After wrestling with Csound for a couple of days on my PC, last night I found a way to do what I want to do. Or at least I think I did. It may be weeks before I know for sure.
Csound started life, many years ago, as a command-line program. In those days, command-line programs were state of the art: computers with mice and windows were still a laboratory curiosity. In recent years several people have built “front ends” for Csound with the idea of making it user-friendly. But of course the authors of the front-end software are unpaid volunteers. Sometimes things break. Sometimes things are released without being rigorously tested on a variety of systems. Depending on the details of your computer system, using a front end, or attempting to, may actually make your life worse rather than better.
I had sort of forgotten about blue. Blue is a very nice front end for Csound … in Windows, at least. Though it’s theoretically cross-platform, having been written for the Java Runtime Environment, in the MacOS blue is a little cranky. This is because developer Steven Yi doesn’t have a Mac to test it on. Blue is his personal composition system — he makes it publicly available as a gift to the Csound community.
So now I can get Csound to respond, in real time, to MIDI inputs from a hardware keyboard and play notes out to my Firewire interface with acceptably low latency.
The next step is to figure out what sort of music I want to make with it. This is not a simple question. Every music software system has certain biases built into it. It will encourage you to consider things that it does well, and discourage you from considering things that it does badly. The trick is to understand those strengths and weaknesses well enough to work with them, while simultaneously keeping your hand and eye firmly on matters of musical expression. If you let the software dictate the music to you, the results will almost certainly be dismal.