Professor John Young

Job: Professor of Composition

Faculty: Technology

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 8220




Personal profile

John Young is a composer working in the field of electroacoustic music.  His output includes works for multi-channel loudspeaker environments, music for instruments and electroacoustic sounds and electroacoustic documentary conceived for radio. 

John‘s music explores the use of sound recording as a creative tool, which he uses to bring sounds from natural environments into the studio where he transforms and refashions them with digital audio tools.  This involves merging sound-images of the real world with more abstract sonic materials, creating elaborate designs that challenge traditional notions of musical materials and form but also invite the listener to enter imaginative worlds where familiar objects and environments are given new meanings.

John received his PhD in musicology from the University of Canterbury in 1990, and in the same year was appointed Lecturer in Music at the Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand) where he was also Director of the Electroacoustic Music Studios 1995-2000.  He joined DMU in 2000 and from 2009-12 served as Head of Research for the Faculty of Humanities.

His recent work includes a 16-channel composition commissioned by the Groupe de recherches musicales for the Radio France cycle of electroacoustic music performances, given in the Salle Olivier Messiaen in Paris, an audiovisual work created with photographer Lala Meredith-Vula extending from his 2009 work Lamentations, commissioned by the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges, and a piece for piano and electroacoustic sounds for Xenia Pestova.  His work is published principally by the Montréal Empreintes Digitales label, with whom he has released two solo discs: La Limite du Bruit (2002) and Lieu-Temps (2007). 

