (2012)

  • Neal Spowage
  • Ryan Jordan
  • Manolis Manousakis
  • Si Waite
  • James Kelly
  • Steve Jones
  • James Frize
  • Marinos Koutsomichalis
John Richards