John Cousins was born in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1943. He received training as a musician, graduating with an honours degree in music from the University of Canterbury in 1965. In 1967 he was appointed to the staff of the university’s School of Music, subsequently working there as a teacher and creative artist until 2004 when he left to concentrate fully on making and promulgating his work.
Over the years Cousins’ work has evolved from conventional musical composition to sculptural performance, mixed-media and sonic art. It has been performed, broadcast and exhibited in Australia, Britain, Europe, Russia and the USA. Although the composer’s early works were for conventional resources, much of his more recent work deals in some way with the experience of personal history within his immediate family (particularly the male line from his Irish grandfather through his father to his children and grandchildren). Here the ‘acousmatic’ genre of Sonic Art (sometimes accompanied by visual images) has been honed to form an aesthetic language which points, via the composer’s own intimate family connections, towards more general human concerns.
The central element in his electro-acoustic work is the sonic sign: recordings of recognisable aural objects of all kinds are re-contextualised within surreal, sometimes super-real, sonic environments, generating works with a documentary flavour.