Part 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 by 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( and people say that Spark ( is good too. We also run Soundmaker - but check for the Soundeffects program. On the PC, Cool Edit ( 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!

Anyway, 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 ( 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.

The 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 ( 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 from 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 Grisey.

Continuing 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

This site documents music software packages for the Apple Macintosh ( 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 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 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 Darryl Biggs at the London office.

Whilst 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 - and 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 ( 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 from or from 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 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.

Which 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 or 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: - 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.

UK 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 ( . 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

Cecelia 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

Max (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 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 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 I believe).

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 wallet.

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 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!

SMS (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 ( - mac only) and m/soundforum.html - mac/pc. Audiomulch ( - 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.

This 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 experts.

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!


Sequencing/Audio packages and notation packages are very common and can be reviewed in Magazines such as Sound on Sound ( 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 Digital Performer.

Notation. 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 for more details about membership or contact

Other 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:

Make a test tone mac only.

Marcohack analysis - resynthesis software with techniques derived from Wishart's Audible Design.

thonk - mac granulation software.

VSAMP virtual sampler for the mac. a huge site of recommended software ( )

Notam the Norwegian network for Technology, Acoustics and Music - interesting software tools (including the DSP for children program)

Zerius Vocoder

QuickTime turntable

Mike Norris' software additions for SoundMaker

Grainwave synth


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