Lesson 1/21

Artist Perspective
Interview with Vanessa Tomlinson

Australian improviser, artist, musician, composer, sound artist and educator Vanessa Tomlinson has developed an extraordi- nary connection to the exploration of sounds through learning the value of “Listening vs Doing.”

Anders Åstrand sits down with Vanessa for a deep dive into how she develops an ever expanding “toolbag” with her students through improvisation and listening exercises. Through the interview, you’ll discover how balance, blend and sound experimentation can create a new level of touch and feel, no matter which instrument you’re playing!



Vanessa is a percussive artist dedicated to exploring how sound shapes our lives, awakening our ears to new sounds, in new spaces, with the hope that attentive listening will lead to attentive custodianship of place. With a long history in experimental music, Vanessa uses this body of knowledge to consider how we listen through site-specific explorations and collaborations. Trained as a percussionist in Australia, Germany and the USA, Vanessa relies on this sonic investigation of objects to build compositions, create contexts for improvisation, interpret the voices of other composers and collaborate across art-forms and disciplines. She has toured the world for 25 years, premiering over 100 works by significant national and international composers, presenting work at major international festivals, and collaborating with improvisers, dancers, artists and more.


Key projects include The Immersive Guitar (with Karin Schaupp at Curiocity Brisbane), The Piano Mill (a purpose built structure in the Australian bush), Sounding the Condamine (examining the history of the Condamine Bell in outback Queensland), Water Pushes Sand (examining intersections between Sichuan Opera and improvisational practices with Australian Art Orchestra), Sonic Dreams (a series of compositions about extinct and imaginary sounds) and Here and Now (her first book, examining approaches to music making in an Australian context).


Vanessa demonstrates leadership as a Music Curator and Artistic Director including Festival Director of Tyalgum Festival (2017-2020), Easter@Harrigans Lane (2015-21), the Australian Percussion Gathering (2010/2016), Transplanted Roots International Percussion Symposium (2017), 100 Ways to Listen at World Science Festival (2017), New Sounds Brisbane (2017), Sounding the Smithsonian (2019) and Co-Director of Clocked Out (2000 onwards). She has received recognition through APRA/AMC Awards in Experimental Music, Excellence as an Individual, and Excellence by an Organisation (Clocked Out), Green Room Awards (Dada Cabaret), Aria nomination (Water Pushes Sand), and prestigious opportunities including Civatelli Ranieri Residency in Italy, Banff Residency in Canada, Australia Council Project Fellowship, and Asialink Residency in China.


She studied at the University of Adelaide, Hochschule fur Musik in Freiburg and received her Masters and Doctorate from the University of California, San Diego where she worked closely with Steven Schick and George Lewis. In addition Vanessa has studied Sichuan Opera with Master Zhong Kaichi in Chengdu, China. She has been on the faculty of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music for 18 years, transforming the field of percussion in Australia, helping to define the field of Artistic Practice in music internationally, and pioneering the performer/composer, interpreter/improviser pathway for students. As Deputy Director of the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, co-chair of Music and Creativities, she drives research projects and helps define the agenda for performing artists in the academy.


Vanessa can be heard on Innova, Immediate, Room40, Etcetera, Jazzhead, Mode, Tzadik, Hathut and Clocked Out labels, and her articles appear in Leonardo, Contemporary Music Review, Intelligent Arts and World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. She has performed widely across four continents including Wein Modern Festival, London Jazz Festival, Beijing Festival of Modern Music, Green Umbrella Series, Bang-on-a-Can Marathon, Sydney Festival, Melbourne International Festival, Vancouver Jazz Festival and many more.