Michael Atherton (musician)

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For the cricketer, see Mike Atherton.

Michael Atherton (born 17 February 1950) is an Australian musician and composer.

Atherton was born in England, of Irish, Welsh and German descent. His family migrated to Australia in 1965 and spent two years in Bunnerong Hostel, NSW, where he taught himself to play guitar and formed bands and played football with friends, who were of English, Greek and Italian background. The migrant experience fuelled his curiosity in music linked to place and identity.[citation needed]

Following postgraduate research in English literature at the University of NSW, Atherton studied music at the University of Sydney and the University of New England, where he was attracted to ethnomusicology. He played early music in the Renaissance Players (1974-1980); worked as the music therapist (1978–80) with Professor Marie Bashir, her Excellency the Governor of NSW; and played ‘world’ music in Sirocco (1980-6).[citation needed] As founding chair of music at the University of Western Sydney (1993), Atherton built a teaching and research department that focuses on Australian expressions.

Atherton is also a composer, performer and researcher with broad experience in music for the concert hall, film, television and radio.[citation needed] He has made numerous CD recordings, 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.[citation needed] He is an elected fellow (FRSA) of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. His awards include a 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, a collection of essays focusing on composition and performance aesthetics. 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.

Commissioned Works[edit]

In 2008 he was a featured composer in the Aurora Festival, with world premières including: Songs of stone and silence (2008) for soprano, mezzo-soprano and ensemble; Oku ou talanoa mo hoku loto (2008) for voice and percussion; and Runsten (2008), a suite for lute. CD recordings include Surface Texture Line (2008) – electroacoustic music with Garth Paine; A pocketful of songs (2004) –for pre-school children; Sea and Mountain: music in the Korean style (2003); Aurora (2003). Radio scores include Darwin’s Wings (2006, ABC Radio National). Atherton is expert in Australian made musical instruments and sound producing objects. He authored the groundbreaking book Australian Made, Australian Played (1990), and was the contributing curatorial editor for Sounds Unlimited: building the instruments (2003. He is an elected fellow (FRSA) of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and was awarded a Centenary Medal (2003) for service to the community. Recent performing highlights include New Music Network (2008), New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME) opening concert, New York, June 2007; NIME, Paris, in 2006.

Recent Recordings[edit]

Atherton M & Crossman B, 2009, Resophonica, Wirripang, Australia

Atherton M & Dargin A, 2009, Bloodwood, Compass, USA

Atherton M & Paine G, 2009, Parallel Lines. Celestial Harmonies, USA

Selected Compositions[edit]

2009 Patina for clarinet, vibraphone & percussion, 9’ [ISMN9790720101279]

2009 ta ka tin go ga kin, West African, Indian, Polynesian & orchestral percussion, 8' [SMN 9790720101]

2009 Songs of Stone and Silence, sop, mezzo, cl, c, pn, ABC, 17’ [ISMN 720101231]

Selected Publications[edit]

2010 Musical Instruments and Sound-Prodicing Objects of Oceania

2009 Music of the Spirit: Asian-Pacific musical identity

2008 Oku Ou Talanoa Mo Hoku Loto: A Musical Realisation of Te Arikinui Te Atairangikaahu


  • Warren Arthur Bebbington, The Oxford companion to Australian music, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 28
  • Brenton Broadstock, Sound ideas: Australian composers born since 1950 : a guide to their music and ideas, Australian Music Centre, 1995, p. 39

External links[edit]