At the Sounding Edge: OpenMusic and SuperCollider3

A look at two recent entries in the Linux sound space, both of them Mac ports.

Even a casual glance at the contents of the pages shows that Linux enjoys a broad range of interesting sound and music applications. Players, recorders and editors abound, and I plan to profile some of that software in this column. This month I present two applications that are rather close to the edge of Linux audio software development: IRCAM's OpenMusic and James McCartney's SuperCollider3.


OpenMusic (OM) for Linux is a porting project working to bring an outstanding music composition environment from Macintosh to Linux. As you might expect from a Mac music application, OM is an intensely graphic environment, and the developers at IRCAM (aka the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris) have done impressive work with the Linux version (Figure 1).

Figure 1. OpenMusic

Its Web site tells us that OM is a visual programming language based on CommonLisp/CLOS, that it is icon-oriented with a drag-and-drop GUI and that it has visual control structures for interfacing with the environment's Lisp structures. OM has been designed as a general-purpose programming language, but its unique classes and function libraries clearly are oriented towards the domain of music composition.

Non-musicians might wonder exactly what OM does for a composer. OM is not a software synthesizer, nor is it a soundfile editor or MIDI sequencer. OM's classes and functions supply the means for exploring the musical possibilities as the manipulation and permutation of sets for pitch, rhythm and dynamics, series and tone-row variation, random and aleatoric generative processes and many other techniques best carried out by a machine. In some respects OM is similar to Rick Taube's outstanding Common Music, another Lisp-based environment for music composition, but OM's rich GUI provides a very different experience.

Basic OM

This article is not intended to be an OM tutorial. I'm merely going to describe its basic operation and show off some of its interface amenities. I must stress that although OM itself is not a new program (the Linux port is for version 4.7.1), it is new to Linux and should be considered as beta-stage software. Not every aspect of the original has been imported faithfully, but I'm happy to say that most of the features found in the Mac versions have made it to the Linux port.

You can acquire OM from the IRCAM URL, but I seriously advise using the Planet CCRMA packages instead. OM requires some extra pieces you may not have on your system, including:

  • CMUCL, Carnegie-Mellon's version of Common Lisp

  • libgtk-canvas, a canvas object for GTK 1.2

  • CLG, the Common Lisp/GTK bindings

  • MIDIShare, a MIDI toolkit from the GRAME team

  • fluidsynth, a soundfont-based synthesizer

Specific versions of these dependencies may be required, so check with the OM Web site for a list of the most current requirements. The Web site also includes detailed installation and configuration instructions from IRCAM developer Francois Dechelle. I repeat, however, that you're probably better off with the Planet CCRMA packages. DEB packages for the AGNULA Linux audio distribution should be available soon.

Once everything has been installed and correctly configured, you can launch an OM session with the following series of commands:

	fluidsynth -a alsa -m midishare soundfonts/8mbgmsfx.sf2

I suggest opening each program from its own xterm. Doing so makes it easier to keep track of any reports or error messages coming from the specific app.

On my 800MHz machine, OM takes a little time to open. Lisp is an interpreted language, so it takes a while for everything to prepare. When the system is ready for use the GTK canvas object appears, and you're ready to start using OM.

OM is similar to its IRCAM synthesis sibling jMax in its use of icons to represent its various classes and libraries. These icons are placed on the canvas and wired together to create a patch. An OM patch may be a note generator, a MIDI event processor or even a simple playback device. OM's icons include classes and functions for arithmetic, list manipulation, random number generation, various MIDI actions, program control and many others. Abstraction (that is, a patch within a patch) is supported, and patches may be saved for reuse within other projects.

Figure 1 shows off a relatively complex OM patch from Karim Haddad's series of helpful tutorials. In this patch (Tutorial 14) we can see many of OM's main features at work. Various icons have been connected to form a MIDI note generator that directs its output to a pair of General MIDI programs played on two MIDI channels by way of the fluidsynth synthesizer. The big blue-green object at the bottom of the patch is an instance of a music/score class called a CHORD-SEQ. In true Lisp fashion, once the patch has been built, it must be evaluated before playing by selecting it and then typing v on the QWERTY keyboard. Type p to hear the results and s to stop the playback. Reevaluating the object produces a new note series.

The example also demonstrates OM's abstraction at work. Both the omloop and note generator icons are subpatches, and I have opened them up for inspection in Figure 1. Again I'll skip the details of subpatch construction, but I should note that subpatches are built in the same way as the way I have described for patches.


Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.


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Re: At the Sounding Edge: OpenMusic and SuperCollider3

Anonymous's picture

Just a comment from a lisp addict: lisp is not an interpreted language! You can always choose to compile your functions (even a runtime). But it does take some time to load the environment....

Author's reply

Anonymous's picture

You're right, my bad. I often compile the Common Music/Common Lisp Music/Common Music Notation family into a single executable image.

This is what happens when I write an article four hours before its deadline... ;)


Author's note 3: OM news

Anonymous's picture

A short note: Karim Haddad has informed me that he is working on the fonts for OM/Linux. We may soon see a more useful notation implementation in OM, woohoo!

Also, I should point out that OM was initially ported to Linux by Gerardo Sarria and Jose Diago.


Author's note 2: regarding JACK etc.

Anonymous's picture

A reader wrote to mention that perhaps I should have gone into the matter of JACK a bit. I want to remind readers that these articles are in no way intended to replace going to the applications' Web sites and following the instructions found there. Also, I have a word limit to these columns and must often leave out other relevant information for the sake of making things fit into that limit.

Having said all that, here's where you can find JACK :



Re: Author's note 2: regarding JACK etc.

Anonymous's picture

Hi Dave,

it's nice to see you've found a way to overcome the word limit. ;)

Thanks a lot for this article. I always wanted to start doing a bit SuperCollider3 writing, and your text gives me another reason.

Let me add, that although SC3 on Linux currently lacks a GUI, there is an interesting project going on to use Pd as a GUI for SC3, which then is the synth engine instead of the one in Pd. See the Pd CVS for some file downloads.

Frank Barknecht

Author's note: Credits and a Web site

Anonymous's picture

I must thank Karim Haddad, Patrice Tisserand, and Francois Dechelles at IRCAM for their help with OpenMusic. I must also thank Stefan Kersten and other members of the SuperCollider mail list for their great assistance with SC3.

I neglected to add this site for SC3/Linux users :

Sorry about that...


Re: Author's note: Credits and a Web site

Anonymous's picture

Little addon for credits:
Gerardo Sarria and Jose Diago made the port of OpenMusic on GNU/Linux.

Patrice Tisserand