After University where he gained a B.Mus and M.Mus, Chris Burn worked as a composer, arranger, conductor and pianist in both contemporary dance and jazz. He gained a number of awards for his work and broadcast on local and national radio and television. In the 1970s he had participated in workshops on 'intuitive music' led by Robin Maconie, a one time assistant of Stockhausen but the 1980s saw a transition to free improvisation. Having worked with saxophonist John Butcher for a number of years, the two musicians recorded Fonetiks in late 1984 and toured Britain the following year. Subsequently they teamed up with Australian flautist Jim Denley and cellist Marcio Mattos to form Embers. This quartet has twice toured Europe, once toured Britain and recorded on Acta. Other work with Butcher has included a quartet with Martin Klapper and Jindrich Biskup that played a brief Arts Council sponsored tour of England in early 1996.
In 1984 Chris Burn formed the octet Ensemble, reflecting his interest in organising music for a large number of improvising musicians. In 1990, Ensemble toured Britain and were featured on the SPNM's (Society for the Promotion of New Music) Improvisation Day. More recently they have broadcast for BBC Radio 3 (1992, 1994), for WDR radio and television and performed at a variety of European festivals, including Bochum; Stadtgarten (Köln); Ulrichsberg Kalaidophon; Victoriaville; and Crosswinds (London). An expanded version of Ensemble also exists featuring, in addition to the usual members, Alex Dörner on trumpet; Mark Wastell on cello and Rodri Davies on harp.
As an improvisor, Chris Burn has forged a unique style of piano playing by developing a multitude of alternative techniques, both on the keyboard and inside the instrument. He is also known for his performances of the piano music of Henry Cowell (writing a documentary for BBC Radio 3 about Cowell's music in 1995), John Cage and other contemporary composers, sometimes including compositions and improvisations in the same concert. His notes to his performance at 'An Acta Evening' in London in August 1997 included the statement: "For my performance this evening, I will combine some or all of the pieces listed below, with my own freely improvised music. I have chosen these particular pieces because they demonstrate interesting and innovative uses of the piano." The works included five pieces by Henry Cowell, three by John Cage (Dream, The wonderful widow of eighteen springs, Suite for toy piano), two by George Crumb (Morning music, Rain-death variations), and Six little piano pieces Op 19 by Schoenberg. As an improvising soloist, Burn has performed at many festivals throughout Europe, including Ruhr Valley (Bochum); FMP (Berlin); London Musicians Collective; Loft (Köln). He performed in Derek Bailey's Company in 1990. In 1993 Chris Burn was shortlisted for a Paul Hamlyn award for composers.