Words by c.z.robertson

The story of Praleck Brome

2002-12-29 23:11:08 UTC

I thought I'd write a little bit about how I made Praleck Brome. It's a bit more interesting than my other tunes.

First the tools: Praleck Brome was created entirely using a program called Csound. It's a program which was first written in 1985, though it drew on programs written much earlier than that, so it's a pretty old system. Despite that, it's still a very functional system, and still being developed.

While there are graphical systems to aid composition in Csound, the most basic way of using it is to write text files specifying the sounds and score. So the instrument definitions look like this:

; Tick
instr 8

idur     =       p3         ; Duration
iamp     =       p4         ; Amplitude

k1       expseg  1, idur, 0.1
a1       poisson .01
a2       =       a1*k1*10000*iamp
         outs    a2,a2


So that's a simple ticking sound that I used in Praleck Brome. It takes two parameters: its duration and its amplitude. k1, a1 and a2 are variables defined as the sound is generated. k1 is a curve that tails off exponentially from 1 to 0.1 over the length of the note. a1 is audio data in which the value of each sample is determined randomly, with a 0.01 chance of being 1, and 0 otherwise. a2 is a1 multiplied by k1, a constant (to boost it a bit), and the specified amplitude. The line "outs a2,a2" just outputs the resulting sound on both stereo outputs.

Having defined that sound I can use it in a tune with a line like this:

i8  0  0.5  0.3

...which says "play insrument 8, on beat 0, with a duration of 0.5 beats and an amplitude of 0.3".

The score can actually be more sophisticated than that because Csound can use macros to repeat bits of text, and I use that feature quite heavily.

So that's a very brief (and probably rather poor) introduction to composing with Csound. As you can see it's a rather odd system to work with, and a bit labour-intensive.

And now on to the tune: Praleck Brome was influenced by listening to lots of Godspeed You Black Emperor!. Every time I got stuck I listened to their music to work out what to do next. I tried to go for the "slow build-up to thunderous roar" sound that they have, but I largely failed. I might have another go at solving that problem at some point in the future.

In Praleck Brome I used more plucked and struck sounds than I have done previously. That might be the influence of Godspeed, but I actually suspect it's more likely to be the effect of Csound's rather strange interface. I'm fascinated by the way in which interfaces affect music, so this is all food for me.