Computer music is not a new idea. IBM 1620 programmers would put an AM radio next to the computer, then write programs to produce "musical" bits of electrical noise. Later efforts used tape drives and/or printers for percussion. Some machines, like the CDC 3150, even had console speakers. Although this was all great fun, no concert-quality music was produced.

Fortunately, many computers now have reasonably good audio technology. It is not uncommon to find workstations capable of producing CD-quality audio. A few hundred dollars will add a CD-quality sound card to any PC. Not surprisingly, some pretty interesting freeware packages are emerging to take advantage of this capability.

Before we look at sources of music freeware, however, some mild words of warning may be in order. Music-capable workstations are relatively new to the scene. There are lots of standards to choose from, usually tied to particular types of machines. Finally, much of the code is written in C++ or Common Lisp. Unless you have the machines and languages the code requires, you are unlikely to get much joy from a package.

CCRMA

Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) brings in researchers from all over the world. Their FTP archive ftp://ccrma-ftp.stanford.edu/" is a gold mine of audio and music software. Their hardware environment is based on NeXT and Macintosh computers, and their software tends to be based on Common Lisp, Objective-C, and Smalltalk.

The pub directory contains dozens of compressed archives, as well as topical directories containing still more material. Pick up and print out CCRMA.README and CCRMAReport.ps.Z, read them, then start grabbing goodies. To tweak your interest, here is a precis from the latter document:

MAEstro

MAEstro is a "Multimedia Authoring Environment" under development at Stanford University. It is written in C and thoroughly documented. Unfortunately, the current version has gone commercial and the old version no longer appears to be available via FTP. There is hope, however, that some site will pick it up. The old distribution was described as follows in the ReadMe file:

Princeton

The music directory on Princeton University's FTP archive ftp://princeton.edu/pub/music/ contains over 14 MB of compressed archives. Once again, there is a heavy NeXT influence. Here are some sample package descriptions, ranging from the esoteric to the bizarre:

UCSD

MIDI enthusiasts should check out Brian Kantor's collection (/midi) on the University of California San Diego FTP archive (ftp://ucsd.edu/midi/). The collection includes software for Amiga, Atari, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, Macintosh, NeXT, and generic UNIX. It also contains MIDI scores for several pieces of music. Brian's README gives a pretty good rundown on his efforts, ending with this gem: