Neil Leonard

Professor; Artistic Director of the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute

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Neil Leonard is a sound artist, saxophonist, and composer. He performs his compositions with a mix of contemporary musicians and folkloric ensembles. Recent sound installations explore how global marketing impacts our listening; these installations were made in collaboration with bartenders, biologists, street criers, and dock workers. Leonard created projects engaging musicians living in both the United States and Cuba, where art was both a final result and a means to circumvent prohibition. His LP, Sonance for the Procession, was produced in collaboration with the Willams College Museum of Art, XI Records, and Akoh Art.

Leonard's compositions have been featured by documenta 14 (Germany), the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (U.S.), and in New York at Carnegie Hall, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, Roulette, and the Experimental Intermedia Foundation, among others.

His ensemble has featured Joanne Brackeen, Terence Blanchard, and Robin Eubanks. Leonard has performed and recorded with Richard Devine, Vijay Iyer, Phill Niblock, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, among others. His work with visual artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons spans 29 years, and their performance, film, video, and installations have been featured by documenta 14, 11 Havana Bienal (Cuba), the 49th and 55th Venice Biennale (Italy), the Smithsonian Museum National Portrait Gallery (U.S.), and the Guggenheim Museum (U.S.), among others. His sound composition "Lavender Ruins" was commissioned by Fujiko Nakaya for her fog installation Fog Ruins in Franklin Park, Boston.

Career Highlights
  • Presented Sonance for the Precession, a four-channel outdoor sound installation, at Williams College Museum of Art, and Shadows and Sonance, for 52 loudspeakers and six video screens, with Pierce Warnecke, by MassMOCA and ISM Hexadome
  • Recordings include Matanzas, a 12” vinyl LP recorded at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation with support from documenta 14
  • At the Venice Biennale, presented Letter of the Year, a multimedia installation with Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons
  • Appointed to the Fulbright specialist roster and research affiliate at MIT's program in art, culture, and technology
  • Directed an ensemble featuring Marshall Allen (director of the Sun Ra Arkestra), Bruce Barth, Don Byron, Kenwood Dennard, and Robin Eubanks, among others
  • Leader on Timaeus (Cedar Hill Records), with notes by George Russell, and Marcel's Window (GASP Records)
  • Compositions and performances featured at Carnegie Hall, Tel Aviv Biennial for New Music, International Computer Music Convention, Banff Centre for the Arts, and Moscow Autumn, among others
  • Collaborative work with visual artist Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons featured by the 49th and 55th Venice Biennial, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Canada, and U.S. State Department at the Dakar Biennial
  • Composed the music for Relatives by Tony Oursler and Constance DeJong, featured by the Whitney Biennial
  • Organized festivals of time-based art in Rome, Venice, La Spezia, and Siena, Italy; in Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israel; and in New York, New York, and Boston, Massachusetts
  • Participant in the Lucas Artists Residency Program at the Montalvo Arts Center, California, 2018
  • Recipient of the Rauschenberg Residency at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva, Florida, 2016
  • Recipient of the Fulbright Specialist Award, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, 2016
  • Winner of the International Prize for Mil Maneras at the CubaDisco Festival, as the composer and producer, 2015
  • Named to the Fulbright Specialist Roster, U.S. State Department, 2013–present
  • Recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award, Berklee College of Music, 2011
  • Named a media arts associate at the Banff Centre for the Arts, Alberta, Canada, 1986, 1989, and 1990
In Their Own Words

"I really enjoy advising students who are refining their portfolios in their final two semesters. I'm their reality check, sounding board, and idea factory."

"I want my students to be lifelong learners so they can adapt as the music industry changes. They make music in today's styles—creating everything from dance tracks, soundtracks, and algorithmic music to sound installations."

"At the same time, we take a step back and look at key issues of music and technology that won't wear out so quickly. We study ways to work with themes and develop material in modules. Students can advance their work with these tools—in contemporary styles—and at the same time 'bookmark' critical topics that they can explore and leverage for a lifetime."

"I teach my students that time management is a composition skill. The planning process is critical to making quality music efficiently. This doesn't mean you can't just write spontaneously; maybe the best thing you ever write will come out that way. But if you're in this for your entire life, you need to have more than one way to work because some days it's going to come out of you, and some days it won't."

"I believe in intuition and inspiration, and in luck. But what do you do when you don't have those? You've still got to get the job done. I zero in on strategies for doing this in my classes."