First off, major, major kudos to hackaday for providing an extensive how-to on controlling Csound with MIDI. Csound is a free, text-based synthesis environment, directly descended from Max Mathews’ original digital synthesis environment introduced in the late 1950s. (See CDM’s brief history of Max, including how his instrument wound up on the cover of Playboy.)

Here’s my only objection: Csound is free, academics love it because it’s what they’re used to, but is it really the best audio environment — even for learning? Csound can’t begin to compete with even free audio environments like Pure Data by Miller Puckette. I’m not knocking anyone using it — whatever works for you creatively is great — but I think it’s time for Pd and other environments to get their proper due. The only reason I’ve heard from Csound fans for why it’s supposedly “superior” to alternatives is that it has a text interface. My response to that: whether you’re patching boxes on the screen or typing in characters, you’re still dealing with an abstraction — and the constraints of the development environment. If one works for you creatively, of course, use that. But my experience has been that most people will find software like Pd to have a broader set of capabilities, more flexible interaction (by far), and an easier learning curve. So if you’re looking for a way to get your hands dirty, give Csound a try, but make sure you check out the alternatives. (Incidentally, before I get too over-excited, I should point out that yes, you can integrate Csound with Max/MSP and get the best of both worlds.)

If you’re still reading — thanks for listening to my rant. And I better go work on a Pd tutorial, huh? 🙂

I’m even more excited to see what Fabienne Serriere does with the next installment, which promises to be a DIY MIDI hardware clinic. Build your own controller? Now we’re talking.