Initially a self taught artist and musician Chesworth became involved in the post-punk and experimental performance scene that was active in Melbourne in the late 70's. He attended Latrobe University in Melbourne with the intention of becoming a sound engineer but he never completed that aspect of his training. Composer and lecturer Warren Burt and others introduced him to current experimental music, minimalism and all manner of the arts at a time when we were witnessing the death throes of modernism.
Taking over from Burt, Chesworth ran the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre (CHCMC) between 1978 and 1982, a venue which became a focus for experimental arts including music, video, performance and film which at the time existed well outside the 'legitimate' arts scene in Australia.
He co-founded and worked with experimental music group Essendon Airport performing and producing records such as Palimpsest and Sonic Investigations of the Trivial. Chesworth made other recordings including LP's 50 Synthesizer Greats and Layer on Layer. What these works have in common is an infectious raw musicality coupled with an on-going questioning of long held meanings and values associated with music and art production and an exploration of the roles of artist, performer and audience.
He also worked within the independent music scene running the Innocent Records label with Philip Brophy and producing many recordings for groups like Essendon Airport, Tch, Tch, Tch, Laughing Hands and The Underground Lovers. The Innocent label also released the albums New Music 1978/79 and New Music 1980 which were compilations of works from the Clifton Hill Community Music Centre, a Melbourne based centre for experimental music, film and video.
As well as working in sound during this time, David also made use of emerging video technologies, creating a series of video works on the EMS Spectre video synthesizer, investigating relationships between sound and image. These were intended as simple experiments but are now considered rare and engaging examples of early Australian video art. These works were exhibited at the 1983 Paris Autumn Festival and at several Australian experimental arts festivals at the time but have not been exhibited in recent times.
Chesworth developed many large-scale Performance Art works in which he performed. These works combined his interest in investigating and describing language within visual, aural and performance elements. Works include Industry & Leisure which was performed in Popism curated by Paul Taylor at the National Gallery of Victoria, No Place and Skippy Knows which was created for and performed at the 1983 Paris Autumn Festival.
Chesworth feels that music cannot be fully perceived and comprehended without the orchestration of broader contexts surrounding its mediation and performance. This was one of the concerns that led to a gradual involvement with a series experimental 'operas' beginning with Insatiable in 1985, a work for four performers, audio playback and projections, which was performed in Melbourne and Sydney and then filmed in its intended form as a video opera.
Then followed a series of critically acclaimed operas with Melbourne's Chamber Made Opera. With initial conception and direction by Douglas Horton, Chesworth created music scores for Recital in 1989, Lacuna in 1992 and The Two Executioners in 1994. Recital's narrative flow is quite unique and is partly due to the innovative use of new sampling technologies alongside traditional performance elements. Recital continues to tour internationally 15 years after its first performance.
In writing music for experimental opera David came to work with a number of musicians who developed a real understanding of Chesworth's distinctive musical style. Some of these musicians suggested that they form an ensemble to continue to perform Chesworth's music beyond the operatic seasons. Thus the David Chesworth Ensemble was formed in 1994, which has developed into one of Australia's most original and respected musical groups.
For five years from 1987, Chesworth worked with fellow composer Les Gilbert at Sound Design Studio, which was taking a new approach to soundscape design by taking advantage of developing, advanced digital recording technologies to create soundscapes for museums, zoo's and aquariums throughout the world. Over this time with Gilbert, Chesworth developed new approaches and strategies to sound design in public spaces, developing ways to create large scale sound installations that could sit comfortably within spaces and remain engaging. These musical/spatial/interactive works were created for a diverse range of contexts including the Osaka Aquarium, Biosphere2 in Arizona, San Diego Zoo, Tennessee Aquarium and Silicon Valley Science Museum. His experiences during this period informed an approach to his later sound art installation works created with Sonia Leber.
Chesworth was invited to present his own sound design work in concert at Ars Electronica in 1989. In 1993 he received an Ars Electronica Honourable Mention for Digital Music composition for Southgate a large-scale outdoor soundscape performance commissioned for the opening of a new cultural river precinct in Melbourne.