Michael Atherton


Emeritus Professor Michael Atherton AM.  Following postgraduate research in literature at the University of NSW (BA Hons, MA Hons), Michael studied music at the University of Sydney and the University of New England, where he was attracted to ethnomusicology. He researched cultural history at the University of Technology Sydney (PhD). He played early music in the Renaissance Players (1974-1980); joined Rivendell as a music therapist (1978-80) in the team of Professor Marie Bashir; pioneered cross-cultural music in Sirocco (1980-6); and directed his own ensemble, Southern Crossings (1986-93). He performed overseas for Musica Viva and appeared at major festivals prior to his appointment in 1993 as the Foundation Professor of Music at UWS, where he led the development of teaching and research with a focus on a range of Australian expressions in our time. Michael is considered an expert in musical instruments and sound making objects, especially those of Australia and the Asia-Pacific. His book, Australian Made, Australian Played, republished in 2015, was the first to draw attention to Australian luminaries in the design and construction of musical instruments. Michael is also a composer, performer and researcher with broad experience in music for the concert hall, film, television and radio.  He has made numerous CD recordings and composed documentary film scores and television themes, including the station music for TVS. In 2008 he was a featured composer in the Aurora Festival, with five world premières. He is an elected fellow (FRSA) of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. His awards include the Centenary Medal (2003) for service to the community, and a high commendation for research training and supervision in the VCs Awards for Excellence (2008). In 2009 he co-edited with colleague Bruce Crossman Music of the Spirit: Asian-Pacific Music Identities. Michael is also a member of SynC, an electroacoustic duo with Garth Paine. Performance highlights include: Aurora Festival 2008; New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) opening concert, New York, June 2007; and NIME/Agora Resonances, Paris, 2006. In 2012, Michael was guest artistic director at the Powerhouse Discovery Centre, composing music for public events, including a spectacle for motorbikes, drum kits, synthesizers, brass and voices. He retired from the University of Western Sydney at the end of 2012 and was honoured with the title, Emeritus Professor, for his distinguished contribution to teaching and research in the field of music and service to the University over many years. His career includes appointments as Head of School of Contemporary Arts, Dean of Research and the successful principal supervision of 15 doctorates (composition, ethnomusicology, music therapy, literature and music, music in early childhood).   Recent music commissions include Walking in Footsteps, a short choral opera for Gondawana Choirs. Monographs include Musical Instruments and Sound Producing Instruments of Oceania (2010) and In Exile from St Petersburg (2017). A Coveted Possession: the rise and fall of the piano in Australia (2018) was released in July.

Photograph:  Sally Tsoutas

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