More Hands-Free Wiggling

Do I really need the big, expensive box with all the knobs on it? Or will Csound do the job?

This morning I challenged myself to create something resembling a step sequence that might be produced by an analog modular synth, complete with a few simulations of knob-wiggling. For a first attempt, I don’t think it’s too shabby:

Csound provides both a VCO model and an emulation of a Moog ladder filter, both of which are employed in this clip. While crossfading between a sawtooth and a square wave, I made five other changes, all coordinated from the same crossfade envelope: The filter cutoff drops, the filter resonance increases, the filter/amplitude envelope length shortens, pitch portamento is added, and the attack modulation goes away.

The delay send amount is on a separate envelope, as is the rate of the panning LFO, which starts rapidly and then slows down. Yet another envelope gradually ramps up the center frequency of the bandpass filter in the delay loop, so that what starts as a rather muted delay ends up gliding off into space.

All that could probably have been accomplished in hardware, though I’m not aware of a stereo delay module with filtering in the delay feedback. The changes in the sequence rhythm (there are two of them) might be more difficult in hardware, although I think there are some digital sequencer modules that have storage buffers. The tuning, once again, is pure just intonation, which might not be easy to manage.


Oh, and if you’re a Csounder and want either of these .csd files, drop me an email. I’m happy to share.

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4 Responses to More Hands-Free Wiggling

  1. Tom Bitondo says:

    Jim, how difficult is Csound to use? I’d be willing to jump in, since it’s free… just don’t know how long I’d be able to program anything significantly useful!
    I’m getting tempted, might just download it and give it a shot.
    Tom Bitondo

    • midiguru says:

      On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is, “You’ll need a degree in electrical engineering and the patience of a saint,” and 10 is GarageBand, I’d say Csound is somewhere between 3 and 6. If you have any experience with computer programming, you’ll have a MUCH easier time, because Csound is a form of computer programming. Getting started (assuming you know a little programming) is not difficult, it just requires patience and a willingness to experiment. The online Floss manual is very good. The documentation that comes with the program is fairly terse and abstract.

      A lot depends on what you’re wanting to do. If your goal is to write pop songs, stick with GarageBand (or Logic, or Cubase, or Live, or…).

    • midiguru says:

      The CsoundQt front end, which installs with the program, is very clean and usable, and has some very nice features. As you get deeper into the program, you’ll discover that there’s almost nothing that it can’t do. But on a cautionary note, do not make your first experiments with Csound while monitoring through headphones! It’s quite easy to make shatteringly loud sounds without meaning to. A misplaced decimal point could cause temporary or even permanent ear damage. If you’re working with it at night while the family is asleep, check any critical edits by letting the headphones dangle around your neck rather than having them pressed against your ears.

      The point is, like any other computer programming language, Csound does not prevent you from making mistakes. It’s up to _you_ to catch and fix your own mistakes.

  2. Tom Bitondo says:

    Thanks for elaborating, Jim. I will explore this further.

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