Leafcutter John would like to invite you for a walk in a forest full of generative notes and sounds – a playground of his musical world. And it’s just full of great stuff – a “living thing” you can try out for free / support via suggested donation.

“I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when I move around, but the longer I spend in the forest, the more my intuition grows for what might be lurking in the shadows,” says the artist.

And so it is that this is software you just wander through. The first version of the software debuted way back in 2006, but the 2022 edition has nicely come of age. There are ever-growing arrays of modules and inspiration, and now there’s even Mac M1 support in addition to Intel macOS and Windows support. (So, uh, yeah, this donationware tool from a single artist is well ahead of a lot of rather pricey commercial software in that regard! That is how that tends to work…)

You can route external audio into this, too, so with all the modular tools and your own inputs, there are lots of ways to make this playground feel expressive and personal for you.

Testers have contributed new ideas back to that software, too – like MIDI-triggered gestures.

“… the longer I spend in the forest, the more my intuition grows for what might be lurking in the shadows.”

Leafcutter John

You can record audio, play with field recordings, use it as an effects processor, produce quick sound designs or stems, or make whole ambient soundscapes as albums and installations.

Watch a “gentle” overview with some rather wondrous and lovely sounds:

I’m quite excited by the list of features. It’s also fairly light on system resources even despite that shiny new M1 support.

Check it out:

42TF – Rhythm generator which makes a beat out of your input
anni – Weaves a sonic fabric from 8 pitched samples. Inspired by Anni Albers
chunker   – Creates rhythmic chunks of the input sample
classic – 2 pitched and looped sections of the input
droner – 2 wandering pitched and looped sections of the input w/phasor
elastique – A speed variable filtered grain of the input with drive. Inspired by Bernard               Parmegiani’s Étude Élastique
granular – 16 voice granular playback of input
grit – A crude un-windowed mono grain inspired by Jon Wall
incidenced – Creates rhythmic chunks of the input sample inspired by Bernard Parmegiani’s Incidences / Résonances
phaseVoc – A frozen or slowly moving spectral moment
play – Simple sample playback
stereoIN – Stereo external live sound input

– Looping volume envelope applied to input
ampEnvQ – Looping volume envelope locked to tempo applied to input
fastShift – 2 channel delay based pitch shifter
freqShift – 2 channel FFT based pitch shifter (4096 sample latency)
frozenMo – Spectral hold
grubbyDelay – A slightly fuzzy tape-like delay
looper – Non-quantized looper
reso – 12 resonators
space – Artificial reverberation
squish – An odd little volume increaser
strata – three-band-multi-distorter

Suggested £20 student/reduced and £40 for the full thing, plus Discord support and community access. Previous donations also make this free.


Mr. John (uh… “Leaf” if we’re to be informal?) has also been making lots of music and art as always, including a crowd-sourced pandemic time capsule made of field recordings, music, and personal reflections. Lockdown Patchwork plumbs the meaning of outdoors and green space from that time, extending from Kenya to Australia to Poland.

Lots of interesting folks assembled to work on this – plus some Huddersfield bees, even:


It’s quite a different project in aesthetic and components, but there is also a strong link to the open-ended modular work of Giorgio Sancristoforo – even down to centering projects around a patchbay and then exploring freely. This also connects to some of Giorgio’s early thoughts on pandemic and crisis, if you dig back into that interview.

There’s a lot more Leafcutter action, from visual art to live shows to homemade instruments, but best to go check out his site. I’ll leave you with this: