Nothing sounds quite right? Roll your own audio! Emphasis here is on quickly prototyping things; What’s the fastest way to try a new algorithm, etc. Good enough for installations, not necessarily for shipping to punters. (Some here are potentially production-grade, though, e.g. Juce.)
The Audio Programmer is a blog and podcast about general audio programming stuff.
Audio-specific programming languages. Why do people invent new DSLs for audio? This is a terrible idea. Anyway, there are some.
tl;dr If you must use a musical DSL, Csound might not be hip, but it’s the one that avoids the more horrible pathologies of its bitrotten competitors. You’ll miss some sequencing capabilities of supercollider, but not the debugging experience, or the inconvenient GPL licensing. Possibly overtone or Tidalcycles could get you there too.
For a satisfying rant/overview see Michael Gogins list which includes a few I missed.
Supercollider, dealt with elsewhere
is an audio application and programming language.
It comprises two parts, a backend synth
scsynth, which is pretty good, and a front-end sequencer
sclang, which looks good but upon closer inspection is a helt together with tape and spit.
Fortunately, because of this modular structure you can use the
scsynth and ignore, to a greater or lesser degreee,
Note that all of these share a common defect, which is that because it is purely GPL’d, it it legally difficult to release real software using it or put it on iphones etc.
Sonic pi is a flagship livecoding music and general coding education language. Vexingly, because it’s so damned friendly it’s hard to find any concrete specs of API docs. How do I even know it’s ruby? I inspect the code from the examples. Then I confirmed by deducing from the manual developer instructions. But the word “ruby” is not mentioned anywhere. There are some powerful ideas in here, like the live sequencing loops, but it’s hard to excavate the advanced instructions you need for advanced usages, and the FX presets will annoy the crap out of you real fast.
Created by one of the supercollider core developers.
However, the community is small, the hacks are fiddly and the docs are incomplete so I spent most of my
time with this thing just being confused.
You need to link up various bits to make it go:
Here, try a supercollider-browser example
Csound is another supercollider competitor with more open licensing, and more sustained development. It’s useful enough that it has its own page. The especially good features are that it’s small, liberally licensed, and designed for clean foreign function interfaces, and thus it works seamlessly with other languages, unlike supercollider which eschewed that by design.
chuck is a recent competitor to supercollider; still not that actively developed, surely in part because their source-management is AFAICT innocent of all innovations in collaborative source code since the 90s, so contributing is too tedious for anyone to bother. Get it to together and get a public github URL, Princeton hermits.
ReaJS is a plugin library from Reaper DAW that allows custom VST design using their weird custom language. cul de sac.
Audio libraries for mainstream programming languages
Wait what? You can just use a normal programming language with a lovely IDE and a sensible debugger, and still make music?
STK is a C++ library implementing various synthesis algorithms in a bareback style, with a special emphasis on physical modelling algorithms for virtual instruments.
Beads brings realtime audio to java. Here’s an intro. It’s an excellent no-fuss way of creating musical audio rapidly. Recommended if you handle java. Disclaimer: I work with the creator of this library author, Ollie Bown, and am therefore biased.
Light spatialization is the specialty of the gaming-oriented open-source OpenAL.
Comprehensive spatialization is the specialty of the open-source SSR.
Python options listed under python audio.
protoplug looks cool; But few venture into this ghetto.
gstreamer is a generic multimedia pipline library that seems to pop up in lots of neat projects.
Graphical dataflow programming languages. A specific kind of DSL, with a visual function graph interface.
For the record, I hate programming using visual dataflow, although I do like visualizing my programs this way. The patchers that offer only a GUI workflow are arse-backwards for my work process, forcing you to click a million times to do every simple thing. But they are famous, and seem simple to the sort of people who prefer clicking on 100 buttons instead of tapping 100 keys. These are the same kind of people who will drive their cars until the rims are on the road rather than take half an hour to pump up the tyres.
Some of the patchers avoid this – faust, and puredata (the latter is is pure patcher per default, but you can persuade it). Also supercollider and chuck are usually classed as patchers, but AFAICT patching style visualisation is broken for both these, so I don’t know what’s going on in this world anymore. Aside: this is being mainstreamed slightly outside of audio by projects like Luna, which approach pure functional languages in this way. Well, Haskell at least.
