Oliver Bown



Oliver Bown
Lecturer in the Design Labs,
Room 274A, G04 'Wilkinson Building', 148 City Road, The University of Sydney, NSW 7128
+61 2 9036 7128

Oliver Bown

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Research Areas | Units and Programs | Academic Qualifications | Professional Experience | Memberships and Associations | Biography | Publications and Outputs

Units and Programs

  • DECO3200 | Human Computer Experience Design studio
  • DECO1013 | Sound Design and Sonification

Research Areas

  • Digital music, music software and performance systems.
  • Computational creativity, biologically-inspired computing, complex systems and ecosystems.
  • Multi-agent modelling, models and theories of cultural dynamics and human evolution, particularly with respect to human artistic behaviour.

Academic Qualifications

  • Phd | University of London, (Thesis: Theoretical and Computational Models of Cohesion, Competition and Maladaptation in the Evolution of Human Musical Behaviour).
  • Bachelor of Science | Trinity College, Cambridge.
  • Master of Arts | University of Sussex

Professional Experience

  • Lecturer | Design Lab, University of Sydney.
  • Research assistant | Creative Research in Sound Arts Practice Group, London College of Communication
  • Post-doctoral researcher | at Centre for Electronic Media Art, Monash University, Melbourne.

Memberships and Associations

  • Program committee for the EvoMusArt Workshop, and the International Conference on Computational Creativity.
  • Organised workshops and concerts for the Live Algorithms for Music Research Network and EPSRC (UK).


Oliver Bown is a British researcher and electronic music practitioner. He joined the Design Lab, at the Sydney School of Architecture, Design and Planning, in June 2011. His research interests include digital music, music software and performance systems, computational creativity, biologically-inspired computing, complex systems and ecosystems, multi-agent modelling, models and theories of cultural dynamics, and human evolution, particularly with respect to human artistic behaviour.

He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1999 with a degree in Mathematics (part 1) and Social Anthropology (parts 2A and 2B) and completed an MSc in Evolutionary and Adaptive Systems from The Centre for Research in Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex in 2004. His PhD, completed in 2008, was in theoretical and computational models of the evolution of human musical behaviour, at the Centre for Cognition, Computing and Culture at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Since then he has worked as a research assistant with the Creative Research in Sound Arts Practice group at the London College of Communication, and as a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Electronic Media Art at Monash University, Melbourne.

At Goldsmiths, Oliver was also involved in the Intelligent Sound and Music Systems (ISMS) group, exploring the creative uses of audio analysis tools, and the Live Algorithms for Music (LAM) research network, exploring the creative design of autonomous music performance systems. The topic of Live Algorithms has become a major research and creative interest, in particular methods for creatively incorporating opaque complex dynamical systems into performance contexts. He organises workshops and concerts around this subject, and a major presentation of this work was given at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 2010, with the collaborative group, Not Applicable.

His PhD looked at the evolution of human musical behaviour from the point of view of gene-culture coevolutionary models. New developments in areas such as music psycology and ethnomusicology, coupled with what we know about social organisation and the evolution of social behaviour in humans and other animals, have led to a number of theories of why humans make and enjoy music. These include the idea that music emerged through cultural innovation as a kind of parasite, exploiting our evolved love of patterns and existing vocal signals, the idea that it is a sexually selected trait, and the idea that it is a mechanism of social cohesion, each of which is a plausible evolutionary position with supporting evidence. Simulation models of evolutionary processes can explore the assumptions behind such theories and can be used to generate new ideas about relevant factors and dynamics.

At the Centre for Electronic Media Art in Melbourne, he collaborated on an ARC Discovery Project that investigated the creative applications of multi-agent models taken from studies of ecosystem dynamics in theoretical biology and artificial life. The group developed a number of protoypical artworks and models to demonstrate the evolutionary dynamics of ecosystem models, and the potential structures and patterns they could form. From this they derived principles for the creative uses of ecosystems.

In his musical work Oliver collaborates with musicians and artists in free-improvised music, electronic studio music production, electronic media art and film. Before arriving at the Design Lab, he produced a 'parametric' album with his group Icarus, which will be released with 1,000 variations.

Oliver also currently maintains a Processing library for computer music, called Beads, which is useful for the rapid development of generative and interactive computer music systems, and doubles up as a useful teaching tool for creative music software programming.

Publications and Outputs

Book Chapters | Journal Articles | Conference Presentations and Publications

Book Chapters

2011 | T. Blackwell, M. Young and O. Bown, 'Live Algorithms', in J. McCormack, M.D'Inverno and M.Boden (eds), Computational Creativity, Springer, Berlin. (Forthcoming).

