Extensible Computer Music Systems – PhD Thesis Available Online

My PhD thesis, “Extensible Computer Music Systems” is now freely available online as a PDF at:


It captures my thoughts on the importance of extensibility in computer music software and different ways of approaching it for both developers and users.  The thesis discusses various extensibility strategies implemented in Csound, Blue, Pink and Score, from 2011-2016.

Looking back at the thesis, I’m proud of the work I was able to do.  I am sure my thoughts will continue to evolve over time, but I think the core ideas have been represented well within the thesis.  I hope those who take a look may find something of interest.

Reflections after a Thesis Submission

After a very long and tiring week, I managed to finish (with great support from my advisor, Victor, and my wife, Lisa) and submit my thesis for the PhD this past Friday. I flew back home on Saturday and have been focusing on getting myself organized and resting.  I am waiting now for the Viva Voce (thesis defense), which should be in November or December, depending upon the availability of the examiners. If that all goes well, I’ll have to do revisions to the thesis, then can submit the final hardcopy and will be done.

I haven’t had much time to write on this site for a very long while.  I’m happy to have a free moment now to sit and breathe and reflect. I think more than anything, after spending a long time developing and creating music systems, I have been extremely happy the past few days to spend time using those programs for composing.  I imagine it will take some time to integrate music making back into my daily life, to make it a real practice, but so far it is going well and I am excited to just to continue on and see where it all goes.

I have a number of projects for the short term, and should be busy through the rest of the year.  The weight of writing the thesis is now absent, and all the rest of the work seems much more manageable now.  If all goes well with the Viva, I will certainly enjoy this coming December, and I am looking forward to it already.


Developing Music Systems on the JVM with Pink and Score

My talk at Clojure/Conj 2014, entitled “Developing Music Systems on the JVM with Pink and Score” is now available online at:

I was a bit dismayed afterwards that I had mismanaged my time on stage and that my final example did not run (ended up being a small bug that was introduced while practicing the presentation earlier that day; now fixed in the code repository). However, I think overall I was able to cover enough of the systems. I also got some good feedback from people, both as compliments as well as great notes and questions that I look forward to incorporating back into the work.

I’m happy now to be back home and look forward to collecting my thoughts and figuring out next steps for everything. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to present my work at the conference; many thanks to Cognitect for the opportunity and their incredible support.  I’m also blown away by the other speakers at the conference, as well as all the people I met there.  It’s a wonderful community, one which I hope continues to grow and keeps on being as positive a group as it is today.




Extending Aura with Csound Opcodes

Last week at the International Computer Music Conference 2014/Sound and Music Computing 2014 joint conference in Athens, Greece, I gave a paper entitled “Extending Aura with Csound Opcodes”.  The paper discusses work to allow using Csound opcodes by themselves, outside of the normal Csound engine, within Roger Dannenberg’s Aura interactive music framework. I’ve placed a copy of the paper here:

Download Paper (PDF)

The paper may be of interest to those involved with music systems design, particularly focusing on unit generators, and those wanting to know more about Csound’s internals. In the presentation, I focused on looking at all of the other things involved with Unit Generators besides just the processing algorithm, and gave a demonstration using an Aura-based application, using the Serpent programming language to create a short generative example using temporal recursion and dynamic allocation of Csound and Aura unit generators working together.

While the conference was exhausting, and certainly had technical issues due to the scope of what was scheduled, I had a great time at the conference. I saw many old friends and made a few new ones. 🙂 I’ll certainly be attending next year’s SMC 2015 in Maynooth, and hope to attend the ICMC 2015 in Denton, Texas too!

Being Mostly Offline

Since we moved to Ireland, our primary way of going online while at home has been on our cellphones. Originally we had planned to get either a cable modem or cellular WiFi hotspot, but since we were the traveling we did not get around to it the first month here. Since then, we had been using our cellphones for tethering once in a while in the mornings and evenings, and have decided to try not having internet at home.

So far, things have worked out very well. We are no longer going online first thing in the morning, allowing ourselves to get up and enjoy our tai chi practices with a more peaceful mind. Our evenings have been very serene, and we have been getting either more work or a lot more reading done.

Granted, getting used to less internet did take a little time to get used to, but once we did it has been fantastic. Since the amount if internet we get on our phones is limited, we are much more conscious of using the internet purposefully. We are able to get most of the things involving larger data amounts done while at our offices spaces on campus or at WiFi hotspots at coffee shops. I think though that even when we do have internet access we are using it less and more purposefully.

In some ways, our current relationship to the internet and being connected reminds me of the time before when the internet was pervasive. I have been enjoying this setup very much and I think it has been a great boost for general productivity, focus, and peace of mind. I am curious how things will develop over time, but I expect that we will continue to enjoy being mostly offline at home.

