Csound for Linux

Mr. Phillips discusses some history as well as what's happening now in the Linux Csound world.

Russell Pinkston's PatchWork for Win95 is a graphic “patcher” for the design of Csound instruments. Although a UNIX/Linux version of this program exists (XPatchWork), it has not been maintained and is in need of some serious debugging. However, the Linux WINE Windows emulator can run the Win95 version, proving once again that Linux always finds a way. (See Figure 7.)

Figure 7. PatchWork


Developer Richard Karpen has generously shared many of his opcodes with the general Csound community, one of which is called “space”. In the Csound manual entry for space is a mention of a GUI for creating the values needed by the GEN28 stored-function table, and SoundSpace is that GUI. Written in core Java, this unique utility provides a visual interface for determining the placement and sonic trajectories of up to 8 sound files in the auditory space, with support for stereo and 4-channel output. (See Figure 8.)

Figure 8. SoundSpace

Into the Future

What is still to come? By the time this article is published, I hope to have some more Csound/Java applications running. Developer Michael Gogins has expressed great interest in seeing his “Silence” Csound environment running under Linux Java, and the prestigious IRCAM Music and Sound Research Center announced that a Linux version of their MAX for Java will be available at the end of 1998. Who knows; maybe someday I'll get around to completing my Tcl/Tk clone of Csounder, the popular Csound “launcher” for Windows (or at least get it working better under WINE).

The most recent versions of Linux Csound (3.49.xx and up) can be built for use on the 64-bit DEC Alpha. Thanks to developer Ed Hall, Linux Csound can claim to be the first 64-bit music and sound composition language widely and freely available to the public.

Nicola Bernardini continues to improve the distribution packaging: building Linux Csound is easier than ever, thanks to his incorporation of the configure utility. Work proceeds on accommodating autoconf and automake, since it is a primary objective to use the best tools available for creating the best possible distribution.

One of the intriguing problems facing the development group is how to make Csound re-entrant, enabling a plug-in architecture for Csound. To many of us, such an undertaking would mean a complete rewrite of Csound, and who knows where that might lead—“Son of Linux Csound”, perhaps? If you would like to join a very interesting distributed development project, take a look at the links listed in Resources and feel free to join the development group mail lists.

Richard Boulanger is a professor at the Music Synthesis Department of the Berklee College of Music. In the spring of 1999, his Csound book will at last be published by MIT Press. On one of the included CDs, you will find an article (which will, of course, be out of date by then) about running Csound under Linux. Yes, it was written by me, but I don't mention it to blow my own horn. This book is a massive tome and it includes contributions from all the major (and some not-so-major) members of the international Csound community. It should inspire many new users, several of whom will discover for the first time that Csound is available on the Linux platform.

Final Words

Linux Csound offers terrific possibilities for real-time computer music performance. Along with advances in real-time support, Linux Csound can be expected to stay at the cutting edge of synthesis methodologies, interface design, DSP algorithms and composition strategies. It is an ideal tool for contemporary sonic exploration and it demonstrates once again the flexibility and power of Linux, the cutting edge OS for the modern musician.


David Phillips (dlphilp@bright.net) is a composer/performer living in Ohio. Recent computer-music activities include an ambient composition for the artist Phil Sugden, lecturing on computer-music programming languages at Bowling Green State University, and maintaining the “official” version of Csound for Linux. Dave also enjoys reading Latin poetry, practicing t'ai-chi-ch'uan, and any time spent with his lovely partner Ivy Maria.