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Professor Ellen Waterman

Professor Ellen Waterman

Bye Fellow, Robinson College


Ellen Waterman is both a music scholar and a flutist specializing in creative improvisation. Her interdisciplinary research interests range across improvisation, contemporary performance, gender, technology, ecomusicology, and acoustic ecology. With Gillian Siddall, she is co-editor of Negotiated Moments: Improvisation, Sound and Subjectivity (Duke 2016). Her books on acoustic ecology and sound art include The Art of Immersive Soundscapes (with Pauline Minevich, 2013) and Sonic Geography Imagined and Remembered (2002).  She is a member of ~spin~ duo (with James Harley) exploring the intersections between acoustic/electro-acoustic performance and real time multi-channel sound diffusion. Their multi-channel recording Like a ragged flock…was released in 2015 (Canadian Music Centre). Her current book project is Sounds Provocative: The Ecology of Experimental Music Performance, a comparative ethnography of twelve Canadian music festivals.

Waterman is professor of ethnomusicology at the School of Music, Memorial University of Newfoundland where she served as dean from 2010-2015. Formerly she taught at Trent University (1998-2002) and the University of Guelph (2002-2010). She holds the Ph.D. in Music - Critical Studies and Experimental Practice from the University of California, San Diego. Waterman was Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at McGill University (2008-9).  In 2015-16 she is a Bye-Fellow at Robinson College, University of Cambridge.

Improvisation is central to Waterman’s work, and she is a core researcher and executive member of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) funded by a SSHRC Partnership Grant (2013-2020). IICSI is a partnered research institute that includes sites at U. Guelph, Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), McGill, U. Regina and U.B.C. She is founding co-editor of the online, peer-reviewed journal Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation She developed the Improvisation Tool Kit at, drawing together information from several community-engaged projects to create a free resource for teaching improvisation. IICSI-MUN offers annual activities including a postdoctoral fellowship, a public speakers series Improvising Spaces, and an improviser-in-residence program.  Waterman also participates in a multi-site research project to develop the Adaptive Use Musical Instruments (AUMI) software interface, a musical instrument that enables people who have very limited controlled (voluntary) movement to independently engage in music making.

Ellen Waterman’s distinctive musical practice blends flute and vocalization. She studied flute with Jan Kocman, Douglas Stewart, and John Fonville and voice with Carol Plantamura. In the 1980s and ‘90s she performed in a number of R. Murray Schafer’s Patria series of environmental music theatre works and he composed the solo flute pieces Aubade, and Nocturne (1996) for her. Her doctoral dissertation is an ethnography of Patria the Epilogue: And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon. Ellen has been privileged to collaborate with an array of great improvisers including: Pauline Oliveros, Jesse Stewart, Ione, Eric Lewis, James Harley, Medea Electronique collective, Chris Chafe, Viv Corringham, Norman Adams, George Lewis, Nicole Mitchell, Miya Masaoka, Malcolm Goldstein, Jean Derome, Joane Hétu, Lori Freedman, Michael Waterman, and Michael Young. She has performed at national and international festivals and venues including Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound, the Guelph Jazz Festival, the Suoni Per Il Popolo, and the Onassis Cultural Centre. Waterman has also been artist-in-residence for several festivals, including The Art of Immersive Soundscapes (U. Regina), Sound Travels Festival (Toronto), and the Chicago Creative Music Workshop (Chicago Jazz Festival). In 2014 she participated in the Koumaria Residency in Sellasia, Greece. Ellen is represented on premiere recordings of works by Brian Ferneyhough (CRICD 652), R. Murray Schafer (CMCCD 8902, MW72) and ~spin~ duo (ADAPPS 15001).


Key Publications

Selected Publications


Negotiated Moments: Improvisation, Sound, and Subjectivity.  2016. Edited by Ellen Waterman and Gillian Siddall. Duke University Press. “Introduction: Improvising at the Nexus of Discursive and Material Bodies,” (with Gillian Siddall) 1-20. “Improvisation and the Audibility of Difference: Safa, Canadian Multiculturalism, and the Politics of Recognition,” 283-306.

The Art of Immersive Soundscapes. 2013. Edited by Ellen Waterman and Pauline Minevich. University of Regina Press. “Send and Receive: Technology, Embodiment and the Social in Sound Art,” 111-127.

Sonic Geography Imagined and Remembered. 2002. Edited by Ellen Waterman. Penumbra Press.

Articles and Book Chapters:

 “The Ecology of Musical Performance: Towards a Robust Methodology.” 2015.  Co-authored with Alice Boyle.  In Current Directions in Ecomusicology, edited by Aaron Allen and Kevin Dawe. Routledge.

“Trust and Risk in Improvisation: Opening Statements.” 2014. In Improvisation Studies Reader:

Spontaneous Acts, edited by Rebecca Caines and Ajay Heble, 59-62. Routledge.

“Listening Trust: The Everyday Politics of George Lewis’s “Dream Team”.” 2013. Co-authored with Julie Dawn Smith. In People Get Ready: The Future of Jazz is Now!, edited by Ajay Heble and Rob Wallace, 59-87. Duke University Press.

“Say Who You Are Play Who You Are: Improvisation, Pedagogy, and Youth on the Margins.” 2011. Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education, Special Issue: Music Education in Urban Contexts. Co-authored with Ajay Heble, Ashlee Consolo Willox, Rob Jackson, Melissa Walker. 10.1: 114-131. 

“Naked Intimacy: Eroticism, Improvisation, and Gender.” 2008. Critical Studies in Improvisation/Etudes critique en improvisation Vol 4.2.

“When it Rains: Experimental Music and The Cultural Ecology.”  2008. Essay on Gordon Monahan’s Aqueolian Harp installation of Sept 2007, commissioned by The Western Front and published in their Echoic Chamber archive.

“Radio Bodies: Discourse, Performance, Resonance.” 2007.  In Radio Territories, edited by Brandon LaBelle and Erik Granly Jensen, 118-153. Errant Bodies Press.



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