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Cheryl Leonard

San Francisco, CA   

Cheryl E. Leonard is a composer, performer and instrument builder. Over the last decade she has focused on investigating sounds, structures and objects from the natural world. Many of her recent works cultivate stones, wood, water, ice, sand, shells, feathers and bones as musical instruments. Leonard is fascinated by the subtle textures and intricacies of sounds, especially very quiet phenomena. She uses microphones to explore the micro-aural worlds hidden within her sound sources and develops compositions that highlight the unique voices they contain. Her projects often feature one-of-a-kind sculptural instruments that are played live onstage, and field recordings from remote locales. Leonard is particularly interested in collaborating across artistic disciplines and creating site-specific works. In addition to developing her own projects, she has written numerous soundtracks for film, video, dance and theater, and has designed sounds for exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

Leonard holds a BA from Hampshire College and an MA from Mills College. Her music has been performed worldwide, and her compositions for natural-object instruments have been featured on several television programs and in the video documentary Noisy People. She is the recipient of grants from the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, ASCAP, American Composers Forum, American Music Center, the Eric Stokes Fund and Meet the Composer. Leonard’s commissions include works for Kronos Quartet, Illuminated Corridor and Michael Straus. She has been awarded residencies at Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Arctic Circle, Villa Montalvo and Engine 27. Recordings of her music are available from NEXMAP, Unusual Animals, Ubuibi, Pax, Apraxia, 23 Five, The Lab and Great Hoary Marmot Music.


Excerpt from Cheryl Leonard’s performance of Polarnatt in the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, Sept 8, 2012. “Polarnatt” is the Norwegian term for polar night, the portion of the year when the sun does not rise above the horizon in the polar regions. This piece was inspired by the profound changes in length of day, temperature and quality of light Leonard experienced while visiting Svalbard in the fall of 2011. Polarnatt is scored for solo performer on shells, stones, glass, and sea salt, together with field recordings from Svalbard.

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Excerpt from Cheryl Leonard’s performance of Sila in the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, Sept 8, 2012. This music was created to accompany a video by Genevieve Swifte. Sila describes the freezing surface of the ocean through video and music. Sound sources include bird bones, feathers, stones, shells, kelp flute, prepared viola, and field recordings of wind and water from the polar regions. Filmed at – 31 degrees Fahrenheit in Ilulissat, Greenland, Swifte’s video captures the liminality of the ocean as ice crystals form on its surface.

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Iceline is a collaborative piece from composer Cheryl Leonard and visual artist Oona Stern. It is part of Adfreeze Project, an series of multidisciplinary artworks inspired by their 2011 residency in Svalbard, a remote archipelago above the Arctic Circle. Iceline depicts the Arctic Ocean from the perspective of floating glacial ice. The piece investigates the boundary between above and below water, providing a portal into the sonic and visual details of this chaotic environment.

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