What’s the sound of a computer program running?

Normally, nothing – the number crunching that takes place as software allocates memory forms patterns, but not ones that might immediately make sense of sound. “malloc” is a C function that allocates memory in which code executes. But a simple hack takes the output of a compiler, and makes sound files out of it. It’s the equivalent disconnecting the pipe from a widget-making factory, and instead of producing useful tools, making cool shapes out of sugary icing – useless and delicious. It’s a sonification of the memory allocation and reading process itself, so that patterns in that data, applied to an auditory timescale, form oscillations, blips and bleeps, and sometimes, sounds that to our ears begin to resemble synthesized basslines and percussion.

You actually don’t have to know anything about code to try this out; you just need to paste some lines into a command line. That means you could make your own sounds with the tool if you like. (Your life will be easier if you use Linux or OS X; Windows users will need to look up how to get a UNIX command line working – like Cygwin or GOW.)

The author has already posted some “musical” examples to SoundCloud. My favorite is the first one; it’s almost listenable as a glitch track. (More than almost, actually, at least if you’re a bit weird like me; I’ve been oddly soothed by letting it run for a bit in the background.)

Creative Commons-licensed – non-commercial, so sorry, you can’t turn in this file as the music bed for that Audi ad you were commissioned to make. (And you were all set to explain to them that this is what “dubstep” means to kids now.)

Sounds like it can also make some damned fine basslines. malloc(), the new 303:

This one… gets more interesting later. (Best use of this comment ever: “where’s the drop?”)

So good.

The project is the work of Thomas Gordon Lowrey IV, aka gordol. On his GitHub, he makes all sorts of productive things. None can match for me taking 67 lines of code and nerding out.

It’s also fun watching SoundCloud decide what tracks should be related. Dear Universal: try to take this down.

Thank you, Myles Ashley Borins.