of my job at Sheffield University is to direct the Sheffield
University Sound Studios. I like to compose in these
studios so that I know how they function and so that
I can continue to develop a community that ranges from
students to staff and beyond. I have purchased a limited
set of useful software tools that are used for composition
and teaching. Keeping in touch with the continuing developments
in software is very important but is often quite time
consuming and I depend on many different sources when
it comes to reaching out into the marketplace. This
personal guide tends to concentrate upon what gets the
job done for me but also what seem like interesting
and exciting developments. I am grateful to many colleagues
and friends who have pointed me towards various sites
of interest. This eclectic list of programs, books and
URLs will, I hope be of some use. I also hope that members
will feel they can add to this in the future. Some of
the software is freeware, some of it is not. What is
most exciting is that this list of software grows day
My working methods are simple. I begin by recording
sounds either in the studio (with as good a pair of
microphones and conversion as I can get) or outside
with portable DATs or Minidiscs. I am particularly satisfied
with my little minidisc player and Soundman microphones.
These give a beautiful stereo image and fit discretely
into the ears like walkman headphones. They are reasonably
priced at under £100. DACS (www.dacs-audio.co.uk)
is the UK distributor.
I mostly use a Macintosh (mac) for audio work although
my last piece was mixed on a PC (using Cubase VST: a
difficult task as it is not best suited to fine audio
edits and mixing). There are free versions of the Pro-Tools
software for mac and PC but the functionality of this
software is naturally limited. This style of marketing
from Digidesign (www.digidesign.com)
has proved successful in the past and should cause quite
a stir amongst the audio community. This is the most
efficient piece of software for editing and mixing audio
I have found to date. I used to use Sound Designer (on
the Atari then on the mac) for basic stereo editing.
This was one of my favorites but Digidesign have abandoned
it. The Pro-Tools software offers quick and efficient
mixing and reasonable editing. Sometimes I use Peak
for stereo editing (www.bias.com)
and people say that Spark (www.tcworks.de)
is good too. We also run Soundmaker http://www.micromat.com/
- but check http://www.riccisoft.com/
for the Soundeffects program. On the PC, Cool Edit (www.syntrillium.com)
in its various guises (CE2000 and CEPro) seems to work
fine and has a useful bunch of effects.
Once the sounds are on the machine, the development
process involves knowing what processes you have, knowing
how various types of sounds react to processes and being
able to identify characteristics in your sound that
would benefit from or be of benefit to a process. This
is not to say that after years of experience you will
never have to undo. It will always be the
case that for some reason or other what you thought
was going to work, didn't and best of all, what you
thought would sound really bad, sounded great! The experimentation
involved in studio composition is one of the reasons
many enjoy working in what is normally quite a lonely
environment (the studio or the bedroom). It brings out
the alchemist in all of us (and remember the program
Alchemy ?). But we all know that the work doesn't stop
with the track being burnt to CD. Sonic Arts Network
continues to build a community of composers, performers
and teachers using Music Technology, enabling them to
explore each others' works and discuss these very topics.
I am after all a member of Sonic Arts Network and just
happen to be on the board!
back to development. I spend the majority of my time
with Metasynth. This piece of software (and it's not
expensive for what it does!) is both a graphic to sound
synthesizer (in much the same way as Xenakis' UPIC package)
and a sampler. Its functionality is detailed at the
U&I; software web site (www.uisoftware.com).
Metasynth works quickly and efficiently (although it
runs in RAM so you'll need lots of it if you want to
open long sounds). I tend to generate huge amounts of
material until I reach a critical point where I decide
to start some mixing. Whilst Metasynth is not as accurate
as it could be in terms of one 'knowing' what is going
on (especially with phase and spatial positioning),
it is a tool that the composer can master quickly and
intuitively. It is also an excellent teaching tool.
I am sure my degree level music technology students
wouldn't mind knowing Key Stage3 kids have taken to
Metasynth like ducks to water. If you like Metasynth,
try the graphical mixing package, Metatrack and the
MIDI sampler, Xx. They also make some interesting graphic
software with Artmatic Pro being released towards the
end of November.
mixing process is made more difficult by the fact that
one has to keep track of the contents of Gigabytes of
material. This is an area that requires further investigation
in my view. I am working with Barry Eaglestone in the
Information Studies department at The University of
Sheffield trying to figure out what it is us composers
do in the studio when we start making choices and how
this information can be ploughed back into a suitable
database. Database technology has come a long way and
it is about time that electroacoustic composers were
able to benefit from these advances.
I do find that many pieces of software perform 90% of
the same functions and it is the missing 10% that a)
one sometimes has to pay for and b) one has to spend
hours learning just to make that 10% work! But that's
life, and there should be a certain amount of arduous
labour involved with any tool. Where the filter page
in Metasynth offers a basic sonogram filter, Audiosculpt
from IRCAM (www.ircam.fr)
satisfies the need for more accurate spectral development.
(A sonogram is a graphical plot of frequency vs. time,
with intensity represented as colour intensity.) Whilst
Audiosculpt is extremely accurate in its job, I have
heard many tales of general 'running' problems from
the days when it was the Super Vocoder de Phase (svp).
We were privileged to have Hans Tutschku demonstrate
his working methods using Audiosculpt and Open Music
(a software language that can also be purchased from
IRCAM but is open source if one has a Common Lisp compiler
at the last Sonic Arts Network Conference in Newcastle.
This is a very elegant way of working. Open Music is
a graphics based computer aided composition tool and
whilst it has been seen mainly as aiding 'paper' composers
it is truly open-ended and can output to a five-lined
stave, csound score, finale enigma file or data file.
Sonic Arts Network members Phil Williams and John Croft
have both been working with the software, Phil Williams
modeling Birtwistle's methods (from the Michael Hall
books) and John Croft developing spectral methods after
with the spectral manipulation of sound-files, I have
to pay tribute to Soundhack by Tom Erbe. Truly a masterful
piece of software that you can download for share/music
ware (I sent Tom a CD of my pieces, as have many others).
I still find the spectral extraction a most useful tool
here when 'cleaning' my source files (hum, noise etc.)
- Download from http://shoko.calarts.edu/~tre/CompMusMac/
site documents music software packages for the Apple
and is well worth looking at. The site contains packages
that offer specific processes from the bizarre Argeïphontes
Lyre to software languages (like csound) and some unsupported
rarities that one downloads at ones peril!
I read with interest a recent anecdote from cecdiscuss
that Umberto Eco had likened Macs to Catholicism and
PCs to Protestantism. To join the cecdiscuss e-mailing
list visit cec.concordia.ca.
Put me in a room full of computer musicians and no one
computer will win through. Those who are fortunate enough
to have both often also tend to suggest, well, having
one of each when it comes to the question 'what computer
should I buy?' I have not had much success with 'virtual'
operating systems (installing a program that makes a
Mac look like a PC) although with LinuxPPC and VirtualPC
on a Mac, one, in theory has access to all the sound
software for the PC.I would probably recommend purchasing
a PC (and a Mac), as emulation either way can get rather
frustrating and time consuming! On the subject of PCs
and software, please note that I am not an expert and
therefore my knowledge is limited.
is an excellent resource for PC software. It includes
references to the intricate SAOL language which may
(or may not) be forming part of the new internet music
delivery revolution under the guises of MPEG-4/MPEG-7.
houses a vast collection of software for PC, Macintosh
and other machines. It purports to be the World's Biggest
Music Software Site and is very up to date. One could
spend hours downloading demos (where software is not
free, there is normally a time-limited or non-save demo
version available). If you need freeware for the mac
just go directly to http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/freeware/mac.
A follow up article based solely upon these pieces of
software and their relevance to the membership is now
required. I would not like to say anything negative
against this most excellent of resources, but I am sure
there are many pieces of software that 'reinvent the
wheel' with 'yet another flanger' etc. Sonic Arts Network
thrives on the input members bring tothe organisation.
I know that I work first and foremost upon personal
recommendations and would respect a more detailed list
with explanations of how well certain packages work,
or, a cut-down version of software from composers with
different working methods. Anyone wishing to contribute
an article on this or any other musically related subject
should contact Rachel Spencer at the London office.
not being freeware, the Composers Desktop Project (CDP-
represents a very fine set of tools for sound composition.
The CDP's aim is to bring high computing power to the
desktop composer. I remember seeing an early Atari version
working flat out (normally overnight) on a (normally
one) spectral process. The CDP's suite of programs remains
command line based and this it has to be said is one
of its primary advantages. Batch processing and access
to those for whom a graphic interface is irrelevant
render the CDP a very useful tool. Some of its best
known processes can be heard in the works of most of
the Sonic Arts Network Board and amongst the membership.
The possibility of cliché however should never
override the need for 'the right sound at the right
time'. Even the famous filterbank sounds that, given
the right input sounds generate a very sensuous resonance
are always welcome at the right moment. (You don't need
the CDP to make resonant filters though: Csound and
other languages can do this very easily and now they
appear as a GRM-Tools Plug-in for Cubase VST and Pro-Tools
RealTimeAudioSuite - www.ina.fr/GRM
and www.emf.org). I
have always wondered why resonant filters generate that
luxurious feel in the listener: a kind of full bodied
sound akin to the taste of a strong oak-aged red wine.
Junky, one of my early works at Birmingham used this
process extensively. The fact that the GRM have added
resonant filters to their suite of software plugins
is very interesting. If one reads Sound on Sound (www.sospubs.co.uk)
and looks at a list of software in use by many commercial
sound artists, film composers and industry producers,
the Groupe de Recherches Musicales' software often features
quite prominently. For a long period of time, GRM-Tools
was a mainstay of development in early desktop based
studios. The GRM have just produced a CD-ROM that contains
working examples of simple functions: pitch transposition,
delays, filters and spatialisation. This CD-ROM entitled
la musique électroacoustique can be obtained
or from www.electrocd.com.
As with many of the more complex pieces of software
such as csound/MaxMSP, the CDP can be augmented. The
composer and long-time champion of the CDP, Trevor Wishart
lends his name to some of the most frequently used processes
that operate in the spectral dimension and which are
well documented in his publications (On Sonic Art and
Audible Design, available soon from www.trevorwishart.co.uk).
Trevor has just finished a 'thinking mans' graphic front
end: an interactive workbench called SoundLoom. Both
the CDP and SoundLoom assume you are either fairly knowledgeable
or are willing to suffer for your art by climbing quite
a steep learning curve.
brings me to those pieces of software that suit the
programming composer. Very few of us have the time,
inclination or ability to program computers in C++.
However, we are also not satisfied with programs that
offer very few choices. Hence the arrival of numerous
composition languages. The most famous must be Csound.
It runs on both the Mac and PC and is free. It also
has a very distinguished history from the early work
of composers at Bell Laboratories to the father of Csound,
Barry Vercoe. There are many flavours of this program
and numerous helpers in the form of graphical interfaces
and the like. The best place to start is on the web
at either http://shoko.calarts.edu/~tre/CompMusMac/
Whilst there are many examples of work on the internet,
the Csound book (The Csound book: Perspectives in software
Synthesis, Sound Design and Signal Processing, Boulanger,
R. (ed.), Cambridge, MA. - 0262522616) is well worth
purchasing and is packed full of examples and software
on two CDs. The official Csound front page is located
here: - http://mitpress.mit.edu/e-books/csound/frontpage.html.
Try also Eduardo Reck Miranda's Computer Sound Synthesis
for the Electronic Musician, Miranda, R. Focal Press,
1998 - 024051517X. This covers a number of interesting
synthesis techniques and includes free software.
downloads of Csound and a variety of other useful software
can be made from
There is a special flavour of Csound called Extended
Csound. This program runs with a special board using
Analog Devices Inc. SHARC chips for real-time Digital
Signal Processing (www.analog.com/industry/systems_solutions/audio/csound.html)
. New cards appear for PC every week and all members
know the problems associated with buying PCI cards for
their machines (another article required here too).
We purchased the quite specialized SCOPE and PULSAR
boards from CREAMWARE. They are truly amazing and it
is hoped that the company will continue to attract the
specialist by working with innovative software developer
partners (like CDP, ADI and TC electronics perhaps)
in addition to the consumer market through the production
of great softsynths. I would very much like to hear
from other CREAMWARE users. Please email privately to
also falls under the open-ended sound processing language
category as it uses Csound as its audio engine. It exists
for the mac, SGI (irix) and PC (linux) platforms http://www.musique.umontreal.ca/Org/CompoElectro/CEC/).
(named after composer and programmer, Max V Matthews)
began as an object oriented graphical language for MIDI
and soon afterwards, audio. IRCAM and Opcode created
this specialist market with software that was easy to
learn, functional, and which enabled the composer to
bring the computer into the performing space. The two
programmers most responsible for this groundbreaking
work were Miller Puckette and David Zicarelli. With
improved audio capabilities (Max Signal Processing)
and the ability to export to cubase plug-ins (Pluggo),
MaxMSP is a tight, all in one package available from
the remarkably efficient www.cycling74.com
web site. MaxMSP has for a long time been Macintosh
only but a PC version is due soon. Whilst the prime
forms of the software cost money, you can download a
MAX and MSP player and from this run patches made by
the MaxMSP community. In addition to MaxMSP we run Puckette's
Pd program on our PC already www.crca.ucsd.edu/~msp/software.html
which works in the same way but does not have the polished
look, feel and usability of MaxMSP. For die-hard compilers
(that's the people, not the software), you might try
the open source JMax from IRCAM (running under linux
In the October 2000 issue of Diffusion, Martin Robinson
gave anexcellent description of composition using computers
with specific reference to the program supercollider
This program, has a time limited demo version so you
can sample the complete package before you locate your
With a lisp compiler a number of other packages become
available: Common Music, Common Music Notation, and
Common Lisp Music (which can all be located at http://ccrma-www.stanford.edu/).
As with Csound, one needs to get to grips with an alien
syntax but Lisp still appeals to many who like using
a Limited Instruction Set. With many of these pieces
of software, the user can build their own modules and,
if they so desire, create their own objects in a low
level programming language. Around MaxMSP and Csound
there flourish very active internet sites and email
lists. It's hard to keep up with developments. I'd go
as far as saying it's sometimes best not to try if you
want to get something done i.e. music!
(Spectral Modeling Synthesis) developed by Xavier Serra
builds upon an analysis/synthsis approach (similar to
those used in the SNDAN software advertised by Sonic
Arts Network last year). It is a highly complex program
but one can also download a graphical front end again
to ease the burden.
I have rarely used software synths but am increasingly
drawn to their potential through great sounding models
running on our PC (using the PULSAR board) and downloading
demos like absyn (http://www.absyn.com/
- mac only) and
m/soundforum.html - mac/pc. Audiomulch (www.audiomulch.com)
- pc, offers basic sound processing in a Max style graphic
environment alongside a simple (but very effective)
drum-pattern generator. Whilst many synths now 'model'
instruments, and most people use them as such, the modeling
process at its most complex can be seen and heard in
the IRCAM program Modalys-ER. As far as I understand
the process, one can model strings, tubes and skins
and place microphones, resonators and exciters all over
these virtual instruments in the same way one can place
virtual cameras in animation software.
article has presented a wide variety of software.
I have probably missed your favourite so it would be
interesting to keep this debate going on the Sonic Arts
Nnetwork website. Also, it would be very interesting
to find out if you experience problems with software
as we are investigating the possibility of 'clinics',
perhaps at one of our future conferences with guest
I am pleased that as composers we have begun to forget
about fx-spotting and it is marvelous again to relisten,
reexamine and reuse the sounds and processes of the
60s, 70s and 80s. We have been caught up with the cult
of the new for too long. Many 'new' works only seem
that way because exemplars from the past have been too
easily forgotten. We are neither short of software tools
nor the imagination to use them creatively and I look
forward to hearing members' music at the forthcoming
Sonic Arts Network conference in Belfast.
I hope that this list will prove useful. At its heart
is a list of software that interests me and would interest
me more if I had a couple of free years with which to
get to grips with it all!
packages and notation packages are very common and can
be reviewed in Magazines such as Sound on Sound (www.sospubs.co.uk).
I use, Pro-Tools5 which has very basic sequencing and
Cubase VST which has limited audio functionality compared
to its midi capability. The jury seems out as to those
who prefer Cubase to Logic Audio. Whilst these seem
the market leaders, one must not forget VisionDSP and
Finale and Sibelius still seem to dominate the market
but do not underestimate the new Igor publishing software
which is free. The folk at Noteheads are keen to attract
members to their internet community. Visit
www.noteheads.com. for more details about membership
or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
interesting sites submitted by members.
A growing resource on the "serious music" category of
Electroacoustic Music can be located at
a huge software resource catalogue.
software and sounds.
a fantastic freeware sound converter for the Macintosh.
interesting sonogram transformation tool. (a winner
from the first Bourges Software Competition: www.gmeb.fr)
Make a test tone http://www.audioease.com/Pages/Free/MATTMain.html
analysis - resynthesis software with techniques derived
from Wishart's Audible Design.
- mac granulation software. http://www.audioease.com/Pages/Free/FreeMain.html
virtual sampler for the mac.
a huge site of recommended software (http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/
the Norwegian network for Technology, Acoustics and
Music - interesting software tools (including the DSP
for children program)
QuickTime turntable http://www.deeje.com/qtturntable/index.html
Norris' software additions for SoundMaker http://www.kagi.com/mnorris/software.html