cheryl e. leonard

Cheryl E. Leonard is a San Francisco-based composer, performer, field recordist, and instrument builder whose works investigate sounds, structures, and objects from the natural world. Her projects cultivate stones, wood, water, ice, sand, shells, feathers, and bones as musical instruments, and often feature one-of-a-kind sculptural instruments and field recordings from remote locales. Leonard is fascinated by the subtle textures and intricacies of sounds, especially very quiet phenomena. She uses microphones to uncover and explore micro-aural worlds within her sound sources, and develops compositions that highlight the unique voices she discovers. Structurally and thematically, her creations often reflect on natural phenomena and processes. Her recent work focuses on environmental issues, especially climate change in the polar regions and California and the extinction of species.

Leonard holds a BA from Hampshire College and an MA from Mills College, both in music composition. She studied composition and electronic music with Alvin Curran, Chris Brown, George Lewis, Frederic Rzewski, Laeticia Sonami, Salvatore Macchia, and Alan Bonde; and performance art with Moira Roth, Carole E. Schneemann, and Betsy Damon.

Leonard’s music has been performed worldwide. Her compositions for natural-object instruments have been featured on several television programs, including KQED TV's Spark, and in Tim Perkis's video documentary Noisy People. She has received grants from the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, New Music USA, American Composer's Forum, American Music Center, ASCAP, Meet the Composer, the Eric Stokes Fund, and the New York State Council on the Arts. Leonard has been commissioned to create music and instruments for Kronos Quartet, Hope Mohr Dance's Bridge Project, the La Jolla Historical Society, Funsch Dance, and Illuminated Corridor. She has been awarded residencies at Kunstnarhuset Messen, the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus, the Arctic Circle, Engine 27, the Paul Dresher Ensemble ARC Program, and Villa Montalvo. Recordings of her music are available from Great Hoary Marmot Music, Nexmap, Ubuibi, Unusual Animals, Eh?, Engraved Glass, Apraxia Records, 23 Five Inc, Old Gold Records, and The Lab. Additionally, Leonard has contributed to several publications about music and sound art; and her instruments, installations, and graphic scores have been exhibited in art galleries in the U. S., Norway, Australia, Mexica, and Argentina.

Beyond her individual work, Leonard has collaborated extensively with other musicians, across artistic disciplines, and with scientists. Over the past three decades she has played in many experimental music ensembles and noise bands. These days she often performs with the groups Thomas Carnacki, Euphotic, and Big City Orchestra. Leonard has produced numerous installations and multimedia works together with visual artists, including Adfreeze Project with Oona Stern, Sila and Thresholds with Genevieve Swifte, and Tides:Estuary, Frozen Over, and Watershed with Rebecca Haseltine. She has also composed for dance, theater, film, and video; designed sounds for exhibits in science museums; and developed works with climatologists, oceanographers, and biologists.

Outside of her sonic endeavors, Leonard practices and teaches aikido; enjoys mountaineering, rock climbing, backcountry skiing, and frolicking in wild places; dabbles in photography; and collects pinecones with handles.