Composers’ Desktop Project

Composers’ Desktop Project is a software package designed for computer music by Trevor Wishart, and some of his colleagues. The project was made on the basis of previous experiments conducted at Ircam through the Carl System.

Brief history – In 1986, Trevor Wishart, Andrew Bentley and Richard Orton, former students of the University of York, started a joint project of computer music. The three young composers, each with previous experience in analog electronics music centers, understood the potential of computer in music applications. Together with other colleagues, most programmers or engineers like Martin Atkins, they realized the Composers’ Desktop Project, which, in the words of Wishart, consisted of a software package dedicated to the music, featured, unlike the others, by easy accessibility in terms of distribution, cost, and user support.[1]

Features – In intention of the promoters, the CDP is primarily addressed to individuals but also institutions such as universities or centers for music, which did not have the necessary financial resources to cover the purchase of useful programs and more expensive systems. In this way it gave the possibility to adopt the package of software intended for the CDP but also to adapt it to your needs, as it did for the Electronic Music Center in Vienna, where developed a graphical interface customized to their needs.[2]

Roots of CDP – In Britain, over the years, the CDP was affected by widespread and consensus among the musicians but also, especially, among educators. At the base of the CDP, in one way or another, there is the diffusion and use of Music N. From this point of view was crucial the experience conducted years earlier by Wishart at Ircam in Paris, where he could use the Carl System. The exciting environment of Paris led him to try to use the computer in combination with the Carl System that included Cmusic by Richard Moore and the Phase Vocoder. Wishart learned alone to use the different software which constitute the Carl System, and after having acquired the necessary skills, he engaged in the development of new software, designed for its needs. Many of these were prepared to handle the data obtained using the Phase Vocoder.

English situation – Back in Britain, Wishart found himself working in an environment very different from Ircam. There was no reference community and especially the were scarce resources available, both software and hardware. This difficult situation led Wishart and others to create the CDP. During those years, at the University of York, Csound was already available on a mainframe computer, the turning point for the CDP came with the purchase of an Atari computer that drove Wishart, Bentley and Orton to carry out, in 1986, a feasibility study for the Cmusic implementation on that type of computer.[3] Subsequently, each of the project components, worked on the development of the first softwares that formed the CDP, which was presented in 1987.

The CDP software – A fundamental part, of course, was occupied by Csound and Cmusic that, moreover, thanks to their free and with funding from the Gulbenkian Foundation, had allowed the realization of the project. To summarize in a general framework the different software developed for the CDP can identify three main groups: 1) for the synthesis of sounds 2) utility for processing the sounds through GROUCHO and 3) for the transformation of the sound spectrum. The first group are only Music N such as Csound and Cmusic, while in the second and third include those software developed specifically for the CDP.[4] Among the best known figure GROUCHO signal processor, named in homage to the Marx Brothers comedy team, whose functions were first prepared by Bentley. This software was designed to emulate the processes implemented at the analog level in the study devoted to electronic music; was later revised to only digital environments. In the second group, in addition to GROUCHO, were the various utilities developed to exploit the full potential of this signal processor. Among the software of the third group, however, remind those of Wishart, who had developed at Ircam and then readjust for the CDP. This software allows to exploit the FFT analytical data.[3]

Other software and utilities – Then we find GRANULA, to generate textures based on granular synthesis, NEWMIXI, for mixing and editing, ADSYN DRAW, specifically designed to allow a graphical approach to the definition of frequencies and amplitudes when using the technique of additive synthesis. Also in this group were developed utilities to enhance or facilitate the performance with Cmusic or Csound. These include GRANSYN (to generate granular effects), WEDGE (to create textures with one or more external sounds) and REMIX (for large structural texture). Then again spatialization software and an operating system developed by Martin Altkins, dedicated to the Atari computers. For the third group Robert Fraser was concerned to develop a graphical interface, simple and straightforward, called Sound Shaper.

Graphical interface – About the GUI, Wishart was long opposed to the idea of its use, as they believed that many of the available software interfaces were provided with well-kept and attractive, but poor in terms of signal processing, which remained the most important aspect. Three distinct reasons induced Wishart to change his mind: the explicit request of users, the advent of Tk/Tcl language and the collaboration of Folkmar Hein, the Berlin Technical University and the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst). All this led, in 1998, to design the Sound Loom interface, completed in 2000, that the same Wishart recognized as an upgrade for all the features of the CDP.[1]

The last years – Continuing with the history of the CDP, another milestone has identified in 1996 when the group was asked to move their activities at Partnership in Advanced Computing Technologies (PACT) of Bristol where he started a new phase with the help, in particular, by Richard Dobson. Initially undertook the job of transferring the whole package of the CDP to PC computers running Windows 95, then from 2005 has continued, with funding from the Sonic Art Network, implementation of Macintosh computers, which has contributed to a wider dissemination of the CDP in schools.[3]

2014 – In this year, the package of the Composers Desktop Project was released for free, along with all the software that make it up. It is currently available for Windows and Mac, while for Linux is ready only a beta version. You can find download page by following this link.


For this topic I’ve read:

[1] Trewor Wishart, Computer Music: Some Reflections in The Oxford Handbook of Computer Music, edited by Roger T. Dean, Oxford University Press, New York, 2009.
[2] Trevor Wishart, Computer Sound Trasformation: A Personal Perspective from the U. K., available on-line:
[3] Archer Endrich, Composers’ Desktop Project: a Musical Imperative, Organised Sound, Vol. 2 [1], 1997.
[4] Eduardo Reck Miranda, Computer Sound Design, Focal Press, Oxford, 2002.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>