In 1947, Lilburn returned to Wellington to take up a position at Victoria University as part-time tutor in music. He was appointed full-time Lecturer in 1949 and Senior Lecturer in 1955; becoming Associate Professor of Music in 1963, and Professor with a personal chair in Music in 1970. In 1966, Lilburn founded the Victoria University of Wellington Electronic Music Studio and was its director until 1979, a year before his retirement. Having written a considerable body of music for conventional acoustic instruments, he rejected the medium and used the studio for the creation of wholly electronic works. He was arguably the first New Zealand composer to explore the kinds of electronic and electro-acoustic forms being pioneered in Europe’s avant-garde, and felt they would more accurately portray New Zealand in its own right, without reference to culturally-loaded European musical instruments and forms. Some works were purely electronic; others were inspired by natural sounds, making field recordings of beaches, lakes, rivers and natural bush and manipulating them electronically to produce a music that captured the natural spectrum of Aotearoa’s soundscape. Other works interpreted the words of leading New Zealand writers such as Allen Curnow, Denis Glover and Alistair Campbell.
Douglas Lilburn died peacefully at his home in Wellington on 6 June 2001.