[linux-audio-dev] CSound usability

Dave Phillips dlphillips at woh.rr.com
Tue May 3 20:09:22 UTC 2005

Toby wrote:

>I'm still studying the solutions you people kindly gave me in my other
>thread, but I thought I'd post this slightly OT spinoff in the meantime!
>Dave Phillips wrote:
>>>From the original post:
>>>The problem is that I don't know of any software synthesizer that is:
>>>2. easy to use by non-experts 
>>>   (this is a direct stab at CSound, or better at its lack of a
>>>   decent GUI, of a standard instrument exchange file format and of
>>>   a decent, centalized library of presets)
>>Csound has no integral GUI, sorry. It does have a set of FLTK-based
>>GUI widgets which lets you create your own GUI.
>>The Csound orc file has been and still is the way Csounders exchange
>>instruments. There are in fact a number of instrument libraries out
>>there. I think the original poster might not be quite up to date on
>I might very well fail be up to date on CSound, in fact I'm still
>trying to find my way through it and all the various interfaces/
>utilities/extensions/what-not people have come up with.
>But from my (limited) experience I see that not only does writing a
>CSound instrument require knowledge of the CSound language and of its
>architecture (that's obvious), but that *incorporating* an existing
>CSound instrument into a new composition requires almost the same
>skills.  And those are computer programmer-level skills, not average
>music writer-level ones.
I taught myself how to use Csound, I have no special background in 
mathematics or computer programming.

>I'm not running down CSound, I'm just backing my claim that it's not easy to use by non-experts. At all.
Some non-experts work harder at this kind of thing. I'm one.

I think by the time you're done learning how to write your 
sequencer/synthesizer you'll have spent considerably more time learning 
how to do that than you would have spent learning how to use Csound.  ;-)

>Let's make a comparison, although a simple, maybe unworthy one: Reason™.
>Novice users don't *need* to know how the Malström* works to be able to
>1. load a patch 2. give it MIDI input and 3. start playing.  They only
>need that kind of skill if they want to make their own patches or modify
>existing ones.  (*: a small piece of soft-synth found in Reason™)
>Granted, the power of any synth lies in customization, but IMHO part of
>its *usability* lies in being able to play it *without* knowing how to
>program it.  That's what presets are for anyways!
I might have misunderstood your original intent. I thought you *wanted* 
a programmable synth with exceptional microtuning capabilities.

>An ORC file you say?  Most of the instruments I've seen need both and
>ORC and a SCO file to be of any use (problem #1.)  Moreover, since you
>need to come up with a single ORC and a single SCO to make CSound render
>your composition, you have to merge the various ORC/SCO file-pairs of
>the instruments you want to use, along with the additional SCO file
>containing the actual notes (problem #2) and AFAIK you need vast
>knowledge of the ORC and SCO syntax to be able to do it (problem #3.)
I think you don't completely understand Csound, especially modern 
Csound. The orc file defines the instrument, always. The sco file 
supplies the instrument (s) with parameter values and event times 
(start/duration). Contemporary Csounders usually use the CSD unified 
file format to define both instrument and score within a single file.

There are many catalogs and collections of predefined Csound 
instruments, or you can simply borrow and build from the examples found 
in the many available Csound compositions.

I occasionally teach Csound to high-school students, again with no 
special background beyond their basic music skills.

>I could go on, but I think you see my point.  (Unless I'm seriously
>misunderstanding how CSound works nowadays, in which case I'll apologize
>to everybody and go read some CSound mailing list archives!)
If you're coming from a point & click environment then indeed Csound may 
not be sufficiently amenable, but it does do what you're looking for in 
a synthesizer.



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