Let there be sound


And there was sound.


As 2023 is now half over (wtf?), it’s time to look back on my end of year post, where I made some plans. https://www.bit-101.com/blog/2022/12/

  1. Create my own interpreted language.
  2. I want to finally do something with music.
  3. I’d love to do another side project creating graphics for something.
  4. Of course, I’ll finish the Coding Curves project.

Not sure if number 1 will happen this year. Or number 2. I did wrap up Coding Curves! So that’s good.


But what about that music thing? My goal was to learn enough about music to actually release a song. Releasing meaning posting on this blog. Song meaning a sequence of sounds that is vaguely musical.

As mentioned in the post, I was dabbling with MilkyTracker at the time. It was fun, but wasn’t quite getting me where I wanted. Then I took a deep dive into LMMS. Also very powerful and fun, but was still a bit frustrating to me. Both these tools felt like they were leading me down a path to create a very specific type of music with predefined conventions. And fiddling with hundreds of settings in scores of UIs just wasn’t cutting it for me.


So I took a break for a while. Then recently I started looking into Supercollider again. I’d dipped my toes into it once or twice in the past. I found a few different resources, but then ran across this series. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLPYzvS8A_rTYEba_4SDvRJyIyjKaDNjn9 This is actually a college course on Supercollider and it is really good. The teacher is also writing a book on SC which will be out later this year.

I also just took delivery of The Supercollider Book by MIT Press.

This book was published in 2011, but Supercollider is pretty stable, and there are online resources, so if there are any discrepancies, I can hopefully figure them out quickly. This isn’t a cover-to-cover tutorial type book anyway, but more a series of long articles on different subjects. Good for a deep dive on a particular aspect of SC.

Where I’m at

So, here is a … “song” that I created.

I put “song” in quotes because it’s really just a stochastic series of notes. But I think it sounds rather pleasant, even if it’s way too unstructured. It’s a single synth definition, creating three different synths with different settings, playing random notes from a pentatonic scale with random but quantized timings. This isn’t straight up copied from a tutorial. I got some basics, researched some other stuff, played around and came up with some ideas of my own. Very fun.

I’m not counting this as my goal of releasing a song though. This is the equivalent of drawing 1000 random lines and calling it art. OK, maybe. But maybe not. But maybe.

But I’m currently very excited about this. Supercollider is just straight up writing code in a code editor, executing that code, and having music come out. That works with how my brain has been used to working with graphics over the last 25 years. I’m not great at tools like Illustrator or Photoshop, etc. But give me a graphics api and I can code cool images for days.

Actually, my forays into Supercollider remind me a whole lot of my early days in Flash and ActionScript. I had no idea what I was doing at first, but I was able to draw a circle. Then I was able to make that circle move with code. Then I got it to bounce off the edges of the screen. I added gravity, and dampening, and bouncing coefficients. Then I got drag and drop working and even made it so you could throw the ball. I wrote all that up in my Gravity Tutorial back in the late 90s. It predates “bit-101” by a couple of years. That article right there was the start of everything I’ve done since in technology.

With sound and music, I feel like I’m just about at that point where I have the circle bouncing off the sides of the screen. There’s so much more to learn and I feel like I can just dive into different topics and add little bits of knowledge to what I already know and make cooler and more interesting soundscapes.

The 2000’s were great, discovering all the different things I could do with Flash. Graphics, animation, physics, math, fractals, art, etc. In the 2010’s, HTML and JavaScript started taking over. You could now do most of what you could do in Flash right on the web, with no plugins, either with 2D canvas, or WebGL. Even SVG got pretty powerful. I got on the canvas bandwagon and did that for several years. But a whole lot of what I was doing was rehashing ideas I came up with in Flash the previous decade. About 6 years ago I started coding in Go with Cairographics and I’ve really been enjoying that. But again, doing a lot of the same themes over again. Yeah, I’ve found plenty of new things and have leveled up a lot of different techniques, but it’s not the same as that first bunch of years of pure discovery.

I’ve felt like I’m constantly looking around for some new graphical technique that will excite me for years. Now I’m thinking that switching from graphics to audio might be exactly the kind of move I’ve been looking for. There’s SO MUCH to learn. There’s so much stuff that I just don’t have a clue about. It’s daunting, but very exhilarating. Because I feel I CAN learn it. And it’s all brand new.

There’s also the allure of creating the graphics AND accompanying music for an animated piece. I’ve done a collaboration or two with a friend who actually knows how to make music, and I have another collab I’m working on with another friend, and I’ve created some music with Garageband to go with one animation. That worked out better than it might sound, but to write the visuals and the audio myself, in code. That’s the holy grail. So, we’ll see where this goes…

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