Roger Dean (Composer-improviser; keyboards, computer; arts researcher; Founder and Director of LYSIS and austraLYSIS)

"one of the guiding figures in electro-acoustic music in Australia" (Julian Day, New Music Up Late, ABC FM, 20130302)

play roger's miniature, "sounding science"

View an article about his musical activities, or a newspaper comment. Hear his inaugural lecture as a research professor at MARCS Auditory Labs, University of Western Sydney (October 2007). Listen to his polemic on how to establish an Australian cultural funding policy which will treat creative work and performance equitably: a talk at the Currency House series at the Sydney Opera House (2008; also heard on ABC radio in 2009).


Roger's notated compositions / acousmatic works / compositions for improvisers / multimedia work  / free improvisation recordings/ creative work on lp/cd / other commercial recordings / humanities research publications /a selection of improvisers and jazz musicians with whom he has worked


Roger Dean is a composer/improviser, with a long experience as performer on double bass, piano, vibraphone and computers. This experience embraces both classical and new music as interpreter and accompanist, and jazz and improvised music. Dean read natural sciences at Cambridge, completing a PhD there in 1973, and moved to London thereafter, to pursue a dual career as research scientist (in biochemistry and cell biology) and musician. In 1988 he moved to Sydney, Australia, as the foundation director of the Heart Research Institute, and to continue his musical career. From 2002-2007 he was Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Canberra, after which he returned to Sydney moving his research from biochemistry to music cognition and computation, all the time continuing his musical activities internationally. 

         Roger studied several instruments, commencing with the piano at the age of about 10 and continuing actively thereafter.  He learned and performed extensively with the double bass (played professionally until 2002), and less extensively with the clarinet (ceased when about 19), and the vibraphone (performing in jazz and improvised music until 1988). When desktop computing and particularly the music programming platform MAX became available (in the early 1990s), the computer became for him both a performing and composing vehicle on which he also continues currently.

         Dean commenced on the double bass at the age of 11, and joined the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, performing a solo piece at the Wigmore Hall in London under their aegis at the age of 15 and becoming leader of the bass section. Bass playing was a major activity while he was a student at Cambridge, during which time he gave what seems to have been the UK premiere of Rossini's Duo for cello (played then by David Waterman, later of the Endellion Quartet) and bass. He also commenced playing in London, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and in deputising roles in musicals and ballet. Once living in London, he freelanced extensively, with almost every new music ensemble in London, most notably Music/Projects London, the London Sinfonietta and his own ensemble, then called LYSIS. He also worked with chamber ensembles and orchestras (such as the Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Hickox Orchestra, Orchestra of St Johns, London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, the Nash Ensemble and Sonant). He commissioned and premiered numerous works for double bass, and played occasional classical concertos and recitals. He has worked with composers such as Kagel, Knussen, Stockhausen and Xenakis. On arrival in Australia, he worked frequently as principal bass in the Australian Chamber Orchestra (and was commissioned to write and conduct his SonoPetal for them and austraLYSIS, as his ensemble was renamed in Australia). He also played bass with Sydney Alpha Ensemble (including being a soloist with them in 1995), austraLYSIS, and in many other contexts before ceasing bass playing on moving to Canberra. His most notable recordings on the bass appear on the CDs by Sonant of music by Milhaud, Spectrum's Xenakis recording on Wergo, and (austra)LYSIS' Cycles, Windows in Time, Dualyses and Resounding in the Mirror CDs.

