Put your hands up for the COMMAND LINE INTERFACE!!! <3 <3 <3 (um... photo courtesy BT)

From the mysterious underworld of 80s sound software, it’s a library of free sound transformation tools so cool you’ll happily head to the command line to run them – no real-time preview to be found.

No, seriously. Even if the fanciest you get is changing a preset in Logic, you want to hear about this.

Self-professed addict of sound geekery BT took to a packed room at New York’s Cielo to tell an assembled group of aspiring producers why they should embrace the Terminal. His video is a fantastic introduction to the tool. Dubbed Composers Desktop Project – after the UK-based cooperative that maintains the tool – this is open source (LGPL) software for any platform you like that performs archaic alchemy on your audio files.

But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that the sonic results are brain-exploding in their transformational powers.

Hosted by Dubspot, one of our favorite sources of knowledge (and now going multi-city as well as online), BT uses this as a centerpiece to a surprisingly deep-yet-beginner-friendly sound design workshop. Watch:

About the software – there is actually a GUI, called SoundLoom. But much of what you want here primarily is simply a library of sound transformation and editing functions, which you can run from the terminal on OS X, Windows, or Linux. Downloads and documentation:

It’s not terribly user-friendly, so what you want is the two-part workshop series PDFs, which get much clearer.

And these get into why this stuff is cool. Filled with audio examples, you get into the meat of what this is about. The basics are covered, but then you get into weird implementations of distorted repetition and re-pitching, spectral and stepped time stretching, odd transitions and morphing.

None other than composer Trevor Wishart steps in for one of the workshops. And here’s why the texture program is cool:

Here are some of the many musical result swhich can be achieved with this set of programs:
o many ways to work with note events whose parameters are se-lected at random within (time-varying) user-defined limits
o texture densities from widely-spaced to tight ‘granular’
o timing scatter or quantisation controls
o able to use the whole length of the input sound for each note event
o multiple soundfile inputs accepted
o can ‘snap’ granular densities to user-defined chords – or a changing set of chords
o able to write legato or staccato melodic motifs o able to create canonic (imitative) effects
o able to create motifs and attach them to pre-defined melodic lines
o able to use a rhythm as the basis for a texture
o can repeat rhythmic templates on which short motifs, melodic phrases or groups of note-events take place
o you can work with groups of note events within the overall texture
o most parameters accept time-varying contours
o comes into its own when texture designs are matched to trans- formed sounds in order to create new (and sometimes serendipitous) sound complexes
· In brief, the Texture programs combine aspects of mixing, sequencing, granulation, and collage.

Sounds good to me. For more:

On the dubspot blog: Sound Design Tutorial w/ BT Pt. 1: Digital Signal Processing Using Mac OS X Terminal

I’m curious, though, has anyone pondered porting this to a real-time implementation, much has been done with tools like Csound and Soundhack? (In fact, memo to self: would be kind of interesting to bundle these into a mobile app.)

  • Kuzma Palkin
  • Kuzma Palkin

    Also, results:

    There is 2 initial samples only, drumloop and voice and no FX, rest are CDP processing results.

    XRNS (for R3):

  • wetboy

    There is a graphical interface for Windows.

  • GS

    The guy doesn’t know basic terminal usage. Did he really copy/paste the previous command? Having a hard time cd’ing the right directory? What a wanker.

    Plus CDP is far from modern and there are a lot of better tools out there like SuperCollider, Chuck, Pyo, etc, where you can test stuff in real time and generate a sequence of events. Generating a ton of offline files so you can later assemble them in a DAW feels like 1992.

    Why did you give the guy exposure?

    • Brian Fay

      I share your pain – felt like shouting “press tab” or “just use the arrow keys,” but the guy is typing one-handed, and maybe he doesn’t do a ton of command-line work.

      BT isn’t exactly a person who needs “exposure” – he has produced for acts as well known as N’Sync, and his own music is fairly well known. I’m sure he’s done his share of technical work both in the DAW and using csound, but I think his current work probably involves more management.

      I’ve read that Brian Trifon, who has some great audio production lessons at did a lot of the nitty-gritty production work on one of BT’s albums (ha, same initials…)

      While I agree that Supercollider, Max, Chuck, etc. are more powerful and expressive tools than CDP, there’s also a much higher learning curve.

      Explaining a simple but effective command-line tool to the Dubspot students might be a bit easier than teaching object-oriented and functional programming.

      In any case, it’s at least refreshing to see lessons that aren’t just “Look what you can do in Ableton!”

    • Derpatron900

      For many people the a cli is alien, not understanding how to use it best is not a reason to insult them I think. BT managed to achieve what they wanted to do in the short demo, copying and pasting something isn’t a crime.

