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Notes about a Procedural Audio Forum

Notes about a Procedural Audio Forum

My recent guest post at Designing Sound, What's the Deal with Procedural Game Audio?, made a call for a forum for designers to discuss and trade information about creating procedural (reactive, interactive, generative, etc.) sound and music. @kcmyoung asked what I meant by that, so here goes.

An Online Forum

Like all of us thinking about this topic, I love music and sound. Given my training as a software developer, my way of contributing to the field isn't by making sound, but rather by making tools for people to make sound with. One step removed, but close enough. As a developer I take a lot of inspiration from the developer-oriented forums such as musicdsp or Stackoverflow.

Ideally I'd like to see a forum where I can go to ask "How do I make this sound?", "How can I make this sound fast?", or "How can I make this sound more interactive?" in the same way that I can go to programmer forums and ask "How can I make a fast floating-point random number generator?" or "How is infinity represented as a double?" I'd like to be able to add recordings to the posts (perhaps via Soundcloud widgets) and I should be able to attach code samples. This is easy for written languages such as Supercollider, but requires some more infrastructure for graphical languages like Pd. Max/MSP's Base-64 format is a concise solution but is obviously not human readable. In a perfect world, I would even be able to execute those code samples directly in the browser!

Perhaps @tsugistudio's Procedural Audio Interest Group (PAIG) could be the home of such a place? Or maybe we could take over some part of an existing music forum such as Future Producers? The Max/MSP forums already go in this direction, but it's specific to one tool. On Stackoverflow I can ask any question about Java, C, Lisp, or whatever. There isn't one way to express procedural audio, nor should it be limited to one tool.

Meatspace Meetups

But barring an online forum, there is so much to be said for meatspace meetups like Procedural Audio Now! in London organised by Graham Gatheral. This is a great community, and Graham deserves a lot of credit for putting it together! Pimpin' ain't easy. Unfortunately this is the only such meetup that I am aware of in the whole entire world. (Not that I'm fully up-to-speed on the subject.)

Oh Martin, You Talk a Big Game

From the peanut gallery I hear a lone voice, "Well Martin, this is all well and good. If you're so excited about a procedural audio forum, why don't you make it?"

From my soapbox I retort, "Cut me some slack guys. I'm already busting my ass trying to get Heavy off of the ground. I'm trying to solve the technical performance problem! I can't do it all by myself :-/"

Find me @supersg559 if you want to hear more of my opinions.


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ntkeep commented Nov 1, 2014

My thoughts, led by a few questions:

  • How and where do we facilitate conversations? Forums, mailing lists, Facebook groups? We've already got some solutions for each (PAIG, Andy had started a synthesis mailing list, sound design/game audio Facebook groups). The problem is in getting people on those forums/mailing lists (including me, I tend to prefer Facebook groups these days).
  • How do we maintain, moderate and inspire each other? This is something we ask ourselves every time on the Designing Sound admin group. It surprisingly takes a lot of time and effort.
  • Every few months I receive at least one email from a student studying procedural techniques. How do we encourage them? How do we get them to share their work? How do we document it? There is so much all of us can learn from each other.

Maybe it's just that we don't have enough resources around to even begin asking questions! We need a larger repository of information. I don't just mean AES/IEEE papers about structural models, but the 'hands-on' stuff that people can play with, whether they use Pd, FAUST or C++. We need to play, even though we're all short of time.

What could help are more articles from a wider range of people. There's no 'right' or 'wrong' procedural audio. I'm happy to facilitate more of such articles on designing sound (just because it is where the community is, but any other website could work too!).

Another thought: Procedural Audio Now! is fantastic. I live in the UK and haven't been able to make it to a single one. Could we work with Graham and document every single presentation from now to grow the repository of information? Something like ?


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jorgegarcia commented Nov 3, 2014

Some good points here Martin and Varun :)

Also following up with Martin's recent guest contribution on Designing Sound, I also believe the situation we have now is a combination of circumstances - which in part have all been pointed out I believe by a number of people involved with PA already (Andy, Nicolas, etc) in various lectures/presentations during the last few years. So bear with me if I don't say anything new here as you are probably aware of all of this. Let me know if I talk gibberish...

Games are software, whereas traditional sound design or music composition for e.g. film were born way before than software, and in different environments. As you mention in the article, there is a fundamental knowledge gap so the content creators and the people that make the tools or have the skills to enable optimal implementations is indeed noticeable. I also think that the motivations are different e.g. not everybody had the chance to actually experience or get involved in the early days of the demoscene and make a good leap into our present-future.

So, Musicdsp / StackOverflow etc as far as I know, are forums built by and made for programmers. Not sure what would be an equivalent way to ask questions about procedural models but I don't see people being as "direct" as asking what are the correct API calls order or the approach for a certain algorithm, when the question would also generally involve aesthetics and budget / time constraints. How many questions are in StackOverflow talking about the code optimisations needed to squeeze an algorithm into a certain platform really (apart from iPhones)? That's VERY specific, and the tradeoff is often discussed within the rest of the limitations that most of the times you can only know if you measure or profile after looking into the budget you have. Also, depending on the project you don't always have the time to do that optimisation work either, or you don't actually need to do it at all though it will be indeed awesome to squeeze any available processing cycle from any target platform. A totally different scenario will be small / pet / learning / academic projects - where the audience might be different.

Anyway, we can change any structure/arrangement in the procedural audio forum website fairly easy, which hasn't changed a lot really since we started it with Nicolas a couple of years ago.

On the other sides of the battle, the PA Now! events are indeed great... it's always good to have a chat about the topic and meet in person to talk about PA under an open and healthy debate, which is a much needed debate in the games industry though not all of the projects or games will ever need procedural audio. I believe we also need a proper procedural audio conference at some point with support from good partners both in academia and industry: these are all big words indeed, it obviously calls out for more entrepeneurship work and proactivity from our side.

Is the main roadblock that the only people interested on this we are all busy to make more things happen then?


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lucasmengual commented Nov 7, 2014

Hi guys!
I find it hard to stay updated with PA too. I think the Facebook group could be a great start, and post papers, related links, patches, recordings, etc thru there would be great.

I havent manage to go to the previous PANow! event, but is nice finally they're uploading videos to it. Hopefully I get into the next event… I'm at the Queen Mary now, and I talked with Josh Reiis and Christian Heinrichs about it, and it'll be nice organising a PA-oriented event.
Great paper by the way Varun!


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mviljamaa commented Jan 29, 2016

I'm thinking of setting up a new virtual discussion platform or something.

I have some ideas about an open source initiative (really, a software framework) involving procedural audio (more on the theoretical level though), but I'm thinking (and since I want it to be open source) I wouldn't need to work on it alone.

Lets say it's similar to

Perhaps more close to:


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KazStoilov commented Jun 27, 2017

Hi guys,

I am currently researching Algorithmic Music Systems and I would really appreciate it if you could take a short survey (check link below)

Any thoughts, any information from your experience with Algorithmic Music Systems would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you guys!


Kaz Stoilov

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