Nothing sounds quite right? Roll your own audio! Emphasis here is on quickly protoyping 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.)
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 an audio DSL, Csound might not be hip, but it’s the one that avoids the more horrible pathologies of its bitrotten competitors. You’ll miss the sequencing capabilities of supercollider, but not the debugging experience, or the inconvenient GPL licensing. Possibly overtone could get you there, if you want a more maintained language? Licensing is still tricky though.
Supercollider, dealt with elsewhere is an audio application and programming language. It has some hard to find features, such as
- supporting polyphony with programming primitives in a natural fashion, and
- a more sophisticated time and sequencing system than anything else I’ve seen. (although they still don’t do it quite right; leaky abstractions and poor management of state mean that it’s IMO a glorious failure rather than the answer to the question of sequencing.)
It has a small but committed community, and doesn’t require extortionate licensing fees as an open-source project. Unfortunately it is purely GPL’d, which makes it difficult to release real software using it or put it on iphones etc. Supercollider’s tasty language features sound great, but they are nearly unusable because of the obscure and buggy nature of the language they are embedded in. Having used this language extensively, I feel qualified to recommend against it; It has fame and regard because it really was the best in the field in 2002; But it’s missing the bulk of the progress since 2002 that mainstream languages have taken for granted.
Also, it’s falling gradually apart, rootbound by a frozen and confusing chaos of early design decisions that make the sequencing unreliable and inflexible, state-management an irritating hack, and the ecosystem a jungle of different partial workarounds. Functional reactive programming has really honed a lot of the design patterns here.
However, because of its modular structure, you can use the synthesis part of supercollider, scsynth, which is pretty good, with some other languages than the ricketty front-end, sclang. These are all IIRC discussed on my main supercollider page, but listed here to save you and I both a click.
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.
Wait what? You can just use a normal programming language with a lovely IDE and a sensible debugger, and still make music?
- JuliaAudio does audio processing in Julia
- STK is a C++ library implementing a lot of synthesis algorithms in a bareback style, with a special emphasis on physical modelling algorithms for virtual instruments.
- maximilian is Mick Grierson’s C++ library for doing audio graphs, and seems to be a pragmatic choice for many artists (Direct source link)
- Juce seems to be the cross-platform Audio-GUI of choice and can host faust code; so that’s nice. I wonder if it can plug into maximilian?
- Beads brings realtime audio to java. Here’s an intro. It’s really 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 biassed.
- 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 art python
- protoplug looks cool; it runs jit-compiled lua scripts as DSP/whatever engines in a VST plugin. But few venture into this ghetto.
Graphical dataflow programming languages. A specific kind of DSL, with a visual function graph interpretation.
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
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 nice UI for an open-source project.
droidparty runs your patches on android devices
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 (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.
However, Csound also has this facility, so YMMV.
Monologx’s ecoSYSTEM creates an entire modular synthesis system.
or roll your own extensions using faust.
Many synth progamming environments
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.