ramble

The writer knows shit about music composition. So, no questions on chords, scales or any other music jargon. Please.

When I was younger, I came to know about algorithmic (and mathematical) music composition through an awesome piece of work by Carl McTague that goes by the name 6 Integers.

Don't know what exactly happened at that time, but I started hunting for these stuff recently and my searches pointed to a hugely popular tool for real-time audio synthesis and algorithmic composition, SuperCollider.

Turned out, raw SuperCollider needs effort to get started with, and most importantly, to quickly generate meaningful music.

Looking for alternatives, I found Sonic Pi. This was impressive, try the sample sounds on their website. But, the coolest thing was Overtone.

1 Overtone

Overtone allows you to [live] code (and compose music) inx Clojure, which is a modern dialect of lisp that runs on JVM. Emacs has a really nice plugin for Clojure named Cider. This, alongwith Leiningen makes it really easy to get started with overtone.

--> Booting external SuperCollider server...

--> Connecting to external SuperCollider server: 127.0.0.1:31214


    _____                 __
   / __  /_  _____  _____/ /_____  ____  ___
  / / / / | / / _ \/ ___/ __/ __ \/ __ \/ _ \
 / /_/ /| |/ /  __/ /  / /_/ /_/ / / / /  __/
 \____/ |___/\___/_/   \__/\____/_/ /_/\___/

   Collaborative Programmable Music. v0.9.1


Hello Lepisma. Do you feel it? I do. Creativity is rushing through your veins today!

It starts with a rather flattering message.

Anyway, as the message shows, it works on SuperCollider server, so has all the power you need. I, personally, don't exactly feel at home while using Clojure, due to its lispy and functional style, but trust me, in live coding situations, this feels much better and usable. There is also a Clojure version of Processing named quil that supports live coding. Try that too and you will feel the difference.


So, you can play basic waves like sin, sawtooth, square etc. and control pretty much everything like bpms, scales. A simple example is here.

;; the 'kick' instrument
;; taken from https://github.com/overtone/overtone/wiki/Live-coding

(definst kick [freq 120 dur 0.3 width 0.5]
  (let [freq-env (* freq (env-gen (perc 0 (* 0.99 dur))))
        env (env-gen (perc 0.01 dur) 1 1 0 1 FREE)
        sqr (* (env-gen (perc 0 0.01)) (pulse (* 2 freq) width))
        src (sin-osc freq-env)
        drum (+ sqr (* env src))]
    (compander drum drum 0.2 1 0.1 0.01 0.01)))

;; use it on a loop with metronome; 128 bpm
(def metro (metronome 128))

(defn player [beat]
  (at (metro beat) (kick))
  (apply-by (metro (inc beat)) #'player (inc beat) []))

;; play
(player (metro))

Here is what you get

You can also do other stuff like sweeping the signal, using band pass filters, white noise etc. The most important thing, get few things right and the noise feels impressive.

By the way, if the above example didn't impress you. The next just might. Its a slight modification of dubstep from here.

Here is one of my attempts at randomly mixing stuff. Though not even remotely close to be called good, it does put the power of overtone on show.

Here is one that uses strings. The Messenger by Linkin Park. Pretty basic chords, but kind of gets nearby.

Once you start programming music, its addictive. I don't know if the composition means anything to anyone, but it sure is fun to do.

I didn't mention it before, there are bands that compose using Overtone. Do check them out, specially Meta-eX.