In Response to Computer Music Journal, Summer 2012 review of “The Audio Programming Book”

I was catching up with Computer Music Journal issues and noticed a review by Jeffrey Trevino and Drew Allen of The Audio Programming Book, in which I was a contributing author. The review has some valid points to make regarding the organization of the book and what it covers. However, I did find problematic one section of the review regarding my chapter on Modeling Orchestral Composition:

But why, you might ask, does an introduction to audio programming culminate in a computer model of the orchestra? The chapter should be reframed as an introduction to Csound, to avoid the current sense of aesthetic blindness. Rather than acknowledge the presence of the numerous higher-level electronic music programming systems that invite alternatives to the conservative score-orchestra model built into Csound, the chapter precludes the discussion of other approaches by failing to mention them. Instead of treating the score-orchestra metaphor flexibly, as is the case in most uses of Csound, the author cements its literal interpretation with a table entitled, “Comparing the Steps of Composing for Live Orchestra and Composing with [Csound’s] Orchestra Library.” (Emphasis Yi’s.) Lastly, he deals aesthetic alternatives their death blows in the form of an all-encompassing first-person plural: “By reusing an existing music software system, we can leverage the solutions already available and focus more closely on our compositional interests.”

I found this section of the review rather problematic and takes what I wrote out of context to serve the narrative of the reviewers that “the remainder of the printed text presents an arbitrary collection of special topic essays on possible relationships between Csound and programs written in C.”

There are a couple of points I wanted to discuss.  First is that the text is specifically working on modeling orchestral composition, and proposes a library design to do so. The focus of the article was on the composition aspect, or, how the composer writes for an orchestra, and how to model that aspect of the relationship between composer and orchestra. It was not specifically about the orchestra itself, but requires a discussion of the orchestra to understand the composing process for it.

In that regard, I feel that the criticism that I did not discuss a “score-orchestra metaphor flexibly” is in a way, criticism that I did not write a different text altogether. It seems that the reviewers read the text as being about a Music-N style score/orchestra design, or specifically, about Csound’s score/orchestra design. The reviewer’s misunderstanding is notable in their additions of [Csound’s] here:

“Comparing the Steps of Composing for Live Orchestra and Composing with [Csound’s] Orchestra Library.” (Emphasis Yi’s.)

Note, the original title of the table did not have “Csound’s” as the article was not about Csound’s score/orchestra at all.  The library that is the focus of the chapter uses Csound as a backend, but it in itself is a generic design of orchestral composition that could be developed to target other backends as well (i.e. PD, Max, SuperCollider, Chuck, etc.).

Note: When I wrote the chapter, I did have some reservations that there may be confusion.  Csound and Music-N languages do have a long-held design of a score and orchestra.  I did worry that it might get confused with the concepts I was trying to model.  For me, the Music-N score/orchestra are not the model of what I was doing, but just the tool I used to support the software model of the orchestral composition library. I tried to be clear of this distinction, but it seems to still have lead to some confusion.

This leads to the second issue I had with the reviewers’ comments regarding aesthetics.  In the text, I wrote a brief section on wanting to reuse an existing synthesis system.  This was so that the article could focus on orchestral composition and less on the synthesis details, which I believe are covered in other chapters of the book.  I discussed why MIDI was not sufficient for the library’s design goals, and discussed why I chose Csound.  However, I would have thought that readers who are familiar with SuperCollider, PD, Common Lisp Music, or other synthesis systems, would understand the chapter to be a generic design that could easily be implemented in other languages and systems.  I did have to discuss Csound’s ORC/SCO model to explain how the results of the orchestral composition library would ultimately map its results to another systems software model to get audible results.

To me, this is not even an aesthetic choice, but an implementation detail.  To me, the aesthetic choice here is that I wrote from a perspective of a composer looking at achieving compositional practices commonly found in orchestral composition and reproducing them in a computer music context. In that regard, that is the focus of the chapter, and is even the title of the text. I do not think then that not mentioning other aesthetic goals is a valid criticism.  To me, It is as if I criticized an article about Impressionist technique as leaving out mention about Dada or Post-Modernism.

As for other tools and ways of working, I’d like to state that I have supported and continue to support other tools and software synthesis systems.  I have often promoted that everyone should use the tools that best suits them, and ultimately the important thing to me is the musical result, and not the tools used.  I think it is the reviewers’ reading of the article as being about Csound has lead to misplaced criticism.

To summarize, I appreciate the work of the reviewers to review The Audio Programming Book.  However, in regards to the section on my own chapter, I feel they had misread the text.  In the end, I still find the chapter and the design of the library interesting and hope it will be as useful to others–using whatever system they use–as it has been for my own compositional work. Hopefully I have explained my own perspective clearly, and would invite any further discussion.

