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"a performance...that would have made Animal from the Muppet Show proud" - Die Presse, Vienna


Vanessa Tomlinson’s bold artistic vision places soundmaking at its centre. She explores the embodied knowledge of making and performing to understand time, place, space and our relationship with the more-than-human. Driven by the unknown, her speculative text-based compositions, object-based re-purposing, and deep sonic gatherings stimulate our imagination as we listen in a climate-transforming environment.

Recent works include The Imaginary Aviary (speculative ornothology)and Channelling Dulcie’s Piano (How the River taught the piano to sing)The Oxbow and Peak Plastique as part of Easter at the Piano Mill; Beacons, a trio for acoustic instruments, electronics and ocean co-composed by Lawrence English; The Space Inside solo for tamtam on Room40 label; and The Listening Museum exploring sonic possibilities in the working factory of UAP. Vanessa has been artist-in-residence at The Smithsonian Institute, Civatelli Ranieri, Bundanon National Trust, Harrigans Lane Collective and Asialink (China) and published two books Here and Now: Artistic Research in Australia (Intelligent Arts) and The Piano Mill (URO Publications). Vanessa is currently Director of Creative Arts Research Institute, Griffith University.


Vanessa is a percussionist-composer with a long history in experimental music. She uses this body of knowledge to make bold interdisciplinary sonic events that propose new futures for 21st century Australian music. Central to all her work is listening - opening our ears to paying attention to the world around us as we consider space and place, the human and the more-than-human. With an insatiable curiosity, Vanessa sonically investigates all kinds of objects to build compositions, create contexts for improvisation, and collaborate across art-forms and disciplines. She has toured the world for 30 years, premiering hundreds of works, collaborating with leading improvisers, presenting work at major international festivals, and sharing her knowledge as a teacher, mentor, university lecturer and arts advocate. Recently she collaborated with Annea Lockwood (Volume AGNSW), The Journey Down (Tura) and appear at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (2022).


Key projects include Channelling Dulcie's Piano (with Jesse Budel and Greg Harm), The Immersive Guitar (with Karin Schaupp), Clocked Out (with Erik Griswold), The Piano Mill (a purpose built structure in the Australian bush with Griswold, Bruce Wolfe, Jocelyn Wolfe), 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 Beacons (with Lawrence English).


Vanessa demonstrates leadership as a Music Curator and Artistic Director including Festival Director of Tyalgum Festival (2017-2020), Easter@Harrigans Lane (2015-22), 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). 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 20 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. 

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 among others. 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.

Curriculum V.T.

Vanessa Tomlinson with Jan Baker-Finch. The Oxbow 2019. Photo Greg Harm, Tangible Media

Photo Raphaël Neal. 2023

performing  Never Tilt your Chair by Kate Neal. Photo Greg Harm, Tangible Media

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