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Experimental Computer Music and Electronic Music Creation

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Experimental Computer and Electronic Music Creation

Here are sources for free or relatively inexpensive software and hardware to create computer or electronic music.  The emphasis here is on experimental approaches to creating music with technology, rather than the traditional (sequencers, sound editors, synthesizers and such).

Free Computer Music Software - Free and Open Source Software for creating Computer Music

  • Pure Data (pd)
    This Free software (Win, Mac, GNU/Linux) is developed by Miller Puckette - the same person that originally developed the interactive programming language MAX. PD (stands for Pure Data) and is similar to Max - allowing you to patch together various
  • Csound
    Csound is another Free program for creating music with a computer (Win, Mac, Linux). Csound is one of the most powerful computer music languages available. The language is primarily text based and in its native format is not "real time". The composer
  • ChucK Audio Programming Language
    ChucK is a real-time audio programming language for synthesis, composition, and performance. This language is being developed at the SoundLab at Princeton University. It is available for download free for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
  • SuperCollider
    Here is how SuperCollider is described on their web site : "SuperCollider is an environment and programming language for real time audio synthesis and algorithmic composition. It provides an interpreted object-oriented language which functions as a n
  • Planet CCRMA
    A free collection of software packages that you can add to a computer running RedHat 9 or Fedora Core 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 to transform it into an audio/video oriented workstation (only on the 32 bit versions, Planet CCRMA has not yet been built on 64 bit
  • Impromptu
    Impromptu is a free Mac OS X program for creating interact music - and graphics. The programming language Impromptu uses is Scheme, which is a variation of the Lisp programming language. Impromptu is optimized for use in live performance, to the poin
  • jMax
    A Java implementation of the Max programming language. Runs on Linux PC, Mas OS X, and Windows (beta version).
  • QuteCsound
    QuteCsound is a free open source frontend for Csound. Although Csound is one of the most powerful computer music languages available, no one would ever say it is the easiest to understand and use. QuteCsound aims to simplify working with Csound by pr
  • Kenaxis
    Kenaxis is a realtime performance software allowing for the use of the laptop in improvisational and compositional settings. This software allows for live sampling and real time sound manipulation including looping, granulation, and convolution. Ther
  • SynStart
    The Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology (ICST) of the Zurich School of Music developed SynStart, and describes it as follows: "SynStart is a free open source framework for audio programming in C++. It embeds all the interfaces and book
  • pure:dyne
    pure:dyne is an operating system built for live sound and visuals. It is based on Linix and can run on either an Intel Mac or virtually any Intel based PC. It requires no installation - it runs from a CD. In addition, the distribution include a LOT o
  • KeyKit
    KeyKit is a real time graphical programing environment for MIDI (does not handle audio). It is very useful in experimenting with realtime and algorithmic music.
  • Open Sound World
    Open Sound World is an open source graphical programming environment for processing sound in response to real time control. Open sound World is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.
  • HighC
    HighC is a music composition tool inspired by Iannis Xenakis' UPIC. HighC allows you to draw curves in the time/frequency domain, assign envelopes and waveforms to them, and use copy/paste/move/resize operations to create easily very rich soundscapes
  • Ess
    Ess is a Java base (uses JavaSound) app that allows you to stream, generate, manipulate, and anlayze samples in real time. It looks interesting - it seems a small amout of code can do quite a lot. However, the documentation is somewhat weak, It appea
  • Lesilon Sonate
    Lexikon Sonate is a free algorithmic music generator for Mac OS X. This program generates music in real time based on a set of "compositional strategies". Lexikon Sonate plays the built in Quicktime piano; it cannot be used to control any other synth

Books about Free Music Software Packages

Web Software for Experimental Music

The following sites have software that allows you to create computer music within a web browser.

  • WebPd
    WebPd is an implementation of a subset of the Pure Data (pd) graphical programming language for use in a web browser. This allows you to create pd patches that can be played in a web browser. Currently the only browser supported is Firefox v. 4.0.
  • Lily
    Lily is a browser based virtual programming environment. Lily is written in JavaScript. It is not specialized to music and sound, however the developers have incorporated Open Sound Control (OSC) in Lily. This is essentially a web based environment s

Algorithmic Music Composition Websites

Sites that concentrate on software that creates music. Remember, however, we are talking about experimental music here. Although software exists that creates many traditional music styles, this list does not concentrates on traditional styles.

  • Algorithmic Net
    This site is a virtual library of algorithmic composition tools and information. There are links to many freeware/shareware/opensource software applications, as well as links to articles and books on algorithmic composition available on the internet.
  • Karlheinz Essl: Music Software
    A number of software programs, primarily for the Apple Macintosh, for live performance, music composition and sound design. This is real time software that uses various generative algorithms to create music and soundscapes.
  • Music Algorithms
    This website contains a series of interactive tools for exploring algorithmic music composition and sound analysis.
  • cgMusic
    cgMusic is a free algorithmic music program that creates music in a wide variety of styles. It uses 2 master algorithms which have numerous parameters that can be adjusted. The final songs are written as Standard MIDI Files to be played with a Genera

Experimental Interfaces

  • Monome Controller
    An open source alternate controller consisting of a 8 x 8, or larger, grid of backlit buttons. Completely programmable and reconfigurable. They are available as kits for you to assemble. A VERY INTERESTING project
  • Auduinome
    A DIY Arduino based Monome clone. Very Cool!
  • RGB Monome Clone
    Here is information for building another Monome Clone. It is a pretty plain web site, but it seems to contain all the information you need, including schematics, parts suppliers, and code (I haven't built this so I am not certain of the completeness)
  • The Stribe
    The Stribe is an 8 channel touch controller. Each channel is a touch sensitive slide controller. Each channel can be operated by sliding a finger along it's length, or by touching a specific location along it's length. In addition, each channel has a
  • Monome Applications
    A collection of applications for the above mentioned Monome controller.
  • Aurora Open Source Mixer
    Aurora is an Open Source controller/mixer. It can be used to control/mix sounds on a computer. The design is much like a DJ mixer, but itoffers many possibilities. The web site contains everything you need to build and program this controller, includ
  • DIY 3D controller
    Here is a 3-dimensional controller built with an Arduino controller, aluminum foil, six resistors, and a few basic miscellaneous parts. It works on the same principles as a theremin except in 3 dimensions.

Computer and Electronic Music Hardware and Interfaces

Hardware and hardware kits useful in creating electronic music and creating non traditional physical interfaces.

  • Paia Electronics
    This is a fantastic company for any interested in building their own electronic instruments. They have numerous kits that range from complete instruments (including a theremin kit) to individual sound generation and processing modules. The instructio
  • Resonant Frequency
    A web site for DIY electronic music hardware. There is a fairly large number of DIY links for all types of schematics and synths. Also, there is also a section of links to articles on the basics of electronics and building a synth.
  • Electronic Music Schematics
    A HUGE collection of schematics for sound generation and processing hardware.
  • MIDIsense DIY analog to MIDI board
    An open source analog to midi board provided by Limor Fried. This is a somewhat advanced DIY project, however a kit or a just a printed circuit board are available.
  • uCApps
    As they say on their web site "DIY Projects for MIDI Hardware Geeks". Includes projects for MIDI processors, mergers, routers etc....
  • Highly Liquid MIDI Decoder Kits
    A great collection of kits for interfacing MIDI with other electronics. Highly Liguid has a MIDI controller that accepts input from 24. These inputs can be switches (up to 128 through multiplexing) potentiometers, rotary encoders, and analog signals.
  • littleBits
    littleBits is an open source repository of electronic circuits assembled as individual circuit boards. These individual boards can be interconnected to create complex projects. Right now the website only has some demo videos, but they say "Stay tuned
  • Livid Instruments
    Livid Instruments has two very nice button controllers. The Block and Ohm64. The block is similar to the Monome with 64 buttons laid out in a 8x8 grid and some pots and 2 sliders. The Ohm64 has the same 8x8 grid plus additional pots and sliders arra
  • The Synpad
    The Synpad is a DIY MIDI drumpad. This pad can detsct where you hit it as well as how hard you hit it. It requires a Arduino Processor (see section below for information on the Arduino).

Books On Building Experimental Music Hardware


A variety of microcontroller systems that can be used when interfacing with computers to control electronic music.

  • Arduino Physical Computing Interface
    This is from Arduino's web site: Arduino is an open-source physical computing platform based on a simple i/o board, and a development environment for writing Arduino software. Arduino can be used to develop interactive objects, taking inputs from a v
  • NumberSix
    A $25 open source bare-bones computer to use as a microcontroller!
  • Garnier
    Another open source microcontroller project. The site provides everything you need to build this. In addition, this site has software libraries for interfacing this controller with Max/MSP and Flash. Purchasing all parts for this project costs abo
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Other Computer/Electronic Music Web Sites and Resources

Here are some additional web sites with information about creating Computer and Electronic Music

  • Pure Data tutorial
    Tutorials on using Pure Data. From basic music making to building synths and sound effects. Overall, quite good.
  • Programming Electronic Music in Pd
    A new tutorial on programming Pd. The entire tutorial is available on this website, or it can be purchased as a book. All patches used in the tutorial can be downloaded from the website.
  • Digital Sound Generation Book
    From Icst's website: "This continuously evolving online book covers methods and industry-grade algorithms for musical synthesizers. It is intended to serve as a developer's reference.... The part about oscillators is now provided for download.
  • Open Studios
    An interesting community based web site that describes itsef as follows: "Open Studios acts as a global Help Desk for those who want to build and operate community-based recording studios. With little more than a cheap computer, that cheap desktop c
  • The Theory and Techniques of Electronic Music
    This is a book by Miller Puckette the developer of Pure Data (listed above). This web page has a web version of the book, a pdf version, a postcript version, and a link to the publisher where you can purchase the book.

Writing Your Music Software Yourself

Websites with information on writing your own experimental music software.

Books On Writing Music Software

Experimental Computer Music Composers

Here are the web sites of some of my favorite Computer Music and Electronic Music Composers.

  • Nicolas Collins
    Someone who has created the most interesting electronic devices for music creation. He is the author of Handmade Electronic Music: The Art Of Hardware Hacking listed below.
  • Laetitia Sonami
    A great Computer/Electronic Music Composer/Performer. She is best known for her "Ladies Glove", a glove that is interfaced with a computer to control sound production and processing.
  • David Tudor
    David Tudor is not only one of the premiere figures in new music performance, but as a composer he chose to connect various electronic components and create and perform music that focused on their components' interconnections.

Experimental Computer Music Videos

  • IRCAM Video
    A short video from Techstull on IRCAM, France's Institute for Computer For Research and Acoustic Music Coordination founded by Pierre Boulez. IRCAM is one of the worlds lading research centers for computer music.
  • ChucK: A Computer Music Programming Language
    This is a video of a lecture given by Ge Wang, one of the developers of ChucK. The lecture discusses the design, philosophy, and development of ChucK. Also, the use of ChucK in the Princeton Laptop Orchestra (PLOrk) is featured.

Centers for Experimental Computer Music

    Center for experimental electro-acoustic music dedicated to the performng arts in Amsterdam. They have developed or assisted in the development of numerous hardware and software projects including The Hands, The Sensor Lab, mage/line and LiSa.

Books On Creating Your Own Sounds

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