Professor Roger Dean

Research Professor of Sonic Communication

The music maker who is pushing the boundaries of music research.

Professor Dean is a renowned Australian composer, improviser and performer whose research seeks to understand how music is perceived and how meaning (notably affect) is generated. He applies new cognitive and computational knowledge to develop novel methods for creating music.



Professor Dean is an accomplished musician and former biochemist who since 2007 has focused solely on musicology and music cognition.

His career began in the United Kingdom as a medical researcher and academic, where he was predominantly involved in research in biochemistry and molecular cell biology, with particular emphasis on free radical biology and atherosclerosis, the main cause of heart disease.

When he migrated to Australia, he served as foundation director of the Heart Research Institute. From 2002 to 2007, he was the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra.

Professor Dean returned to full-time research in 2007 as Professor of Sonic Communication at the MARCS Institute.

I believe broadening artistic expression is just as important as broadening scientific expression, and we have to bring the two together for either to survive and to flourish optimally.

Professor Dean’s research focuses on cognition of music and its computational modelling and generation, in relation to pitch, timbre, rhythm, intensity and affect.

He works with both isolated sounds (pitches, instruments, environmental timbres) and also genuine musical extracts, both acoustic and electronic, to determine of what they are comprised, how they are received by a listener, and what are the effects of listening.

He then creates new methods of structuring music, as part of his process of composing and improvising, often with real-time computational support.


Throughout his career, Professor Dean has worked to fulfil the cycle of practice-led research leading to research-led practice that he himself has promoted (Smith and Dean, 2009). This links “academic” or basic research, with creative outputs in the arts, such as musical and intermedia works.

In his previous roles in biochemistry, he partnered with industry to commercialise research that ultimately benefits numerous patients. A significant legacy is the Heart Research Institute, which remains an internationally recognised medical research institute.

In terms of Professor Dean’s music research, a major impact is the formation of his creative music and intermedia ensemble LYSIS (in the UK), now austraLYSIS, which has performed in 30 countries. This remains an international creative force that produces and performs new music and intermedia, composed and improvised.

Professor Dean has created a prototype deep learning post-tonal free music generator, Deep Improviser (machine learned), that has already made and presented music. The aim of this model is to generate outputs that are distinctive, rather than that recreate existing music or inputs.

I would like, through making music, to encourage industry and policy to realise that making profitable items is not a sustainable long-term goal: rather we need to make socially valuable things in such a way that they prolong human wellbeing, but also the survival of our planet.

Why it matters

Professor Dean’s research – as well as his ongoing performance work - contributes to the appreciation of an increasing range of music, originating from many different cultures, and from many different innovative processes.

He is pushing the boundaries of music composition, such as by using machine learning.

He hopes that linking music cognition with creative and computational processes might challenge and extend that cognition in ultimately appealing ways that will benefit the listener.

Music performance is a social activity, and consequently enhancing the range of music that a listener enjoys can contribute to their empathy with a wider range of social or ethnic groups.

Professor Dean also seeks to understand social groups involved in and responding to music by computational methods of social network analysis, currently particularly focused on Australian new music, in collaboration with Dr Simon Chambers.


1970-1989: Founder of LYSIS, ensemble performing composed and improvised new music and jazz. This later evolved into electroacoustic music, and intermedia, and became almost entirely focused on creating work. I engage in all its aspects.

1972-2002: Internationally active freelance double bass player (Orchestras: e.g. BBC Symphony. Chamber Orchestras: e.g. London Sinfonietta, Europe-leading new music orchestra; Academy of Ancient Music; Australian Chamber Orchestra. Chamber ensembles: Nash Ensemble; numerous new music groups. Soloist)

1974: PhD natural sciences, University of Cambridge UK

1974-present: Internationally active composer/improviser and interpretive performer as pianist, and latterly also as computer artist. Accompanist (with Hazel Smith, John Wallace, Torbjörn Hultmark, Gerald English, Marian Montgomery). Soloist. Jazz musician and improviser (e.g. Graham Collier Music, UK and with hundreds of musicians nationally and internationally); new music ensemble player (notably with LYSIS and austraLYSIS).

1974-1979: Researcher in biochemistry at University College London and then the Clinical Research Centre of the Medial Research Council, UK

1979-1984: Reader in Cell Biology, Brunel University UK

1984-1988: Professor of Cell Biology, Brunel University

1988-2002: Foundation Director of the autonomous Heart Research Institute, Sydney

1989-present: LYSIS (became austraLYSIS)

1984, 2002: awarded examined higher doctorates in science (DSc) and music (DLitt) both from Brunel University, UK.

2002-2007: Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Canberra; recipient of an Australian Centenary Medal; elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities (FAHA).

2007-present: Research professor, focused on music cognition, computation and creation at MARCS Auditory Labs (now MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development), Western Sydney University.

2018: austraLYSIS won the International Robert Coover award for a new work of electronic literature, for novelling.

Professor Dean has performed on the bass, piano and laptop in contexts from the Academy of Ancient Music to the London Sinfonietta.

He has extensive experience in contemporary jazz and free improvisation, mainly playing piano and computers, but previously also bass and vibraphone. He has worked on 50 commercial CDs, and many intermedia and installation pieces. His creative work centres on keyboard/ensemble improvisation and computer music composition.

He edited the Oxford Handbook of Computer Music (2009), and has written five books on music, particularly improvisation. He co-edited the Oxford Handbook of Algorithmic Music (2018), with Alex McLean (UK).


Wikipedia - Roger Dean


As well as numerous scientific academic and industry collaborations, Professor Dean has undertaken improvisation collaborations ranging from Ted Curson to Evan Parker.

Professor Dean is interested in working with expert innovators with whom he can develop strong empathy and mutual intellectual respect to create and/or understand music.

Phone+61 2 9772 6902
Location Western Sydney University Westmead campus