One measure of the far-reaching success that Csound is having in the music community is the number of books cropping up that discuss various aspects of
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One measure of the far-reaching success that Csound is having in the music community is the number of books cropping up that discuss various aspects of

One measure of the far-reaching success that Csound is having in the music community is the number of “third-party” books cropping up that discuss various aspects of the language. In addition to recent texts by Richard Boulanger and Riccardo Bianchini and Alessandro Cipriani, there is a new text from A-R Editions: Cooking with Csound, Part I: Woodwind and Brass Recipes ($49.95). It offers insights into working with this powerful yet complex language.

Coauthors Andrew Horner and Lydia Ayers waste no time getting to the heart of the matter. After a brief explanation of the syntax Csound uses for its instrument-design and scoring components, the authors explain in detail the generic model for the instruments they will be building. This design is based on a multiple-wavetable model of wind instruments and includes parameters for vibrato, reverb, filter, pitch, and attack and decay times. Given the generality of the model, the authors make it clear that some compromises are necessary when dealing with the unique aspects of certain instruments, such as the breathiness of the flute and piccolo.

Code Breaker

By chapter 3, the authors present some Csound orchestras that extend across three pages of text. This amount of code is not at all unusual for a complex Csound orchestra, but it negates somewhat the authors' premise that the book will be of use to “near novices.” A near beginner needs considerably more explanation and detailed commentary to fully comprehend such instrument designs. Then again, many Csound newcomers are used to rendering preexisting scores and orchestras and modifying various parameters to suit their own uses. To facilitate that, all of the examples presented in the text appear on the accompanying CD-ROM.

Chapters 4 and 5 step through each of the major woodwind and brass instruments and illustrate important aspects of their acoustic properties. Much of this information, such as the amplitude-envelope characteristics of the instruments, is general enough to be applied to other synthesis platforms. Excerpts from standard orchestral literature are used to demonstrate each instrument, and other musical works are suggested for additional study. (However, no comprehensive discography is included.) The spectral graphs that are shown for each instrument are not very high in resolution; in fact, they appear almost hand-drawn. High-quality spectrographs would have better illustrated the authors' points.

Chapters 6 and 7 discuss the use of global and “note-specific” effects, respectively. Filters, time-based effects, ring modulation, and others are explained in some detail. Here again, the techniques covered are general enough to be applied to any type of Csound instrument design, making them very valuable indeed. Especially noteworthy is the design of a “multi-effects processor,” in which a number of effects can easily be toggled on or off. Chapter 7 ends with some brief remarks about a short composition by Ayers that illustrates many of the techniques covered in the two previous chapters.

Chapter 8 explores Csound's representation of pitch and aspects of microtonality in general and moves well beyond the initial focus of the text. In fact, nothing here relates exclusively to wind instruments. Though the information is useful, it might have been more appropriate to discuss, for example, the use of alternate fingerings on wind instruments to produce microtones and how those techniques can best be modeled in Csound.

Season to Taste

The final chapter, “Seasoning Touches,” is the most problematic as it includes information and a number of comments that seem hugely out of context. For example, ideas such as “syncopated music gives stronger emphasis to offbeats,” “performers use slurs and legato to shape phrases,” and “tempo can really help shape a piece of music” seem inappropriate and even banal in the context of a book ultimately aimed at advanced musicians. Other material, such as the brief discussion of Csound's Tempo and s (section) statement, adds little that can't be found in the Csound manual. The question of the book's focus arises more strongly here than anywhere else.

Horner's and Ayers's instrument designs are generic — which means they can be used on any Csound platform — but I hope that some avid Csounder will “transcribe” them for use in one of the recent graphical Csound environments, such as Joo Won Park's Csound Max or Gabriel Maldonado's CsoundAV. I would also hope that in later parts of this series, the authors will reference works by other members of the vast Csound community that employ acoustic-instrument designs, thereby giving some idea of other approaches to acoustic modeling (Perry Cook's opcodes come to mind).

Reservations aside, the book will be very useful to any Csound user wishing to explore wind instruments in particular or methods for coding realistic acoustic instruments in general. The material on mixing, effects, and tuning is an added bonus.

Overall EM Rating (1 through 5): 4

A-R Editions; tel. (608) 836-9000; Web www.areditions.com.