This week I was in Paris for the 1st International Web Audio Conference, organised by IRCAM and Mozilla. It was a fantastic event bringing together developers, musicians, researchers and others for 3 days of Web Audio fun. I thought I’d use this issue to share some of the themes that stood out to me at the conference. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, so I apologise in advance if I missed you or your favourite project out. The full programme of the conference is a good place to start exploring some of the other ideas that were presented.
Timing and Scheduling
A common theme at the conference was how to work with time and scheduling in the Web Audio API. While the API provides a high-level interface for defining the audio node graph, the scheduling of audio events is fiddly. Inspired by Chris Wilson’s A Tale of Two Clocks blog post, several authors demonstrated useful abstraction libraries at the conference.
- Norbert Schnell and co-authors clearly describe the problem and their solution in their paper Of Time Engines and Masters. The granular synthesis demos they gave at the conference clearly showed the power of their library.
- Chinmay Pendharkar and co-authors tackled scheduling too as part of their port of a flash audio engine to Web Audio.
- Finally, Yotam Mann gave a fantastic overview and demo of his Tone.js library which has a very comprehensive set of functions for working with time and scheduling.
Audio Workers and custom DSP
- In particular I enjoyed the demonstration of a port of CSound to the Web Audio API.
- Paul Adenot, Mozilla developer and co-editor of the Web Audio spec gave a great keynote speech on some of the challenges we face in improving the performance of the Web Audio API to near native speeds.
Tools and Education
I loved the theme of teaching and exploring that ran through the conference. It seems that the Web Audio API is gaining traction as a technology with with to teach music technology, computer programming and audio concepts.
- Braid is a very polished drag-and-drop tool for building and distributing instruments and interfaces developed at Lousiana State University.
- EarSketch is used to teach programming concepts by allowing students to build their own digital audio workstation. The earlier desktop versions suffered from cross-platform and installation issues in schools, so this new port to the Web Audio API was undertaken to make it more accessible.
- Kyle Stetz made the most impressive demo of the conference with Lissajous, the live coding environment he has developed. Its concise API maps to Kyle’s way of thinking about how to compose music in real time and allows the expression of musical ideas rapidly with minimal learning of syntax.
- Joe Berkovitz talked about NoteFlight a collaborative sheet-music editing application for musicians that uses the Web Audio API extensively.
- If you’re not using the Firefox Web Audio developer tools yet, you should be. Jason Santell gave a great presentation of all the new and upcoming features.
The Web Audio gigs on Tuesday evening were surprising. Coming into the conference I’d expected several demos of live-coding environments and solo music performances made with the Web Audio API or related technologies. Instead, all of the gigs actually put the music making in the hands of the audience by using the Web Audio API on smart phones to create immersive, distributed soundscapes. I think for me the performances that worked best were the ones that involved less interactivity, as they allowed me spend time listening to the creations. Ben Houge’s solo vocal rendition of his poem The Tomb of the Grammarian Lysias was accompanied by tones that moved around the performance space. Drops, by Sébastien Robaszkiewicz and Norbert Schnell, was a Brian Eno-style experience which allowed us to create melodies by tapping out simple rythms and then listening for their echoes on other devices from across the room.
I expect to see more of this kind of experimention in the future, and enjoyed how it brought us all together in an unusual and musical way at the end of the conference.
Finally - Hya-Wave released
While preparing for and attending the conference I haven’t managed to get a newsletter out, which means I haven’t been able to tell you about Hya-Wave - a new and extremely polished collaborative sample editor from Cristiano Belloni. There’s a lot of potential use-cases for the Web Audio API in the area of collaborative tools for musicians, and it looks like Hya-Wave is just the start from Cristiano. Read more and try out the application linked from his introductory blog post.