Perils of Technology

The Daily Beast ran an article today about web addiction and the perils of technlogy.  This has been a topic on my mind a fair amount lately as I have been working on removing clutter from my days to focus more on things that are important to me.  The article also cites Sherry Turkle’s recent work, which I have been very interested in.  
While the article discusses the dangers of pervasive technology and addiction, I think it is only one side of the coin.  On the other hand, I do think technology can be utilized as a tool to facilitate interesting, positive interactions.  I also think it requires discipline and firm boundaries to remain useful and not tempt one into addiction.  
I think when I first got into using “smartphones” with internet access it was quite addictive.  Over time though, I think I have managed it to be just a tool (though, occasionally lapsing into overuse).  I have turned off 3G internet on my phone and only enable it when on trips (I use a pay-as-you-go plan), and use WIFI at other times.  I find that I can not compulsively check the internet as much and that is a good thing.
I also don’t engage with social networks too much now, averaging about once a day.  I have made other changes as well, and I have been mostly happy with my relationship to the technology I use, though am continuing to actively be aware of and modifying my usage.  
In the end, I think the article mentions very poignant issues for this period in history.  I hope that this is just a phase in the development of our technological culture and am optimistic that people will become more aware of these kinds of dangers and hopefully not so wrapped up in it all. 

Einstein on the Beach – Toronto – Luminato Festival 6

This past Saturday, Lisa, myself, and some friends went to Toronto to attend the performance of Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach, presented as part of the Luminato Festival 6.  I had long wanted to see a performance of this work, ever since my early exposure and interests in Glass some 18 years ago, and was very happy to finally satisfy this long-held curiosity.

The performance was done without intermissions, and lasted about 4.5 hours.  The performance used the original staging.  The performance was… astounding. I was mostly mesmerized from the start to finish, sitting in my seat throughout the performance.  Glass’s music felt as fresh as ever (I find his early music has “it”, that quality that permeates a timeless work).  Robert Wilson’s staging was equally as present, and Lucinda Childs’ choreography was a joy to watch.  

The highlights for me were the first Dance scene and the Spaceship scene, the first for the dance and the latter for the music.  The rest of the work was of fantastic, but those two scenes were particularly engaging for me.  The violinist did a wonderful job, as did the rest of the performers.

If there was any criticism I would have for the work, I would say two things stuck out. The first is the Building scene: the solo saxophonist didn’t really work for me.  Musically and dramatically it felt like a departure from the rest of the work. While the opera as a whole had a wonderfully surreal quality, I felt the saxophone solo broke from it.  While the visuals and rest of what was going on stage may continued the surreal dream-like world of the rest of the scenes, the music was enough to break focus and threw me off a bit.

Secondly, the performer doing the narrations involving “Mr. Bojangles.” At times I had some difficulty in understanding what was being said, especially compared to the performer doing the narrations for “I was in this prematurely air-conditioned supermarket…”.  It felt that the first performer had gotten a bit tongue-tied at times, keeping up with the rapid pace of the dialogue.

Overall, I thought the performance was fantastic, and I was more than ecstatic in satisfying this long held curiosity to see this work.  I hope that later in my life that there will continue to be performances of this work to attend.  I was also very inspired by this performance, and I look forward to now getting back to my own composing work.

Lessons from Lumosity: Slower and more correct is better than fast and being wrong

I have been doing brain training games on lumosity.com for a while now.  Doing the daily training has been fun, and I feel that they do have a positive impact.  Of all the things I have taken away from the games, the one lesson that has most been on my mind lately has been that “slower and more correct is better than fast and being wrong.”

In certain games, one gets a higher score by getting more correct in a row, rather than total correct.  I have always had a tendency to do things quickly, at the expense of not necessarily doing this completely correctly.  I can see this manifest in a number of areas in my life.  The earliest was when I was in middle and high school, taking exams I would often finish early and turn things in, getting a few mistakes that would have been easy to correct if I had taken my time.  In my writing, I often find awkward phrases while editing that I imagine could have been done better the first time around.  (Though, with writing, sometimes it’s better to just get the thoughts out and revise later.)

I have been thinking about this idea a fair amount during my tai chi practices recently. I have been focusing on practicing with more awareness and more precision, trying to do things correctly.  Consequently, my practices have been slower and longer, but I find the work has been very rewarding.

I think too with programming, there’s a lot of conversations about incurring technical debt due to introducing quick fixes/hacks that will later need to be redone more properly.  This too can be a case where doing things more correctly can be better.

The flip-side of this is trying to do things absolutely perfectly.  This can be paralyzing to work on a project. It is a spectrum of correctness and speed: perfection and slowness on one side, fast but incorrect on the other.  I think I have tended to be on the faster side, but I am now working to bring myself more in balance.  I hope that the patience I have been working on in Lumosity and in my tai chi practice will continue to manifest in my music and programming work.