There is a giant hub of patcher enthusiasts at patchstorage.
MaxMSP, the expensive, bloated, pretty, popular one, with crashy-but-convenient Ableton Live integration. It is now called Max, which makes it impossible to google.
Puredata, the slim, clever open source alternative to MaxMSP, with the remarkable feature of running on smartphones. It’s neat, but there is much too much clicking involved in it in the default setup, and awful abstractions. Puredata by itself is too barebones to do anything interesting with; It’s more of a platform than an app. Get some higher-level abstractions e.g.
integra live is a puredata frontend and library that promises unified pluggable components. They got shafted by committing to Adobe Flex, whose instability as a platform has put the project at risk, but it does look like a rare example of a good UI for an open-source project.
droidparty runs your patches on android devices
AudioLab is a fancier similar library of abstractions.
pisound has sweet puredata integration
MobMuPlat is a standalone iOS+Android app which hosts and loads from a list of available works. Creating your own work consists of two parts. First, creating a graphical user interface (GUI) with the MobMuPlat Editor (macOS and Java versions available); second, creating the audio engine using the graphical programming language Pure Data (PD). With both of these applications open, and data sent between the two, you can simulate the app behavior on your laptop/desktop. Once development is complete, just drag the two saved files into the “Documents” folder of iTunes, and they are uploaded to your iOS device and can be opened in the MobMuPlat app. (For android, get the files onto your device storage folder anyway you like, then open them in the MobMuPlat app).
MobMuPlat can do synthesis, sampling, MIDI, OSC, networking via local wifi, query and set hardware characteristics like tilt/compass/camera flash, display images and vector graphics, be used within AudioBus (iOS only), take joystick/gamepad input (Android only) and much more.
However, Csound also has this facility, so YMMV.
Monologx’s ecoSYSTEM is… am not sure.
- Reaktor, the commercial synth nerd product with amazing synthesis but truly tedious DSP programming by point-n-click and no binary interface.
Left-field entrant, the incredible open-source executable sound, which has an elegant approach – it pumps out demo-scene-style DSP executables.
There are lots more, some of ’em even more expensive than the usurious Reaktor. Everyone likes this way of doing things, and the punters seem happy to cough up cash for it too.
See also Faust, above, which technically fits on this category but Does It Right, in terms of having a real language as well as a dataflow visualisation, and oh p.s. being free, and incredible. However, it doesn’t have good instrument support, (voice allocation, polyphony, VSTi compilation targets) so I don’t actually use it; I merely admire it from afar.
MrsWatson is useful: given a VST, a VST preset and a MIDI and/or audio file, it will render the output of said VST. Command-line. Open-source.
Lazzarini, Victor, Steven Yi, Joachim Heintz, Øyvind Brandtsegg, and Iain McCurdy. 2016. Csound: A Sound and Music Computing System. Springer.
McCartney, James. 2002. “Rethinking the Computer Music Language: SuperCollider.” Computer Music Journal 26 (4): 61–68. https://doi.org/10.1162/014892602320991383.
Orlarey, Yann, Dominique Fober, and Stephane Letz. 2009. “FAUST: An Efficient Functional Approach to DSP Programming.” https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-02159014/.
Puckette, Miller. 1996. “Pure Data: Another Integrated Computer Music Environment.” Proceedings of the Second Intercollege Computer Music Concerts, 37–41.
———. 2007. The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific Publishing Co.
Puckette, Miller S. 1997. “Pure Data.” In ICMC.
Vercoe, Barry. 1986. “Csound.” The CSound Manual Version 3.
Vercoe, Barry, and Dan Ellis. 1990. “Real-Time CSound: Software Synthesis with Sensing and Control.” In ICMC, 90:209–11.
Wang, Ge, Perry R. Cook, and Spencer Salazar. 2015. “ChucK: A Strongly Timed Computer Music Language.” Computer Music Journal 39 (4): 10–29. https://doi.org/10.1162/COMJ_a_00324.
Wilson, Scott, David Cottle, and Nick Collins. 2011. The SuperCollider Book. The MIT Press.