         During his teens he learnt the clarinet, dropping it in favour of the vibraphone, on which he performed professionally with Graham Collier Music and on CD with LYSIS, before ceasing playing the instrument in Australia. His most continuous instrumental playing has been on the piano, now joined by the computer, often played simultaneously as in his MultiPiano Event (and the MultiPiano double CD of 2012). Piano playing includes chamber music, in Cambridge and thereafter, and accompanying, both in classical music and in jazz. For example he has at different times done regular accompanying with John Wallace (trumpet), Hazel Smith (violin), while also working with Peter Jenkin (clarinet), Gerald English (tenor), and jazz singers such as Marian Montgomery and Norma Winstone. His chamber playing as pianist ranges from Sonant, to (austra)LYSIS, Spectrum, Sydney Alpha Ensemble, Watt and others. His main piano playing is as a jazz and free improviser, with Graham Collier Music (1974-2013), austraLYSIS, and in duo and larger ensembles with many improvisers from the US, Canada, Europe, Asia and Australasia. Such collaborators include Derek Bailey, Ted Curson,  Barry Guy, Palle Mykelborg, Evan Parker, and Terje Rypdal.  He has performed piano duos with most of the leading improvising pianists in Australia, and solo piano in many countries. SEDition B is a current free improvising endeavour with Phil Slater, Sandy Evans, Roger Dean and Simon Barker. Quadrilateral is Matt McMahon and Dean in piano duet or two piano formation. Dean's main collaborators in LYSIS in jazz and improvised music were Ashley Brown (drums), Marc Meggido and Mick Hutton (bass), and Art Themen and Mark Lockheart (saxophones) and on occasion, Harry Beckett or Kenny Wheeler (trumpet). austraLYSIS in its improvising guise has mainly involved Tony Buck (drums, electronics), Phil Slater (trumpets), Sandy Evans (saxophones), and Greg White (computers), with Evans and White together with Dean comprising the austraLYSIS Electroband.

         For Dean, composition and improvisation are interlocked, and his work moves freely amongst and between them. In the 1970s, he was resistant to the idea of completely notated works, but wrote an extensive repertoire of jazz compositions, and other compositions for improvisers, notably an extended feature for Ken Wheeler (trumpet/flugel) and an enlarged LYSIS, which is on Lysis Plus (Future Music Records, UK). In the 1980s, he developed increasing interest in instrumental composition and in music for instruments and tape, which gradually transmuted (given the availability of computing power) into instruments, digital manipulation, and digital sound sculpting, real-time and in preformed compositions. Collaborations with his partner Hazel Smith, who became a writer alongside her performing career as a violinist, focus on text-sound interactions, again live and pre-recorded and composed (these include Poet without Language (1992), Silent Waves, Nuraghic Echoes, and The Afterlives of Betsy Scott, and Bird Migrants (2014), all commissioned and recorded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation). His It Gets Complicated for piano/speaker has been recorded by Michael Kieran Harvey, and released on Red House Records (cd RED 9401). His computer music has been presented at the International Computer Music Conference and in many other contexts. His largest commission to date, SonoPetal, was from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, supported by the Australia Council, and he conducted it around Australia in 1996. He also has completed commissions from Peter Jenkin, Rob Nairn, b'Tutta, Sydney Alpha Ensemble, Chaconne Brass, Torbjorn Hultmark,  and the Wallace Collection.  More recently he provided sound for interactive multimedia installations, Finitude,  and Long Time No See by Keith Armstrong and collaborators. His scores and about 50 recordings are available through the Australian Music Centre. By the mid 1990s much of Dean's and austraLYSIS's work was computer-interactive, and deeply involved in intermedia, now increasingly including radio pieces (text and sound), interactive and composed video, and hypermedia (non-linear linking of elements). Since 2007 Dean has extended his collaborations to include making interactive sound work for installations and web pieces in collaboration with Keith Armstrong and Hazel Smith (Australia), and Will Luers (US). 

         Besides his recent empirical extensive research studies of cognition and computation of music (see Google Scholar for listings), Roger has written much on improvisation, in five books, one in collaboration with Hazel Smith. He has also edited the Oxford Handbook of Computer Music (2009), and is currently co-editing a handbook on Algorithmic Music (with Alex McLean, UK) again for Oxford University Press. Dean's academic and leadership experience is summarized in the Wikipedia article on him (Roger_Dean_musician) and on the website of the MARCS Institute, University of Western Sydney, where he is currently a research professor.


Dean is interviewed about music and postmodernism, together with many other Australian composers and improvisers, in David Bennett's Sounding Postmodernism (Australian Music Centre, 2008; pp.186-194).

".... sparks of genius"... (John Shand, Artforce 105, 14; 2000).


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