Argot — a virtual phoneme sample instrument

Argot — a virtual phoneme sample instrument

Argot is an expressive, sample-based instrument inspired by the properties of the human voice, designed for live performance and fully customizable user voicebank creation.

Argot utilizes properties of phonology and human vocal speech to allow users to dynamically construct “syllables” from its bank of samples in a live music setting. This instrument is inspired by the limitations of musical vocal synthesizers, which allow for MIDI to control pitch data of vocals, but often require lyrical data to be input separately. Argot uses MIDI to control pitch data as well, but uses the computer mouse as an accessible gestural controller to allow for “syllables” to be constructed in tandem with the pitch in real-time.

Samples are loaded into Argot as different classes of phoneme – either “onsets” (consonants) or “rimes” (vowels). Through the combination of mouse button presses and the tracking of the mouse movement on a two-dimensional plane, a syllable is selected to be constructed from them on the next input of a MIDI note into the instrument.

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By using samples rather than formant modeling or other speech synthesis techniques, Argot is designed for user customization. Speech samples can be used to generate syllables mimicking human vocals, but any samples can be uploaded and treated the same. A “syllable” could consist of a drum hit as an onset and a string pad as a rime. Through this, Argot becomes a wider environment for experimental and emergent sound design.

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Argot is designed with ease of adaptability in mind and includes features to turn any 5-button computer mouse or other device into an intuitive and expressive controller. With one hand on a MIDI controller and the other on a mouse (or alternative), melodies with changing syllables can be made seamlessly, perfect for live performance.

Argot is free to download as an editable patch for Max/MSP and is open-source, distributed under the MIT License.


  • Max/MSP by Cycling ’ 74 on macOS or Windows (tested on Ver 8.3.0 and on macOS 11.6 Big Sur).
  • A MIDI controller.
  • A 5-button computer mouse or other MIDI/HID device (mouse support for expressive control available on Mac only).

Documentation / Download

Full download (with patch, preset samples, and PDF manual) is available as a .zip file from its webpage!

I began working on this a year and a half ago for my Master’s thesis, but it has evolved into a passion project that I would like to keep improving. Future goals for development are to release Argot as a standalone application, as well as to continue optimizing its CPU usage.

Please let me know if you have any questions or issues – I would also love to hear or see any projects made with it!