2001 – Csound Editorial


Hello Csounders,

When a person who has not been exposed much to Computer or Electroacoustic Music asks me, what type of music I compose, I usually give a rather cryptic reply. ”Through the use of a computer programming language (Csound), assorted software and hardware I direct the micro manipulation of electrical impulses to create soundscapes in the stereo panorama of one or more pairs of speakers.“ Generally the, by now sorry, questioner’s mouth drops open not quite knowing what to say next. Come to think of it, I seem to get a similar reaction when such a listener hears one of my compositions for the first time as well.  The point being, however, that when creating music with a computer this is exactly what is happening.

Csound enables us to create a sound on the very basic level and requires us to control every aspect of its development in time and space. This is the ying and the yang of a wonderful opportunity. Great patience and dedication is required to go through this tedious process, however the rewards, I feel, are staggering. In the digital domain we use code to create and manipulate waveform(s) that are combined to form a conglomerate waveform. This digital representation of the sound we have created is filtered and then converted to an analogue electrical signal moving the speaker cones in direct proportion to the shape of the waveform. Thus we are vibrating the air in direct proportion to our digital waveform.

If one were to trace the path of development of a piece of computer generated music from its inception in the composer’s mind through the development of the idea on the computer and so on, one would eventually end up in the mind of a listener. By vibrating the air in very precise ways, we are eliciting a multitude of responses in a listener who may be generally unaccustomed to feeling the air move in such a unique way. The effect can be quite disconcerting for both the listener and composer.

From time to time we may all become discouraged due to the general lack of social interest, acceptance or realization of the high degree artistry we are in many cases achieving. While this does not stop what we are driven to do, and in some ways it enhances it, more public support would be nice if for no other reason than to enable us to devote more time and other resources toward our work. A little respect for what we have devoted our lives to might be nice as well, although this can be a trapping and a creativity inhibitor in and of itself.

I feel it will require a new generation of listeners who have grown up not only with computers but also with the maturing of the art of computer music for it to begin to be understood, appreciated and supported. Until such a time I would encourage all of you to keep pushing the envelope. Create the new, examine and express yourself in ways never before imagined. Since most of us are not directly tied to making a living with the art we produce, we are free to express ourselves in whatever way we see fit. Computer music composers are unfettered by the weightings and trappings that so often inhibit the creativity of artists working in a socially established medium. We will most likely look back on this time, in which we are working virtually unnoticed by “society at large”, with great happiness and joy realizing these were the most creative and productive times we have known. Keep up the great work!


Michael Rhoades        

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