A list of things, for my own reference, that I have used or wish to try to make sound come out of my computer.
See also composition for the structure of the harmony/melody/bassline and all the non-DSP stuff.
DAWS and trackers of note
Reaper, Renoise, Sunvox, Non, bitwig. Renoise is actually incredible. Highly recommended for its well-designed scripting interface (using Lua) and consistent design quirk. Not open-source, but cross-platform and cheap. Non looks interestingly designed and if I want my project to work on Raspberry Pi, it fits the bill… Sunvox is also a contender there. blue is the weird quirky DAW for csound.
However, let’s deal with the gorilla in this room:
The default all-purpose stage-n-studio tool.
Full of irritating limitations, but then the competitors are full of even more, even more irritating, irritating limitations. It is scriptable, in an half arsed sort of way. That irritation can be soothed by certain hacks. See Ableton live
Also the rather improved sibling…
A derivative of Ableton live that attempts to remove the irritations and bloat and address certain long-standing annoyances. It’s cheaper and in fact pretty good, if you can live without all the fancy Ableton libraries. I think I can. See Bitwig.
DAW-optimized Dropbox workalikes.
For the record, I hate programming using visual dataflow, although I do like visualizing my programs this way. These programs get it 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 people who like clicking 100 times instead of typing 100 characters.
MaxMSP, the expensive, bloated, pretty, popular one, with crashy-but-convenient Ableton Live integration
Puredata, the slim, clever open source alternative to MaxMSP, with the remarkable feature of running on smartphones.
Puredata by itself is too barebones to do anything interesting with, however. Get some higher-level abstractions e.g.
droidparty runs your patches on android devices
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 (OSX 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.
Monologx’s ecoSYSTEM creates an entire modular synthesis system.
or roll your own extensions using faustdsp.
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 FaustDSP, below, 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.
Libraries, frameworks, musical-domain-specific-languages
See audio frameworks
- Helm is an open source heavy-modulatable synthesizer
- Usuriously expensive, but cool:
Kontakt, a de-facto standard for sample-based instruments.
- If you want it to build new sample ambient libraries you might want to use in addition photosynthesis
- Fluidsynth is an open-source wavetable(?) synthesizer.
- And DinIsNoise, the wonderful, quixotic, idiosyncratic project of peripatetic waveform genius Jagannathan Sampath, who is good value and deserves your support. I have no use for it personally, but my life is made more wonderful by mere knowledge of its existence.
- STEIM’s RoSa is a freaky sample-based synth which only the Dutch can ever truly understand.
- SIR sounds OK. Free: SIR1 (windows) Paid version does lots of freak mdulation tricks: SIR2 (mac/windows USD185)
- $$$: Altiverb (mac/windows, USD600-1000)
- Waves IR*
- Reverberate: Fancy and free editions. (windows, GBP50)
- The name LAconvolver tells you all you need to know about the aesthetics and currency of that plugin (free, mac)
- freeverb3 is a fugly reverb library suite that does sophisticated hybrid convolution, allpass and physical modeling, oh my, and is open source, but is so oldskool they think your DAW is a text editor. You probably should get the freeverb3vst if you don’t want to compile your own code. (Straight to downloads.)
Modern versions of Logic and Ableton have convolution reverbs built in too.
- wacky delays:
- Celemony. (polyphonic autotune OMG)
- protoplug again (creates plugins)
- FaustDSP again (Of course, Faust creates plugins too. The polyphony handling is clunky enough that you probably don’t want to do this for synths without some other library.)
- Redux, the plugin version of renoise.
Don’t judge me. See composition.
Jack and Soundflower route audio out of horribly limited software into differently limited software, giving you flexibility at the cost of confusion. Using audio effects software to effect audio synthesis software doesn’t sound like rocket science but turns out to be tedious. Jack on OSX has the only working version hidden deep in the github bug reports as opposed to the normal download page, indicating that development on this project has partially stalled. Soundflower is inflexible and periodically unmaintained despite intermittent commercial backing. Fragility hell in these free options is avoided somewhat by loopback, a rather expensive commercial competitor. Maybe owners Rogue Amoeba will use that funding to keep maintaining their product, having fucked up soundflower on their own watch? But should I reward that behaviour by buying a license?