Negroponte’s $100 One Laptop Per Child will include creative music making tools for children. Our friend Nathanael Lecaude writes us:
Just wanted to let you know what I was working on during the summer, we’re doing a sequencer/algorithmic music generator for the OLPC project. We did all the protoyping in Max and are now porting it to Python/GTK using Csound as the sound engine.
TamTam, music app on the OLPC Wiki
TamTam is intended both as an instrument in itself and an environment for learning music. It has basic sequencing and synthesis capabilities, presented in a child-friendly format. It’s also networked so children can play together. The sounds themselves will be influenced by the countries in which the OLPC will be distributed, with instruments of various kinds from Brazil, China, India, Thailand, and Nigeria. (I’m not sure how they’ll deal with tunings, but then, early in the Dutch occupation of what is now Indonesia, Javanese composers experimented with mixing the Pelog- and Slendro-tuned gamelan with Western marching band, an experiment my Javanese teacher later applied to Scottish bagpipes and gamelan. Anything is possible.)
It’ll be interesting to see how this evolves, as I could see it being useful internationally or other efforts being modeled on similar ideas.
For more technical background: Python is a dynamic, object-oriented programming language that’s unusually easy to learn. CSound is the powerful, free sound synthesis platform that’s shown up everywhere from experimental compositions to the guts of at least one karaoke machine (really).
Brad Fuller’s O’Reilly blog, which has a running commentary on OLPC (as well as insight on why operating systems are meaningless!)
MIT’s OLPC site and (importantly) OLPC wiki, which responds to at least some of the “why” questions discussed in comments on this story. Whether the OLPC initiative itself winds up living up to its goals, it seems to me that a cheap, accessible, open source sequencer for kids should be valuable regardless.
More on this issue: See our follow-up story, TamTam, Music Software for Kids, to be Fully Open Source; One Million OLPCs in Nigeria