Back to talking Csound again: comments on recent discussions on the messageboard

The Csound discussion boards at have been busy lately with the developer folks attempting to create a version 5.08 release. I’m only looking in on that process as an outsider with a tiny view through a crack in the door, but it appears that there is quite a bit of hair pulling that goes on. This may be due to many things: the fact that it’s an open-source project , it’s designed to run on several platforms, its huge size, the antiquity of Csound and that the developers are volunteers and widely distributed. As I mention in other essays on this site, successful use of Csound requires a certain amount of patience and tolerance for things that might be broken. Did I mention that it’s FREE, by the way?

Veteran electronic musician and journalist Jim Aikin has weighed in on the Csound discussion board at (here’s the link to that board again: He expressed a wish for a central repository of Csound compositions that people could listen to that would perhaps lead them to interest in the system.

One comment he made was interesting  in particular:

The last time I tried using Csound, a couple of years ago, I ended up mentioning to Dr. B (Richard Boulanger, one of the godfathers of Csound) that I thought that tag line (about the only limitation being your imagination) ought to be amended to read, “The only limitation with Csound is your own patience.” Imagination I have plenty of; patience is sometimes in short supply, and composing music in a text editor will tend to push it to the limit.

This is really worth pondering. It might be sort of a banality, but Csound is definitely NOT for everyone. In fact some posters have even pointed out that that is fine: rather than bang your head against the wall trying to get some result out of Csound, see if there are other tools — free or not — that work better for you.

For instance, in my case a combination of Ableton Live, several gigabytes of samples and loops, miscellaneous VST plug-ins, and Propellerhead Reason has allowed me to make a lot of pieces with relative ease and power.

On the other hand, if you are a veteran of computer and electronic music, and nothing you’ve tried seems to have the power or control you seek, then you do owe it to yourself to investigate this. Having a background in programming would be a real head start, but if you are willing to tell yourself that you’ll spend at least a month or two investigating Csound’s capabilities, then at the end you’ll at least know if it’s something that will work for you.

(Another thing I’d like to emphasize here: when I say “Csound”, I’m really referring to “the Csound universe” — which comprises the software itself, all the front ends and utilities which other people have written to use with it, all the documentation which has been generated over the many years of its existence, and the thousands of sample pieces and compositions which exist for peoples’ study.)


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