Step 2: Play a simple Csound program

Csound has many modes of operation. Having come from an ancient mainframe background before CPUs were fast enough to compute and play audio in real time, it’s original mode was to compute the composition and then burp out an audio file which was played with using a device called digital to analog converter. ( You can still run it this way, but you can simply play the file using the Windows Media or QuickTime player.

But in order to get instant gratification, we’ll make use of a little tool in Csound 5 called csound5gui which takes a Csound program, computes it, and plays it through the computer’s default audio device.

Assuming your installation went OK, go to Start>Csound>csound5gui. It will bring up a small tool and another window where messages will go. Click on the button in the upper left containing “…” (Tool Tip will show “Browse orchestra or CSD file” and navigate to C:/Program Files/Csound/examples. Click on xanadu.csd.

If you then click on the Play/Pause button in the lower left of csound5gui, you will probably see an error message about Python 2.5 not being installed. At least I do. But you can click OK on the window each time it comes up (three on my system) and at that point, time should start advancing and with luck you’ll hear a spacy chimey composition start playing on your connected headphones or speakers. (It only runs about 40 seconds.)

Congratulations! You’ve just played your first Csound composition.

But what about that Python error message? As we’ll discuss later, besides being required for tools like csound5gui and CsoundVST, python is worth having for many other purposes as well. You can download it for free from and it’s a fairly simple install.

For better or for worse, this is the kind of thing you’re going to have to get used to if you want to explore the world of open source software. In commercial software, this would be considered a bug and customers would expect it to be fixed. When the developers are all doing this as volunteer work you may want that kind of response, and even expect it, but you certainly can’t demand it. So you find a way to work around it.

You’ll find outdated remarks in the documentation, features that don’t work the way you expect, and lots of apparent bugs you might not think should be there. But on the other side, most of the software is extremely robust and well engineered, and even if you find something that looks like a bug, with a little thought you can probably figure out another way to do something that will work.

For instance, in our example above, you could run the Csound program from a command prompt in Windows without worrying about the Python error.

Back to our example: if you have a somewhat less powerful machine (like I do) you may have noticed that xanadu may start to play fine, then start stuttering/crackling. If you look at the Performance graph in the Task Manager, the CPU is close to 100% and it looks like the system can’t keep up. What to do in that case? Well, there are several possibilities, which we’ll discuss in Step 3: A little tweak to our first example.

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