(Computer Music) Beginner looking for advice/guidance


#1

I know many of you have backgrounds in music or have studied Sonic Arts or Electroacoustic at school, so I figured this would be a good place to ask for some solid advice in regards to computer music making, the exploration and understanding of sounds, and some of the things that one might deem essential for a beginner who is interested in starting his journey.

Currently, I’ve started learning SuperCollider (literally just started a day or two ago) and so far I’m very keen on its approach; on top of that I am awe-inspired by some of the music people have been creating with it. But aside from learning the program, its programming syntax, what are some other things I should perhaps learn in conjunction with my study in SuperCollider? It is only a tool after-all.

In order to actually know how to create the sound or the noise that I want - ultimately I need to acquire a solid foundation and knowledge in sound synthesis, correct? Does anyone have any resources or learning materials they would recommend (that might be suitable for a beginner) ?

With so many tools and methods of making music these days, it was a little daunting at first - like going to the supermarket and being confronted with plethora of choices: software synthesis, hardware synthesis, modular synthesizers, programming. Anyways, i’m pretty glad to have decided on programming (SuperCollider) since I am not completely foreign to programming in general, but mostly I think it was so I could avoid the trouble of being confronted with so many software (plugins) choices down the road. Knowing myself - Gear Acquisition Syndrome would be a big problem. So in that respect, having everything in the form of a programming language is pretty appealing - and a good medicine. lol. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

But now that I’m clear on the tool and am spending time learning it, I’m curious about the other aspects and areas that I need to expose myself to: a solid foundation in synthesis? compositions? the understanding, analysis, and exploration of sound? as well as the overall music creating process when it comes to Computer Music - especially in the areas of Ambient, Drone, Glitch, Experimental kind of music.


#2

Sound on Sound has a huge archive of articles exploring the how-to’s of synthesizing various sounds from scratch! The articles are already somewhat agnostic as to what kind of devices you’re using to follow along, but if I remember correctly there might be a part of the learning curve where you have to figure out that “VCA” in software means “multiply one signal by another”. The series of articles is called Synth Secrets and you can find most of them on their website (because they date way far back, you’ll have to be patient with the websites struggles to show you what you want.)

For me, learning how to patch various percussive sounds (on my Korg MS-20, but it doesn’t matter) out of pretty standard pieces was the big eye-opener as far as learning what kinds of experimentation might take me where as well as giving myself permission to try things I might otherwise have thought of as “wrong”


#3

I definitely recommend the Nick Collins SuperCollider tutorials. As well as teaching you SuperCollider, you also learn a little about synthesis fundamentals and get introduced to sequencing, which will be important for composing with SuperCollider:
https://composerprogrammer.com/teaching/supercollider/sctutorial/tutorial.html

If you really have no experience with synthesis at all, I would probably suggest learning by using a software synthesiser, rather than trying to build one straight away.

Worth looking at explanations of subtractive synthesis on YouTube, so you get an idea of the different parts that make up the most common types of synthesiser, or follow the suggestions for Sound on Sound made in the post above.

There’s a free course on Kadenze called ‘Designing Synthesizer Sounds’, which may be useful:

They also have a video series called ‘Loop: Repetition and Variation in Music’, which seems to be more about composition, but looks really interesting:

There was a post on here recently about artists using SuperCollider, worth checking that out for inspiration:

Hope some of this helps!


#4

the thing to remember most when you first start is - it can be very overwhelming, a lot of things will be mysterious to you and sometimes it seems like there are so many things to know BUT with time, practice and learning you will come to understand it all - we all have been down that very same path* and it worked out just fine :slight_smile: what’s more one great thing about music: you can make music with very little knowledge indeed - it won’t be as sophisticated as that made by people with more experience or skill but it can still give you, and others pleasure

You will find some things ‘connect’ with the way you learn better than others. That’s likely just trial and error. one nice thing is that music gear tends not to lose a lot of value on a resale if you look after it - keep boxes and packaging. I’m finding reverb.com great for selling stuff that I don’t use/want any more

@alanza is spot on with that Sound on Sound series - you could do much worse than working though an article or two a week and trying out the ideas in supercollider.

Youtube is my favourite place for learning about music stuff - when I originally started doing electronic stuff I relied on books and articles - my knowledge has advanced so much more seeing people talk/explain/play. It certainly would be my first port of call these days

and lastly - find a friendly forum - Oh look you’ve already managed that :wink: and ask questions

* edit: that makes it sound like there is an end point - I’d argue all of us are still learning and that’s the mark of a good music maker - continual learning


#5

I think this is a very interesting topic …

I agree learning a bit of synthesis with from either hardware or software synthesiser helps as a starting point, to get a feeling of components involved - just because its all in front of you, so easy to play with - if you really want to ‘build a synth’ using supercollider, then I think using something like VCVRack will help the most, as it’ll let you combine things in different ways.

However, Ive found there is a bit of a gap between ‘learning synthesis’ with a synthesiser (even a eurorack modular) and applying this to supercollider - Im not quite sure what it is… (as Im an experienced programmer so its not the programming side) - Ive a suspicion it might be partly the number of Ugens available, and knowing what to use is a bit bewildering.

none of this is unique to supercollider - I initially found the same with Pd/Max/Axoloti, you get to a stage when you can build a polyphonic subtractive or additive synth, as these are documented well… but going beyond ‘replicating’ something and building some new is tricky.

btw: if you are looking at doing composition, have a look at the Pdef side, the SC help describes it well in the JITLib section of help - its a bit heavy going at times, but I think its something that sets supercollider apart (if your into live coding)


#6

I would take a different stance to others and say that perhaps if you are comfortable with Supercollider and the coding paradigm continue with that. Hardware and hardware modelled plugins often suit a generation such as mine as that is what we grew up with and are familiar with. I see many students comfortable with computer programming take great strides without recourse to more analogue paradigm of understanding synthesis. I might suggest the important thing is to learn the fundamentals of sound. This can done in many ways I would agree with the Nicholas collins and SOS suggestions above. Also Curtis Roads Computer music Tutorial is a solid starting point. Perhaps when you are comfortable with SC, Andy Farnell’s designing sound book will help learn to create sounds (albeit using PD ) but a good challenge would be to translate the principles into supercollider. Also maybe ask on the Supercollider forum.


#7

Number of UGens is part of it. I think it’s also that the nature of the constituent parts in software modulars tends to be lower level than the smallest components (a module or a portion of a module’s features) in a hardware modular. So, not only are there more choices, the choices are more granular and you have to make more of them.

It’s a different mindset.