2009 | McCormack, J, Bown, O R 2009, Lifes What You Make: Niche Construction and Evolutionary Art, Applications of Evolutionary Computing EvoWorkshops 2009: EvoCOMNET, EvoENVIRONMENT EvoFIN, EvoGAMES, EvoHOT, EvoIASP, EvoINTERACTION EvoMUSART, EvoNUM, EvoSTOC, EvoTRANSLOG, Springer, Berlin Heidleberg, LNCS 5484, 528-537

2008 | O. Bown, 'Worlds of Human Sound', in Playing with Words, Cathy Lane, ed. 2008. (Published by Cornerhouse, CRiSAP, Manchester/London, UK.

Journal Articles

2011 | O. Bown, 'Experiments in Modular Design for the Creative Composition of Live Algorithms', Computer Music Journal, 35:3, MIT Press. (Forthcoming)

2010 | O. Bown and J. McCormack, 'Taming Nature: Tapping the creative potential of ecosystem models in the arts', Digital Creativity, 21:4, pp.215-231, 2010.

2010 | O. Bown and G.A. Wiggins, 'From Maladaptaion to Competition to Cooperation in the Evolution of Musical Behaviour', Musicae Scientiae, Special Issue 2009/10: Music and Evolution, eds. O. Vitouch and O. Ladining

2009 | O. Bown, A. Eldridge and J. McCormack, 'Understanding Interaction in Contemporary Digital Music: from Instruments to Behavioural Objects', Organised Sound, volume 14, issue 2, p. 188-196.

Conference Presentations and Publications

2011 | Martin, A G, Jin, C T, Bown, O R 2011, A Toolkit for Designing Interactive Musical Agents, 23rd Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference: Design, Culture and Interaction (OzCHI 2011), Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Canberra, Australia, 194-197

2011 | O. Bown, J. McCormack and T. Kowaliw, 'Ecosystem methods for creative domains: niche construction and boundary formation', in Proceedings of IEEE Alife, Paris, 2011.

2010 | M. Young and O. Bown, 'Clap Along: A negotiation strategy for Creative Musical Interaction with Computational Systems', Proceedings of the First International Conference on Computational Creativity, Lisbon, Portugal, 2010.

2009 | O. Bown and J.McCormack, 'Creative Agency: A Clearer Goal for Artificial Life in the Arts', Proceedings of the 10th European Conference on Artifical Life, Budapest, Vol. LNCS/LNAI

2009 | O.Bown, 'Ecosystem models for real-time generative music: a methodology and framework', [[Proceedings of the International Computer Music Conference]], Gary Scavone, Vincent Verfaille, Audrey da Sliva (eds), Montreal, Canada, pp. 537-540.

2009 | O. Bown, 'A framework for ecosystem-based generative music', in Proceedings of the SMC 2009 - 6th Sound and Music Computing Conference, Fabien Gouyon, Álvaro Barbosa and Xavier Serra, (eds), Porto, Portugal, pp. 195-200, 23-25 July 2009.

2009 | O. Bown, 'Against Individual Creativity', in Dagstuhl Seminar Proceedings 09291: Computational Creativity: An Interdisciplinary Approach, 12 July 2009 to 17 July 2009, LZI (Leibniz-Zentrum fur Informatik GmbH), Wadern, Germany, 2009.

2009 | D Jones, O. R. Bown, J. P. McCormack, F. Pachet, M. Young, R. Berry, I. Asaf and B.S. Porter: 'Stimulating Creative flow through computational feedback', in Dagstuhl Seminar Proceedings, 09291, Computational Creativity: An Inderdisciplinary Approach, 12-17 July 2009, LZI (Leibniz-Zentrum fur Informatik GmbH), Wadern, Germany, 2009.

2009 | J. McCormack and O. Bown, 'Life's what you make: Niche construction and evolutionary art', in Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Proceedings of EvoWorkshops, M. Giacobini, et al. (ed).

2007 | O. Bown and G.A.Wiggins, 'On the Meaning of Life (in Artificial life Approaches to Music', in Proceedings of the 4th International Joint Workshop on Computational Creativity, Goldsmiths, University of London, p. 65-71, 2007

2006 | O. Bown and S. Lexer, 'Continuous-Time recurrent neural networks for generative and interactive musical performance,' [[i||Springer Lecture notes in Computer Science, Proceedings of EvoWorkshops, pp. 652-663, 2006.

2006 | O. Bown, 'The Extended Importance of the Social Creation of Value in Evolutionary Processes: A proposed model', Computational Creativity Workshop, ECAI, Riva Del Garda, 2006.

2005 | O. Bown and G.A. Wiggins, 'Modelling Musical Behaviour in a Cultural-Evolutionary System', Computational Creativity Workshop IJCAI, Edinburgh, 2005.