Edward Wilson-Stephens

Edward Wilson-Stephens

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I have composed, performed, and designed electronic music and sound for the past twenty-five years. Although I am originally from London, I completed my undergraduate degree at the Scarborough Campus of the University of Hull in 2004, which led to a move to Manchester to launch my music career, before moving back to Scarborough in 2010 (where I still live with my wife and two dogs). Since 2004 I have produced music for commercial release, run an audio mastering company, and have performed at festivals and clubs in the UK and in Europe.

What made you want to apply to your course and to Leeds?

I had been interested in pursuing a PhD in music since moving back to Scarborough. I was given the opportunity to continue academic study in 2016 when I was made redundant. As it had been a long time since I undertook higher education study, it was recommended that I first enrol onto a taught MA program. This proved to be highly valuable and necessary prior to PhD study. I chose the University of Leeds because the School of Music offered a course which focused on the area of study that I was most interested in (electronic and computer music), and because it was easy to travel to the campus regularly from Scarborough via public transport.

What is it that makes you passionate about your area of study?

I love the idea that any sound is possible through recording and sound design using electronic and computing technologies, for use in composition, performance and other applications. When one first opens their digital audio workstation software, they are presented with a blank canvas – limited only be one’s imagination. Although artists have been working with electronic music for more than a century, there is still a sense of only scratching the surface in terms of what is possible. Additionally, the study of musical practices and instruments from non-Western countries has helped to develop new ideas and expressions with electronic instrumentation and compositional devices in recent years.

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?  

Being able to book the electronic music studios in the School of Music was fantastic! A wide range of historically significant and interesting music and sound technologies are available for students to use in these studios: many of which I had not had the opportunity to access before.  There are also many computer workstations available to use with industry standard software installed, which offer students private listening spaces for experimenting with electronic sound.

What would you say about the learning facilities in your School and at the University in general?

The libraries hold an excellent collection of books, journals and online resources which proved vital and opened my mind to so many new perspectives. The weekly symposiums at the School of Music were also really interesting and varied. 

Did you work closely with a particular tutor or member or the University’s academic staff? Tell us about that experience. 

Dr James Mooney was the academic lead for this masters’ degree. During the degree, he hosted the ‘contexts’ module where, each week, students focused on critically reading and discussing different papers relating to electronic and computer music. Because I had spent a long time away from academic study, I found it difficult to fully understand the content of our reading at first. However, my own perseverance and  the support of my tutor really paid off. The calibre of work which I submitted led to me being considered for postgraduate study post-graduation. 

What other activities were available for students to take part in outside of their studies, and which ones did you try out yourself?

It was great to work with other like-minded students and produce compositions for events at the School of Music (such as the 3x3 electroacoustic series between the White Rose universities), or just enlighten each other with our varying musical interests. At the same time, the broad range of student talents, operating at all levels of study, provided opportunities to collaborate with different instruments and musical practices.

What do you plan to do now you’ve finished your course, and how do you think the skills and knowledge you’ve developed at Leeds will help with these plans?

I am now a third-year PhD student at the University of Leeds, studying the exhibition of electronic musical instruments in science museums, both as objects and interactive exhibits. This is a collaborative project between the university and the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford. A large amount of the academic research that I studied during my masters’ degree has continued to be hugely influential on my research. I am currently building my first interactive exhibit – a combination of electronic musical instrument and sound diffusion system – to be installed in an upcoming exhibition on sound at the museum. I am aiming to gain employment in interactive design once my PhD project is complete.

What would you say to anyone thinking of applying to your course?

Go with the mentality of fully immersing yourself in the campus and the wider world of music in the city. Leeds has a history of generating and developing a strong cohort of musicians and enthusiasts who work in, and with, electronic music and beyond. There are so many opportunities to gain work experience in music and the arts in this city that could be valuable for your future.