      He did mention SuperCollider as an alternative, the purpose of his talk seemed to be to intriduce the concept of sound design, rather than claim that CDP was a modern product, he said he thought that it was powerful and worth using.

      The talk was short, introducing SuperCollider would not have been a viable optoin given the timeframe I think.

      I think that exposure for this is worth while because there are many people who have no idea that there are useful tools like this, and have never clicked the terminal icon on their shiny macbook. There is no harm in introducing new things to people I feel.

      BT as an idividual is not in need of exposure, and is already well known.

    • Peter Kirn

      Why give CDP exposure? Because it’s free, it produces some unique results, and some of us actually enjoy using these sort of ‘historical’ tools – even with Pd, SuperCollider, Pyo, ChucK at our disposal. (I actually kind of miss the old days of firing up offline files, so this was sort of fun for me.) And… did I mention the free part?

      Also, in addition to the tool itself, there’s some terrific content by Trevor Wishart, others. Hope to talk to some of those composers and give them additional exposure.

      The inclusion of BT is simple: people often imagine a divide between the ‘sound geek’ worlds and the people producing commercial music that simply isn’t there. It’s a chance to expose some people who might otherwise never venture out of Reason and Live, etc. And it might change their sense of how tools get used in different genres.

      CLI bugs aside, he also did a decent job of explaining to a lay audience why this is cool, and I’ve always found BT to be someone with terrific enthusiasm.

      I was going to say something more, but yeah, that about covers it.

    • Martin Wheeler

      so basically your point is that you know terminal commands better than this bloke, right ? OK. thanks for sharing.

  • Chris R Gibson

    Thanks for the article and video 😉

    Though I am worlds away from BT’s music, I love the energy, focus, and sense of adventure he has, it is a creative inspiration to me regardless of final musical application.

    I have owned CDP since 2001, this is a good reminder for me to how ‘offline’ processes influence different approachs to composing with sonic materials and often inspire new insights and directions.

    As always, your nets are cast wide and full of treasure 😀

  • Joshua Ellis

    When I downloaded the Mac version and tried to install it, the installation failed with no useful errors. Sigh.

  • Joshua Ellis

    Ah. It installed, even though it said the installation failed, but there are some manual steps you have to do if you have later versions of OS X, which are detailed in a file called “manualsetup.pdf” or something similar in the documentation download.

    • Peter Kirn

      Awesome! Heh, yeah, let’s try to document this better than they did…

    • John ‘Leafcutter John’ Burton

      It installed without me having to do any manual steps on my OS 10.9.2 MacBook Pro. The processing available in CDP is amazing, It reminds me of my old Cecilia/Csound days. There is a lot to be said for offline processing, anyone remember the joy of seeing black and white prints developing in a dark-room? Can’t understand why people are knocking BT, get over yourselves and make some music….

      I’m putting together a front end in Max/MSP for CDP as SoundLoom is not working on my machine. It should speed up the process for people not so used to terminal (like me) let me know if you want to lend a hand or know of another mac front end for it. I just made a thread for it over at the max/msp forums

    • Kuzma Palkin
    • John ‘Leafcutter John’ Burton

      Ah thanks for that lead Kuzma – Have you tried it out?

  • Ashley Scott

    ah right it’s GPL now? CDP used to cost a lot of money. Not to detract from it’s capabilities but that meant that it never built an enormous user-base – even in academia. Personally, I’d direct people to Csound or SuperCollider which have pretty enormous number of people involved. Or my favourite way to crash: Chuck.

    • Peter Kirn

      Yeah, it’s actually *LGPL* even.

      I mean, no, it never built much of a user base but it was a tool that was more archaic than some free options, and they were charging. It’s still kind of fun. And since it is LGPL, some tiny bit of it might find its way into an external or app somewhere, who knows…

  • Max

    Lets create some offline files and then we press random some more and call it sounddesign … Ahem ppl pay money to hear this, really?

  • Laurens

    Hmm, that’s nice. So basically CDP is to sound processing what ImageMagick is to Photoshop. Not what I’d use in daily practice, but great for batch processing and automation! Thanks, that’s good to know!

  • a

    i wonder what he rates as not worth it. tbh, there is so much good stuff out there it’d be interesting to hear what’s not “worth it”. imo most high level 3rd party plugins aren’t haha.


    Linux now supported. Where is my Pure:Dyne boot cd?!?!?!?!??!

  • Sambalman

    If you have Renoise 3.0.1 installed, there is a CDP tool, new beta out yesterday for use in Renoises sample editor, rendering in the effects. Get it here;