For many, mobile technology and developing for the iPhone and the iPod touch is a fad and a Gold Rush. Good designers, though, take a longer view of how interaction can be expressive. And there are few people with a better sense of the big picture of small devices than Dr. Ge Wang. The co-founder, CTO, and Chief Creative Officer of Smule has a background that goes well beyond the latest Apple platform. Along with Perry Cook at Princeton, Ge Wang is the co-originator of ChucK, a real-time programming language for synthesis so efficient some people use it live onstage. (ChucK, as an open source project, now has a terrific team of people behind it.) ChucK is the sonic engine that powers Smule’s projects. Ge Wang also teaches at Stanford, working with students and fellow researchers to explore new ways of interacting with music technology.

Ge Wang joined me for a lengthy phone conversation recently. He really contextualized why the iPhone is important in the grand scheme of things, but also how the people at Smule and Stanford (and Princeton) can approach technology for musical interaction, focusing on what devices are rather than what they’re not.

(The audio here, believe it or not, is extensively edited – Ge Wang is that easy to talk to. I hope the next time it’s over beers rather than Skype.)

The full interview can be played below, or downloaded directly.


Download MP3 of the interview

Thanks to KORG and the Nano Series for their support of programming on

Lastly: a video of the Smule team headquarters and playing around with Leaf Trombone for a Zelda duet!

More information:
The Mule Chronicles [Smule Blog]
Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA), Stanford University

Previously, for more on Ge Wang and CCRMA:
Make:TV Meets Stanford Musical Inventors, Feedback Piano

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  • It's so easy to see these applications as mere toys, and of course to a large extent they are. However they can also be seen as one of many small steps to make music technology much more accessible to people. With this comes the need for a more direct and less convoluted language.

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  • m

    Unfortunately, ChucK isn't really efficient at all, it's actually quite sluggish compared to platforms like Supercollider, or even the venerable CSound. When I downloaded and tested ChucK recently, I was surprised at how much CPU it took just to do some basic synthesis. People have been using realtime synthesis languages for some time now, and my impression is that the only reason using ChucK for live performance is even an option is that computers have gotten powerful enough for it to be usable in modest scenarios. i have great respect for Ge Wang and the work that they put into this project, but beyond the reinventing the wheel factor, I don't think it lives up to the hype.

    Synthesis within ChucK takes place in the same thread of execution as the language, which can lead to dropouts and other unsavory phenomena when the non audio-related computation gets too complicated. On top of this, because everything runs inside ChucK's virtual machine (as far as I can tell), it simply can't keep up with more heavily optimized synthesis frameworks where Unit Generators are tightly wound C modules and (in the case of Supercollider) the language and synthesis engine are effectively decoupled.

    my 2 cents.

  • @m: Heh, well, I meant efficient from an expression standpoint. I don't mean to hype ChucK. Every project has its shortcomings, and I think the ChucK developers are aware of some of the work they need to do. (well, to the extent these things have 'hype' at all!)

    I'm personally a big fan of SuperCollider; it's really my hands-down favorite in terms of design and architecture. So you're preaching to the converted. But I do have a lot of respect, as well, for what ChucK does and will certainly stay tuned to see if they can make more progress on the performance front.

  • Soma

    Yo Ge what up?!

    This is Matt Jackson your college dorm mate. Glad to see you doing such cool stuff! 🙂


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