Leafcutter John

John Burton (born 1976), also known as Leafcutter John, incorporates an experimental approach with computer based sounds into his work. Following graduation from art school in 1998, John began exploring the possibilities of recording and manipulating sound.

Following the release of his first album in 2000, John came upon the challenge of how to play the music he had a created as part of a live performance. Laptop musicianship was in its infancy, making it more difficult to perform live with the same musical freedoms as conventional instrumentalists, and presented a challenge of interfacing with the machine in a meaningful and direct enough way to make the performance spontaneous and understandable by the audience.

To address these challenges, John taught himself how to write his own audio software and combined these programs with tangible interfaces such as homemade sensors. This allowed the relationship between physical input and sonic output to become visible and therefore much more tangible.

In 2012 John began work on a new kind of interface: a physical grid of light sensors which were able to turn the movement of the lights into data which could be used to generate sound. In the years since he built his first prototype John has both performed with, and refined, the Light Interface. In 2015 it won the Quartz prize for innovation. John has performed around the world: in 2017 he performed at the spiritual home of Musique Concrète GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) in Paris. Since 2005 he has been a member of jazz band Polar Bear.


Leafcutter John | I was a nominator this year so I had my fingers tightly crossed for my nominees. It comes as quite a surprise to actually win the award myself! Personally I’m focused on the continuing the development of my Light Interface - a device to enable the live performance of electronic music. Simply put, the award will allow me to make it better than I ever imagined and I’m delighted that I’ll finally be able to open it up to the community as an open-source kit.