CDP HISTORY: An Evolving Project
The Composers' Desktop Project has been developing software for working with sound materials since 1986. Working on a co-operative basis and driven by their own compositional requirements, they have focused on precise, detailed and multi-faceted sound transformation tools.
After a period in which many different people contributed software and hardware designs for the early Atari ST system, the Project took a great leap forward first when we moved to the PC, and later when Trevor Wishart began to focus his efforts on programming his many sound transformation ideas. This was a concentrated fury of work lasting several years. The system as it stands is very much his creation, with support in low-level system matters from Martin Atkins and Richard Dobson, documentation from Archer Endrich, and graphics from Trevor himself, Richard Dobson and Robert Fraser.
The following summarises the main events of the past 37 years.
It began in the late 1970's with a discussion group in York in which Richard Orton was a guiding figure. Archer has written a
Personal Recollection of Richard, who died on 12 February 2013. He also wrote a more detailed obituary for Organised Sound [Vol 18(3) 2013, pp. 235-239].
During the early part of the 1980s, those who eventually founded CDP began to use the first micros, usually for various forms of pre-compositional processing. They were aware of the computer music software which had already been created on mainframes, and the work of such seminal organisations as GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) and IRCAM, especially after a concert GRM presented in York.
These interests and inspirations came to a head when the Atari computer was brought out with a MIDI interface and a cartridge port with a very fast burst rate (intended for games applications). Once all involved had purchased the same computer, the rest followed with an unstoppable logic and necessity.
AUGUST 1986 feasibility study to determine if it was possible:
to port CMUSIC from UNIX mainframe to the Atari ST
to create a hardware I/O device for sound for the Atari ST: David Malham's SoundStreamer. He also created the multi-socket Cartridge Port device for use with MIDIGRID.
OCTOBER 1986 to MAY 1987 establishing the core system:
- the presence of CMUSIC on the System confirmed
- the initial set of 'Groucho' signal processing routines written (A. Bentley).
- the first four spectral manipulation programs written by Trevor Wishart while at IRCAM working on VOX-5.
- a drawing program for additive synthesis was written (R. Orton).
- a graphic desktop environment was written (R. Fischman).
- the SoundSTreamer was designed and manufactured to provide sound I/O for the system, in conjunction with the Sony PCM501 (D. Malham).
- the soundfiling system was written to provide sound storage and software for accessing the SoundSTreamer; a number of Unix-like system utilities were also provided (M. Atkins).
March 1987: CDP established as a formal organisation. The first versions of the 'CDP System' were delivered in June 1987.
April 1988: The Gulbenkian Foundation awarded a £17,000 start-up grant, enabling CDP to get established. Needless to say, we were and remain tremendously grateful for this grant.
1989: The first upgrade was issued, expanding the Groucho signal processing package and the programs to manipulate spectral analysis data, and adding Csound as a software synthesis 'engine' in addition to Cmusic.
1991: Release 2 was issued, with improvements to existing software and more additions.
1993: The CDP System was ported to the Atari Falcon environment, with a port of CMUSIC to the TT/Falcon030 by Gerhard Wolfstieg.
1994: The CDP System was ported to the PC and SGI environments under the guidance of Martin Atkins, CDP's system programmer, who created a 'portability library' to accomplish this task.
1995: major revisions to almost all the CDP programs were undertaken, and about 70 new programs added to the System, forming Release 3.
In September 1996 CDP relocated from York to Bristol at the invitation of the Partnership for Advanced Computing Technologies (PACT). While there we were mostly pre-occupied with the task of developing a graphic alternative for the CDP system, in creating the initial adaptations of some of its relatively advanced software for general educational use, and creating the CDP Website.
At Salford University, Louisa Yong set up the ComeXos project to explore the possibilities of central processing via the Internet. Users could upload soundfiles, process them with about 14 CDP functions at Salford, and download the results.
CDP moved out of PACT in January 2000 and was based in Chippenham, Wiltshire. GrainMill was first issued in 1997.
Richard Dobson created a Win32 version of James Beachamp's SNDAN, for graphic display of analysis data, thanks to a grant from the Sonic Arts Network. The first versions of the new Soundshaper graphical user interface were distributed. This was soon followed by Trevor Wishart's Sound Loom, another approach to a GUI for CDP, based on his own working methods. The full Release 4 (Release 4.5) was finalised in November 2001. Shortly after this, Richard Dobson's Multi-channel Toolkit became available via his website and was included with CDP Systems.