Publications and outputs 

  • Hidden Spaces
    Hidden Spaces Young, John Hidden Spaces is an electroacoustic work in three sections. Each section frames field recordings made by me in different locations - 'found' sounds that had an unusual or interesting quality, intensified by the use of close microphone recording. The framing of these sounds is achieved through fragments of the original recordings being extracted and developed into new rhythmic and spectral constructs and by the subtle blending of electronically generated resonance. The three sections are: Refsta: based on recordings made in a very remote location in this rural Swedish area. Montreal: featuring an escalator at the Fabre metro station. Dobbiaco (Toblach): Pigs at an animal park in the South Tyrol (built around Mahler's last composing hut just outside this small town in Italy). Hidden Spaces is also available in a 3-channel (L-C-R) version.
  • Terms of Endearment: The challenges of descriptive language in electroacoustic music
    Terms of Endearment: The challenges of descriptive language in electroacoustic music Young, John Terms to identify tools, objects and structures are common to all human endeavour. They help us to connect ideas and to articulate purpose and meaning. Many explanatory terms, labels and forms of jargon have flourished for the description of sound materials since the first developments of theory in electroacoustic music. As in all music, they have become central to the very notion of theory itself. We might assume several distinct needs for such terminology in electroacoustic music: Differentiation of sound materials when any kind of sound is potentially at the composer’s disposal ; legitimation of our artistic products and the materials on which it is based within the wider range of musical practices, or : defining a descriptive language that can encourage engagement of a genreal public with a relatively marginal field. In general, electroacoustic music terminology relies on analogy. Both Wishart’s ‘natural sound morphology’ and Smalley’s ‘spectromorphology’, for example, make use of analogy—though with varying specificity of linguistic imagery. Schaeffer expressed the view that resorting to analogy was a kind of ‘failure’ to deal with the sound object in-and-of-itself. Indeed, even by using the term ‘morphology’ we perhaps tend to connect the shaping in time of sound with visual notions of physical outline. While these terms do provide a basis on which discussion and evaluation of a musical experience can take place, they may also be taken to imply how we should focus our listening, or how creative practices should proceed (sometimes eliciting a negative a reaction that over the years I have witnessed in students). Further difficulties can be encountered where terms overlapping with those found in other musical fields are put forward (consider the meanings of ‘modulation’) or when very precise definitions point to other underlying terminological distinctions (consider Schaeffer’s terms ‘transformation’ and ‘transmutation’). The paper concludes that language is an important mechanism for the externalisation of the visceral nature of musical experience, serving engagement between specialists and practitioners, and well as that between practitioners and audiences. However, although terms, analogies and categories serve the intention of identifying and discriminating between the elements and processes of musical structures, there is need for greater critical judgement in reaching a state where terms are sufficiently appreciated, cross-referenced and valorised.
  • Sweet Anticipation
    Sweet Anticipation Young, John This work is based largely on field recordings I made in New York. Despite the presence of some recognisable sounds, the intention is not to evoke a literal sense of place. Rather, I have aimed to investigate the energy and spatial depth afforded by the sounds I captured, which are inevitably shaped by human expressions full of intensity and zeal. The chance recording of subway preachers eventually suggested to me the title—borrowed from David Huron’s wonderful study of musical expectation—framing the real intention of the work: to explore ways in which interactions of sound, silence, and timbral blending might evoke implications, expectations and questions.
  • Spirit
    Spirit Young, John The initial idea for this piece came from a recording of the Duomo bell in the Italian town of Forlì. I made the recording to use as one of the core materials in a radiophonic work, Ricordiamo Forlì (2005), which narrates the experience of my Italian family in the Second World War. In that piece many of the bell sounds were reshaped using electroacoustic techniques, bringing out new colours and qualities otherwise hidden in the overall sonic impression of a recognisable bell. In Spirit, I have further developed a number of those sounds as the starting point for the work’s harmony. The spectrum of pitch given off by a bell is typically complex, with clusters of high partials accumulated in its upper frequency regions. Spirit adapts this characteristic quite freely in the orchestral writing, aiming to evoke tension and resolution in the music through dense harmonic ‘clouds’ emerging from and opening out onto more focused harmony while building new motivic and gestural figures. In one sense the inclusion of electroacoustic sound allows for the enrichment of orchestral sonorities, but here it also serves another purpose. Since we do not witness any physical action connected with their production—other than through the impersonal channel of the loudspeakers—I think of these electroacoustic sounds as conveying a presence from another world. Refracted, reflected and resynthesised many times through digital processing, the bell might be thought of as a spirit whose underlying nature is never fully grasped. Scored for: 2(picc), 2, 2(bass), 2(contra) - 4, 3(D), 3, 1, timp, perc, electroacoustic sounds (stereo), hp, str. The electroacoustic sounds require an additional performer to cue sound files from a Max patch.
  • Magnetic Resonance
    Magnetic Resonance Young, John 'Magnetic Resonance' (2017) was created for pianist Xenia Pestova and the magnetic resonator piano developed by Andrew McPherson at the Queen Mary University of London. The magnetic resonator mechanism is a non-invasive extension of the instrument that can be applied to any grand piano. It allows for infinite resonance of piano tones beyond the normal attack-decay model of the instrument, but also permits conventional performance at any time. This work exploits this 'hybrid' nature of the instrument as well as its capacity to produce tones without the attack-based morphology produced by the hammers. The work's harmonic structure is enhanced with the integration of 8 channels of electroacoustic sound. These convey further expanded energy profiles and spectral constructs and project the piano-centric sonority into an immersive sound field. They are triggered by the pianist in real-time using the MIDI output of the instrument's Moog Piano Bar. Created with the cooperation of Dr Andrew McPherson (QMUL) and Dr Xenia Pestova (University of Nottingham). 'Magnetic Resonance' was premiered on 20 February, 2018, at the Royal Birmingham Conservatory by Xenia Pestova and John Young.
  • Figures of Speech : Oral History as an Agent of Form in Electroacoustic Music
    Figures of Speech : Oral History as an Agent of Form in Electroacoustic Music Young, John Reflection on the author’s use of oral history recordings as source material in three electroacoustic works suggests ways in which complementary threads of storytelling and recorded memory can be shaped into purposefully directed forms. The file attached to this record is the author's final peer reviewed version.
  • Abwesenheit
    Abwesenheit Young, John The material that inspired this work was a short audio recording made in the garden of the Beethoven Wohnung Heiligenstadt where, in 1802, Beethoven spent the latter half of the year seeking respite for his failing hearing. Although Heiligenstadt must surely not be as quiet a spot as it was 215 years ago, the historical resonance of the Beethoven Wohnung with its sounds and artefacts—distant chimes, a death mask, creaky floors, the resonance around hushed conversation—imparts a profound sense of absence. The work aims to embody this sentiment through amplification of spatial envelopment, growth and transformation of sonic energy, and submission into silence. The title is borrowed from the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 81a, and the work was composed specifically for the Vienna Acousmonium.
  • Three Spaces in Mid-Air
    Three Spaces in Mid-Air Young, John Form, writes Nicholas Bourriaud, is ‘structural unity imitating a world.’ I have responded to this idea with Three Spaces in Mid-Air, which is designed as a continuous work in three discrete sections. Each explores the idea of spectral space through interaction and coalescence of sonic strata, as three dimensional objects ‘suspended’ before the listener. The work’s three sections also address the compression of form, each aiming to embody the atmosphere of a self-contained ‘world’—evoking implications of direction, tension and release while balancing states of stasis and motion. Three Spaces in Mid-Air was premiered at the Projection Room, Brussels, 21 June 2017.
  • Spectral Domains
    Spectral Domains Young, John Spectral Domains deals with the kinds of ambiguities between timbre and harmony that can be made possible through interaction between electroacoustically transformed sonorities and instrumental ones. Piano, violin and percussion instruments act as agents of gestural energy and as relatively fixed timbral identities, while the digitally realised and spatialised electroacoustic sounds provide many forms of spectral extension and enhancement. The work is in three sections, or ‘domains’, each extending from a moment of gestural/spectral initiation. Composed for the German ensemble TRIONYS (Rainer Buerck - piano, Martin Buerck - percussion and Günter Marx - violin). Percussion requirements: 2 timpani (26”, 32”), cymbals (14”, 20” to be placed on timpani); vibraphone (no motor); glockenspiel; hi-hat (14”); tam-tams (small, medium, large). All suitably amplified, a bow is required for the cymbals and vibraphone, a superball (friction) mallet is required for the timpani, hi-hat, tam-tams and pianos strings (it may be necessary to experiment with different types for each surface). Stage setup, amplification and other requirements are given in the attached pdf.
  • Partial Objects: Acousmatic Spectralism
    Partial Objects: Acousmatic Spectralism Young, John This paper addresses spectralist approaches to composition in acousmatic music. As Murail (2005) asserts, electroacoustic music in general has widened the composer’s range of sound materials and stimulated new ways of thinking about textural constructs in music, while Grisey’s imperative of (1987) ‘No longer composing with notes but with sounds’ resonates strongly with the spirit of acousmatic music. Digital signal processing permits the investigation of sound’s intrinsic structures as well as the imposition of morphological and spectral shaping from outside the sound. Acousmatic music also turns the microphone toward the natural sound world, thus trading in the affordances of both recognisable sounds and sound objects of very obscure of remote physical provenance. In applying a spectralist perspective to acousmatics, my focus here will be on the notion of the ‘partial object’: that is to say sound progressively stripped of spectral components in order to reveal new objects that become shadows of the holistic object. Several artistic consequences of this approach are discussed: 1. As defining features of sound are extracted or hybridised the boundaries of source recognition are explored. 2. Interpolation of objects and transitions between textures are feasible as individual sinusoidal components are exposed and potentially blended with other objects. 3. The filtering of complex inharmonic and harmonic sounds affords changes in perceived pitch whilst retaining morphological idiosyncrasies of a given sound. 4. A means of immersive sound spatialisation is offered by splitting a spectrum across a diffused network of loudspeakers. A key strength of acousmatic music in this regard is that subtle morphological traits of sound and precise frequency values can be retained in processes of spectral disassembly/reassembly, giving insight into the value of pitch in acousmatic forms, but without resort to the approximations necessitated in instrumentally realised spectral works.


