About Us
CDP History

An Evolving Composers Desktop Project
The Composers' Desktop Project has been developing software for working with sound materials since 1986. Working on a cooperative 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 himself, Richard Dobson and Robert Fraser (Ensemble Software).

The following summarises the main events of the past 20 years.

During the early part of the 1980's, 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 of the work of such seminal organisations as GRM (Groupes de Researches 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.

Software Evolution

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 thru 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 awards a £17,000 start-up grant, which enables 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 processingpackage 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.

1996-1999 – 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. Meanwhile, At Salford University, Louisa Yong set up the ComeXos project to explore the possibilities of central processing via the Internet. In ComeXos users can upload soundfiles, process them with about 14 CDP functions at Salford, and download the results. They can also post and read messages and conduct Internet Relay Chat (IRC). See http://mustech.robodreams.com/ceos/. CDP moved out of PACT in January 2000 and is based in Chippenham, Wiltshire. GrainMill was first issued in 1997.

2000-2001 – 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 graphic 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. Shoftly after this, Richard Dobson's Multi-channel Toolkit became available via his website. It is freely downloadable and is included with CDP Systems.

2002-2005 – 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, which is 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.

2006-2010 – 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. This was officially part of Release 6 but was made available as a free update during 2008, as the rest of Release 6 was not yet ready. Most of the new software in Release 6 was focused on multi-channel facilities, with a major set of multi-channel composition tools from Trevor Wishart and considerable expansion of the Multi-Channel Toolkit by Richard Dobson. Release 6 was released in November 2010. The Project network now comprises more than 700 members in 21 countries. About 72 of these are educational institutions, and the remainder are individuals. The Release 6.0 software package now numbers 400 to 600 functions (depending on how you count them – we've lost count), of which all but a handful have been contributed by CDP members.

2011- 2013
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 perhaps dramatic 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 further purpose of these changes was to free up administrative time (spent on sales) and employ our expertise more profitably for the community by redirecting energies towards education initiatives (particularly Sound and Music Computer in Schools – SMCS) and documentation.

2014 ...
2014 started with intense work to finalise Release 7 for free download release in February. This has not been a trivial task as there were 38 new programs from the ever creative Trevor Wishart, many of them quite challenging to test and document. Even with this, we are leaving the 'Musical Applications' sections blank until we can use the programs more and hopefully receive feedback from other users. Meanwhile, we have set up an Online User Forum and began to lay the foundations for the SMCS Project, for which we are seeking funding. A key goal now is to put the CDP source code into library format to facilitate its further development and its use in new applications – a huge task. We are looking forward to seeing how the year unfolds!

Grants Awarded
CDP has been awarded various grants during is 20 year 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 Esmιe 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.

Page last updated: 07 February 2014