Sound and Music Computing

Network Music Making

Dr Charles Martin

So far…

  • creating sounds from scratch
  • manipulating samples
  • creating notes and organising compositions

But what about ensembles?

Network Music (circa 1980)

Connecting computer music instruments…

…to other computer music instruments…

…to make new kinds of ensemble music!

(pictured: League of Automatic Music Composers, the first network music band)

Why networks?

  • You are creating laptop ensembles!
  • Ensembles require communication using all senses.
  • Computers give us the possibility of network communication

network messages might…

  • trigger notes
  • control sections
  • interchange parameters or settings
  • provide information to the musicians

What kind of software you creating?

Creativity Support Tools

Design Principles (Schneiderman 2007):

  • Support Exploratory Search
  • Enable Collaboration
  • Provide rich history-keeping
  • Low thresholds, high ceilings, wide walls

“How can designers of programming interfaces, interactive tools, and rich social environments enable more people to be more creative more often?”

Beyond windows, icons, menus, pointers

  • Integrating intelligence into existing tools (hyper-instruments)
  • Tangible interfaces
  • Embodied interfaces

Collaboration: Time-Space Matrix

Collaborating across space and time

Same Time - Different Location

Same Time - Same Location

Different Time - Same Location

Different Time - Different Location

Collaborative creativity in SMC…

  • Every week: In-class group jam (same time, same place)
  • Week 5 Group Diary (? time, ? place)
  • Week 8 Group Diary (? time, ? place)
  • LENS Performance (same time, same place)

You need to do synchronous and colocated performances, you can explore other modalities.


Default way to get information in and out of Pd

  • “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” (1981)
  • A way to send musical “instructions” to a synthesiser.
  • E.g., (CC BY 2.0, Blurred Ren)
  • “note on”, “note off”, “control change”, “pitch shift”, “aftertouch”…

MIDI can be hardware (RS232 serial, USB, Bluetooth) or software (RTP-MIDI over a network).

MIDI messages

  • One status byte, one or more data bytes
  • Status byte has a “status” (4 bits) and (usually) a channel or address (4 bits)
  • Data byte is a 0 followed by a 7 bit number.

MIDI status byte

MIDI messages have specific meanings defined by the MIDI Association. The upper nibble of the status byte defines the meaning. The lower nibble defines the channel that these apply to (1-16).

Status Nibble Binary Decimal Function
0b1000 8 Note Off
0b1001 9 Note On
0b1010 10 Polyphonic Aftertouch
0b1011 11 Control/Mode Change
0b1100 12 Program Change
0b1101 13 Channel Aftertouch
0b1110 14 Pitch Bend Change
0b1111 15 System Exclusive, song control, tempo, etc

MIDI message formats

The Note on/off messsages have the same pattern of data bytes: (pitch value, velocity).

Because the top bit must be 0 for a data byte, you get 7-bit resolution (128 values).

Other messages have different formats, e.g.,

  • Pitch bend change has two data bytes combined into a 14-bit number (although most devices only use the upper 7 bits).

  • Control change (CC) messages are for non-note control data and are of the form (function, value).

Control Change Messages

  • Some of the CC functions are specified the MIDI standard, e.g. (1) modulation wheel, (64) sustain pedal, (2) breath controller.

  • Many control change numbers are only partly specificed (e.g., 12 “Effect Control 1”), or “undefined” (14, 15, 20-31).

  • Pd isn’t a “synthesiser” so doesn’t respond to MIDI messages, it passes them to you to action.

  • Hardware interfaces will often use specific CC controls or allow you to specify them.

  • Hardware synths usually respond in specific (often nonstandard) ways to CC messages (you’ll have to read the manual)

MIDI in Pd

Pd has lots of MIDI objects for interchanging MIDI with a hardware or software port.

  • Raw MIDI bytes: midiin, midiout
  • Note messages: notein, noteout
  • Control changes: ctlin, ctlout

Receiving from controllers…

Making MIDI notes

makenote can handle timing for notes with duration

  • the three inputs are pitch, velocity, and duration
  • outputs are pitch and velocity
  • after the duration, the velocity output will change to zero (for that pitch)

You can combine pitch, velocity and duration in one message as shown if you want.

A bit about lists…

  • messages in Pd can contain multiple values (as you know!)
  • you can append or prepend values to a list
  • split lists in two, or trim the list symbol
  • pack or unpack values (all at once)
  • store lists and then set or get certain elements

There’s a bit of weirdness about lists (e.g., some lists have list at the start to disambiguate them from ones with some other symbol). But using $1 arguments and list packing is crucial to advanced Pd patching.

How else are you going to handle the 12-stage envelopes you want to create?

Advanced list packing…

Use list append and list prepend to add items to a list.

Good way to accumulate an envelope message, or all the parameters for a synth note…

MIDI over a network

MacOS has built-in support for network MIDI (look in the “Audio MIDI Setup” application, open the “MIDI Studio” from the Window menu, then click the little globe icon on the window title bar.

Other OSs: you can get compatible implementations, see RTP-MIDI.

Beyond MIDI… making our own protocols

As a programming language, Pd can send information over a network using TCP or UDP protocols.

In fact, Pd (and many other computer music systems) using network messages all the time to communicate between the graphical front-end application and a DSP process creating sound.

Other systems (e.g., SuperCollider, Tidal) make the split between programming client and DSP server more explicit.

We can create our own protocols that go beyond MIDI or use the more flexible Open Sound Control standard.

netsend and netreceive

netsend and netreceive are the basic objects for making network connections and sending messages.

By default: TCP connections sending ASCII text in Pd’s own FUDI format (space separated, semicolon terminated text messages).

You can use -u to switch to UDP, and -b to switch to binary message sending.

TCP vs UDP (is this important? probably)

  • UDP: no “connection” required between sender and receiver, fast and simple, no protection against dropped packets! (ask me how I know)

  • TCP: requires a “connection” between a sender and receiver, a bit slower, dropped packets are detected and resent.

Computer music networks often rely on UDP for simplicity and speed, possible for badness in wireless situations.

(I promise no 7-layer network diagrams here)

Open Sound Control (OSC)

  • standard way to send messages between synth software over (local) network connections (see the spec)
  • normally UDP messages
  • one message can have many pieces of data, both numbers and text

Simple packing: address and type are ASCII text, each section padded to 4-byte boundaries. The “address” tells you what the message is supposed to do (defined by you).

Sending and receiving OSC in Pd.

  • very simple OSC implementation… (but it works)
  • address chunks and all arguments end up in a list: up to you to do what you want with them.

Routing Messages

How do you parse and handle network messages?

The route object is similar to “select”, but trims off the matching first message.

  1. use route objects to pattern-match the address of your message
  2. then unpack the message (you should know the structure of the contents)


Typically need your own network, university WiFi often won’t work for direct TCP/UDP connections.

I use a small router for rehearsals, we will have a router at the LENS final performance.

You could try tethering to one phone if you don’t have a spare router.

UDP over WiFi loses packets! (by definition)