John Exton Recordings

Tuesday 06 October 2020

This week we talk music, specifically the private archive of John Exton, who taught at the University of Western Australia’s Music Department between 1966 and 1988.

This private archive includes twenty-five audio recordings of original compositions by Exton, hand-written scores for those and other of Exton’s works, arrangements for established repertoire and a range of other personal and professional documentation including Exton’s own theosophical writings.


John Exton (photo courtesy of Stephen Benfall)

John Exton studied music at Kings College, Cambridge, obtaining his PhD in 1963. In 1966 John emigrated to Perth with his wife Gillian and two sons Peter and Stephen, in order to take up a position teaching twentieth century music, composition and performance at the University of Western Australia. John and Gill’s daughter Jane was born shortly thereafter. Whilst teaching at UWA Exton devised a two-year course in Techniques of Musical Structure, created the Student Chamber Orchestra, and developed the UWA electronic music studio. He retired in 1988 but continued to teach music from his home in Kalamunda. Between 1951 and 1993 he composed fifty-six complete works, including five works for orchestra or large ensemble, eight string quartets, nine works for tape and a range of works for solo performance and for various other ensemble types. He died in 2009.


The UWA Electronic Music Studio ca. 1972 (ACC10242A/21)

Whilst the State Library actively collects published music recordings by West Australian artists as part of its heritage collections, John Exton’s recordings differ in that they are not officially published – rather they are part of a larger collection that documents the creative practice and working life of a key West Australian composer and a figure who has had a significant impact on the development of new music and composition in Western Australia.

The digitised versions of the sound recordings in this collection became part of the Western Australian New Music Archive when the collection was accessioned in 2018.

Hear the full audio of the three tracks sampled in this week’s segment via the WANMA web portal:

Listen to John Exton’s works at the WANMA web portal, search the catalogue for the Exton collection, and experience other audio recordings and WA stories online.

For more stories from the State Library and the State Records Office, follow @statelibrarywa and @staterecordsofficewa on Facebook and @statelibrarywa on Instagram.

Last updated on: 6 October 2020