Most of this period was spent expanding and documenting the sound transformation software base, becoming Release 5.0, first released in June 2005. Rajmil Fischman created AL-Erwin in 2003 thanks to a AHRB grant. It combines advanced granular synthesis and a hybrid approach to mixing.
Also during this period, Richard Dobson assembled several CDP Spectral Domain programs into the real-time plugin Spectral Transformer, part of Cakewalk's very powerful Project 5 (under licence). Spectral Transformer was consistently praised in the various reviews. Realising the CDP modules in this way brought home their originality and extremely versatile functionality. Project 5 also achieved an effective balance between software synthesis, MIDI facilities and sound transformations, which illustrates the hybrid environment in which many make use of the CDP software.
Commercial website facilities led to a steady increase in CDP users. Trevor Wishart developed his PSOW software package to work with pitch-synchronous FOF-like grains of sound (officially part of Release 6 but realeased early during 2008). Release 6, now numbering 400 to 600 functions, was released in November 2010, with a major set of multi-channel composition tools from Trevor Wishart and considerable expansion of the Multi-Channel Toolkit by Richard Dobson. The Project network now comprised more than 700 members in 21 countries, including about 72 educational institutions.
The CDP user group and the software package continued to expand steadily. As with any organisation, the workload also increased and fell on far too few shoulders. CDP reached its Silver Anniversary in June 2012 and Archer initiated a discussion with the CDP Advisors about stabilising the CDP System and organisation for the future. The result of these discussions was the decision that CDP needed to embrace a public domain culture. We therefore formalised the CDP organisation as a company limited by guarantee with a social enterprise charter, and we also decided to make the core CDP sound transformation and editing software, i.e, the CDP-Wishart libraries, a free download. These decisions were implemented in October 2013. The changes also freed up administrative time (spent on sales) to employ our expertise more profitably for the community by redirecting energies towards education initiatives and documentation.
Richard Orton and Archer Endrich developed ProcessPack, in which CDP processes were integrated into some higher-level compositional procedures. Sadly, this work was curtailed with Richard's untimely death in February 2013.
2014 started with intense work to finalise Release 7 for free download release in February. This was not a trivial task as there were 38 new programs from the ever creative Trevor Wishart, many of them quite challenging to test and document.
CDP settled into its new public-domain role, with downloads hosted by Simon Kunath at Unstablesound.net. We have had around a terabyte of downloads per year with users from all over the world. Simon also set up an Online User Forum. Richard and Archer began to lay the foundations for the 'Sound & Music Computing in Schools' (SMCS) project.
CDP 7.1 was released in 2016, as was the 3rd-party CDP Interface for Renoise. The documentation was revised for HTML5 and put online, as well as being available in PDF format. John Ffitch organised the CDP 7 sources on GitHub and also contributed amendments to Richard Orton's Tabula Vigilans program which will have far-reaching implications for future scripting.
In Autumn 2020, it emerged that Trevor Wishart has written over 70 new programs since Release 7. Some of these are revisions of older ideas while others build on existing pre-occupations. The programs have since been documented and tested, ready for Release 8 in 2023. The size of the CDP suite is now hard to count. (Release 8's SPECFNU, for example, has 23 processes for manipulating formants within one program.) The introduction of new variants and updates under new program names makes it hard to fathom all the different nuances and keep track of what's available; to this end, Robert Faser has written a Classified Guide to all the CDP functions. The re-grouping of low-level functions into more useful packages remains a priority for him.
A key goal since 2014 has been to put the CDP source code into library format to facilitate its further development and its use in new applications a huge task. Funding for projects and maintaining the organisation remains a problem, despite some generous donations. The educational initiative appears to have stalled, but may re-emerge in time.
CDP's creative and business history and its contacts and role during the formative period of electroacoustic music in the final decades of the 20th century is of considerable interest and significance. Archer has retained and archived as many key documents as possible and we are pleased that the archive will now be housed appropriately at York University, at the Borthwick Institute. It is hoped that a research project may materialise, documenting the history and contribution of CDP, both both in software and in overall vision.
CDP has been awarded various grants during iits history. Initial seed funding of £20,000 was provided by the Gulbenkian Foundation in 1988. In 1997-1998 towards graphic projects: £500 from the Sonic Arts Network (for the port of SNDAN), £5000 from the Arts Council of England, and £15,500 from the Esmée Fairbairn Charitable Trust. CDP was also greatly supported by the office space at PACT, which was provided without charge.
This support has been much needed by CDP as a specialist developer in sound design facilities, and is deeply appreciated by the whole CDP membership.