Click here for a full listing of John Young's publications and outputs.

Key research outputs

John’s extended radiophonic work Ricordiamo Forlì was awarded the Euphonie d’Or in 2010 by the Institut International de Musique Electroacoustique de Bourges, France.  The work relates the story of his soldier father and civilian mother meeting in Forlì, Italy in 1944 during the 8th Army campaign there, using oral histories, war correspondent reports and other recorded sound from the period in conjunction with an extensive array of electroacoustically processed sound to convey the narrative and emotional significance of the events.  The work gained a first prize in the Institute’s open competition in 2007, one of the world’s most significant forums for electroacoustic music.  Euphonies d’Or awards have been made on two past occasions and are selected from the works previously awarded prizes in the competition.  35 in total have been awarded over the years, representing one work for each year of the competition’s history, which, in the words of the IMEB, “represent particularly brilliant moments in the history of electroacoustic music.”

Research interests/expertise

  • Composition (electroacoustic and instrumental/vocal) particularly ‘acousmatic’ electroacoustic works focusing on recorded environmental sound sources and digital signal processing
  • Construction of narrative in music
  • Spectral composition
  • Use of historical sound sources in electroacoustic music
  • Multi-channel approaches to electroacoustic composition
  • Analytical approaches to electroacoustic composition, especially the role of source recognition and the relationship between realistic sound-imagery and spectromorphological transformation
  • Form in electroacoustic music.

