“But I don’t want to write programs!!”

OK, stop whining, I actually feel your pain.

For most normal musicians, the idea of having to write a computer program in order to create a musical piece is not appealing. Especially in this era of instant gratification. In fact, I can get more gratification using Ableton Live and my big catalog of loops and samples in an hour than I ever got laboriously entering data in MIDI sequencers in the old days. But perversely, I am currently really getting interested in writing pieces in music languages like Csound and ChucK.

SO: using the very invaluable Csound tutorial and some experimentation, I have put together a little step by step tutorial that will allow you to play a Csound instrument like any kind of soft synth. I’ll post it in a day or two in the “First Steps” area.  As long as you have some kind of MIDI keyboard hooked up to your system that works with your copy of Cubase/Sonar/Live, etc., we should be able to get you going.

Before I do that, I should point out some characteristics of Csound that limit this sort of use. A Csound instrument (it’s called an “orchestra” in Csound speak) may be designed to be pretty simple; where it accepts a score (“i”) statement with just a pitch, velocity and duration and then plays that note. But it may also be extremely complex in which a single i-statement can create an entire piece. Also, there is no real standard as to what the parameters on a i-statement refer to: p3 and p4 are often pitch and velocity (or loudness or volume) but they do not have to be. So as long as you keep in mind that you won’t automatically be able to play every Csound instrument/orchestra like a regular synth, you will have a lot less grief.

Csound Frontends

I really recommend you get familiar with making some noise out of Csound using the basic command line interface and score and orchestra files.

But once you’ve examined and written a few simple programs, you’re going to hanker for a more convenient way to run and edit Csound files. The current hottest thing is QuteCsound from the description at SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net/projects/qutecsound/)

QuteCsound is a cross platform editor and front-end for Csound with syntax highlighting, interactive help and automatic launching of Csound from a shell or the API. It can open files created in MacCsound.

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