Behold the power of the Web. Back in December, a reader from National Instruments wrote to tell me that one of their developers had adapted the digital signal processing capabilities of their LabVIEW product to synthesizing sound. In other words, you can take this high-end development platform for “testing, measurement, and control” (i.e., primarily for scientists and engineers, not something you’d normally find musicians hanging around), and use it like a musical synthesizer. That made for a limited audience for a story to say the least; you kind of need to have a LabVIEW sitting around. But I had a feeling someone somewhere would find the crossover between music applications and National Instruments lab gear to be useful. Sure enough, that someone has appeared: Marc from EuroAvionics, a manufacturer of task management and navigation systems for helicopters, writes:

We would like to use the MOTU 24 I/O in combination with LabVIEW to record sound and generate signal outputs.

Do you know if there is a VI that interfaces the MOTU 24I/O with LabVIEW?

So, we missed out on having Peter Gabriel write to ask where he could get a LabVIEW synthesizer for his next album, but this perhaps is the next best thing — helicopter avionics, meet music audio interfaces. And the answer is, indeed, yes. You can make LabVIEW work with off-the-shelf audio hardware on Mac and Windows. Ryan, a technical writer for NI, gives us the full details (and check out comments for an update: this powerful visual development environment will set you back just US$90 if you can get the academic version, meaning this might well be useful to many of you):

Hi Peter,

Good to hear from you again. LabVIEW includes a number of VIs that interface with standard audio drivers for both input and output of .wav files. We do this via DirectX.

You can see a list of sound input functions, included with LabVIEW 8.0, here:

And a list of sound output functions here:

And a list of general sound file configuration functions here:

From these you should be able to get a general idea about what LV is capable of, sound-wise.

LV also includes filters, measurements, windows, analysis, signal generation/manipulation, and many other VIs useful for dealing with digital music (or signals in general):

Keep in mind this is all standard LabVIEW; you don’t need the DSP Module (mentioned in the original post) to get these functions.

Hope this answers your (Marc’s) question.

Now, sure, I could have just emailed that response to Marc. But I’d rather again unleash the awesome forces of Google, which seems to be at its best the more obscure the query. And what is CDM about, if not occasional forays into obscure sound tech?

Anyone else?

  • david

    if you're a student, I am, you can get the $2400 version of this for $89.00 almost cheap enough for an impulse buy

  • Believe it or not, I have a copy of LabVIEW sitting in my office with a nice big paperback textbook to go along with it. I have been meaning to play around with it, but haven't gotten around to it yet. I ordered an evaluation copy of the student version of the program–a freebie for college professors considering use of the program in courses (well, you never know…;-)

    I've looked at it enough to know that it's pretty thorough in the audio area, offering various oscillators, FFT tools, sound analysis tools, etc. Oh, and by the way, it runs on both Windows AND OS X. (At least the version I got does).

  • Just a tip for LabView starters: a quite encompassing forum for LabView questions and sample code is at
    though it's mainly for professionals…

    (I'm in no way affiliated; site is not owned by National Instruments, nor Calmetric)


  • Thanks, Silvio!

    If any of you get this working (Tim?) and do anything interesting with the synthesis aspect, do let me know! I'd love to hear music composed in LabVIEW. đŸ˜‰

  • How does Labview compare with Max/MSP?

    Could Labview be made Max/MSP-like with a minimum of effort?

    How hard would it be to write a looper with LabView?



  • RyanB

    Having used LabView in school and just recently starting to dabble with MaxMSP, LabView wins hands down as a language. It isn't that Max is bad — in fact there are many things that I think it is great with — LabView is just that good at some things. LabView is designed as a visual language providing many of the traditional sorts of constructs. Max makes some things very difficult… it is almost non-deterministic when you try to figure out what value will appear on a gate. Going through the trace, you will see times when a value will propagate through different logic gates, and will trigger a bang before the value is even written into the gate for pass through. Coming from LabView, that's just a bizarre way to do it. I know there is an order of right to left, bottom to top, but that doesn't always make it easy to figure out how things are triggered at a glance. LabView isn't perfect and has the opposite problem of holding until it gets all the input data it needs, but at least it is relatively easy to figure out what signal you're going to see on a line.

    That said, Max has many more ready made "tools" for tweaking audio and video, so as an industry standard, it is the current system to learn.