John welcomes postgraduate and research students with interests in any of the above areas.

Areas of teaching

Composition (electroacoustic, instrumental and vocal); orchestration; acoustics for musicianship; history and analysis of 20th and 21st century music.


MusB(Hons), PhD (Cant.)

Courses taught

Music, Technology and Innovation BA (Hons)

Music, Technology and Performance BA (Hons)

  • MUST1001 Foundations of Music—acoustics and psychoacoustics for musicianship
  • MUST3026 Composing with Dance—a year long project in creating music for a dance company (in conjunction with the Dance Department)
  • MUST3000/3024—supervision of final year dissertations and practical projects

Honours and awards

2011 Honorary Mention, Musica Nova 2011, Prague (X)

2010 (with Lala Meredith-Vula) nominated for best short film at DokuFest International Film Festival, Kosova, in 2010 (Are You Everybody?)

2010 Euphonie d’Or, Bourges International Competition (Ricordiamo Forlì)

2010 Special Mention, Metamorphose 2010 Competition, Brussels (Lamentations)

2007 First prize, 34th Concours Internationaux de Musique et d’Art Sonore Electroacoustiques, Bourges (Ricordiamo Forlì)

2005 Finalist, 32nd Concours Internationaux de Musique et d’Art Sonore Electroacoustiques, Bourges (Trace)

2003 Third Prize ‘Pierre Schaeffer’ Electronic Music Composition Competition, Pescara, Italy (Sju)

2001 Second Prize Concurso Internacional de Música Eletroacústica de São Paulo (Liquid Sky)

2001 Finalist, ARTS XXI competition, Valencia, Spain (Sju)

2000 Pre-selected (two works), Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Competition, France (Liquid Sky and Allting Runt Omkring)

1997 Special Mention, Prix Noroit, Arras, France (Virtual)

1997 Honorary Mention, Prix Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria (Virtual)

1997 Pre-selected, Bourges International Electroacoustic Music competition, France (Virtual)

1996 First prize, Stockholm Electronic Arts Award, Sweden (Inner).

Membership of external committees

Peer Review College, Arts and Humanities Research Council (2009-12)


Forthcoming events

Guest composer, MANTIS Electroacoustic Festival 2012, 27 October 2012, University of Manchester

Research seminar and concert, University of Edinburgh, 9 February 2013.

Conference attendance

2011 Thinking in Sound: Sounding the Imagination. Institute of Musical Research, DREAM Symposium: Technology and Musical Thought, University of London.

2010 Playing with Space: Inside and Outside Sound. Keynote address, New Zealand Electroacoustic Symposium, University of Auckland.

2009 Narrative, Rhetoric and the Personal: Storytelling in Acousmatic Music.  Paper presented at the 2009 Electroacoustic Music Studies Conference, Buenos Aires.

2007 Electroacoustic Musicianship: Sounds in Search of Music? Paper presented at the Digital Resources in the Humanities and Arts Conference, Dartington College.

2007 A Practice-based Approach to Using Acoustics and Technology in Musicianship Training.  With Picinali, L and Moraitis, D. Proceedings of the 2007 International Computer Music Conference, Copenhagen: International Computer Music Association: 61-64.

2007 Issues of Form in Electroacoustic Music. Paper presented at Electroacoustic Music Studies Network Conference, Leicester.

2006 Sound Design and Sonic Imagery. Sound Art and Creative Technology:  One-day Conference on Electroacoustic Music. London Metropolitan University.

2006 Figures and Forms: Acousmatic thought in an interactive age.  Ai-maako Festival, Santiago de Chile.

2005 Sound, Sign and Sense. Paper presented at Sonimágenes, Buenos Aires

2005 Ear and Eye. Keynote lecture, Sonimágenes, Buenos Aires

2005 Sound In Structure: Applying Spectromorphological Concepts. Paper presented at Electroacoustic Music Studies Network Conference, Montréal,

2004 Sound Morphology and the Articulation of Structure in Electroacoustic Music. Résonances conference, IRCAM, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2003.

Current research students

First supervisor:

  • Panos Amelidis (Non-linear Storytelling as Strategy for Electroacoustic Composition).
  • Louise Rossiter (Expectation in Electroacoustic Music) (AHRC-funded project).
John Young

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