If you’re interested in using computer software for making musical instruments or sound manipulation, there are several programs you can use, but my favourite is Pure Data.
The reasons I like it are:
1. You can do a lot of different things with it
2. You program it graphically, not by writing lines of text
3. It’s free
4. There’s a lot of help available, and a lot of people using it who are happy to share their experiences, and applications (or ‘patches’) they’ve written with it.
Another feature of the program, which I have not used myself, but which you might like, is its ability to handle graphics and video, and integrate these with sound.
This example shows MIDI information and audio information being used together as Pure Data can deal with them both.
From the Pure Data website, you can access manuals and tutorials, and a very helpful series of video lessons. These are also on YouTube: just search under ‘Pure Data’.
The most practical version to use is ‘Pd-extended’, which you can download from here: http://puredata.info/community/projects/software/pd-extended. I use a Mac, but the program is also available for Windows and Linux.
Another program for general use is MAX/MSP, which is very similar to Pure Data – in fact, it was invented by the same person, Miller Puckette. The version you would use to create programs is not free, but the version you would use to run other people’s programming – ‘Max Runtime’ – is free. It’s described at and can be downloaded from the Cycling 74 website at http://cycling74.com/products/max/. There are Mac and Windows versions there.
Other programs I’ve used in this series of projects are to do with different methods of note input – in other words, programs which can interpret input from a QWERTY keyboard, a mouse, joystick, gamepad, etc., and allow you to use it for musical purposes. These devices are collectively known as HIDs or Human Interface Devices, and programs such as Pure Data and MAX/MSP can readily be set up so these HIDs can be used as musical instrument controllers, just like a MIDI keyboard.
I’ve also used:
MIDI Integrator (a MAX/MSP application), which is an easy and efficient way to set your computer up to accept input from keyboard, mouse and so on and use them as MIDI controllers. The program is described at www.altkeyboards.com/integrator and can be downloaded for free from there.
In fact, that website, ‘altKeyboards’ is a mine of information about alternative keyboard layouts, which I intend to write about separately at some point. It’s well worth looking at this page www.altkeyboards.com/instruments/isomorphic-keyboards to see what inspired author Ken Rushton (‘MusicScienceGuy’) to create MIDI Integrator.
Another MAX/MSP-based application is Alexander Refsum Jensenius’s ‘MultiControl’, which is able to recognize input from HID and convert the signals to MIDI output. You can read about it and download it from here: www.arj.no/2008/02/25/multicontrol-v04/.
And finally, a program which is very good, but not free and available for Mac OS only, is ControllerMate. ControllerMate is a very flexible and detailed program for customising input from of all kinds of HIDs. It allows you to assign particular functions to all the buttons and controls on a device such as a keyboard, mouse, joystick etc., and to set up different named configurations – including multiple configurations for the same device – to make it quick and easy to use them for different purposes at different times. ControllerMate is described at www.orderedbytes.com/controllermate/, and can be purchased from there.
These are the programs I’ve found most useful so far. I’ll describe them in more detail when I report on the projects I used them for.