Synthesis with computers has changed dramatically since the mid-nineties when Jean-Luc and I first began using Csound. Back then, computers were mostly used as devices that controlled external synths via MIDI. There were trackers and wave editors. Though not much existed in terms of pure digital synthesis.
There was Csound. Though computers weren’t fast enough for real-time, Csound gave users the opportunity to work with a fully-loaded universal modular synthesiser. For those of us that were fortunate to have personal computers, we could stay in our apartments and make experimental noise without having to make the trek to the music labs.
Fast forward to today. Laptop computers are common, there is no shortage of real-time music apps, most software synths provides instant gratification, and even our phones are full-fledged synthesizers.
When Jean-Luc and I started talking a few months ago about the possibility of him redesigning his software synthesis course at NYU, one key issue popped up, “Why is Csound still relevant?” From our perspective, many of the reasons why we were originally interested in learning Csound, spending hours writing code and waiting for renders to finish, no longer apply to today’s world of countless apps and ultra-fast CPUs. Yet, Csound is still here, nor does it appear to be going anywhere. Why?
There isn’t anything else quite like Csound out there. Yes, Csound is powerful, modular and has a huge library of legacy instruments. Though more than that, one of its most defining qualities is that it is different, and being different encourages composers to write music that is also different.