Computing Engine Research

Adrian Freed

The exploration and development of new computational engines is critical to CNMAT's mission. We persue three goals simultaneously in this area:
  1. support of new paradigms,
  2. greater computational performance, and
  3. and lower development and ownership cost.
SGIOther UNIXPower PCPentium ProDSP
PerformanceHigh Multiply/Add rate
ProductivityTools (e.g. Matlab)
Good HLL Code Generation
9696 .
Standard DSP library
. ..
Large (>1Mbyte) Memory
Protected Address Space
9696 .
Music and
Real-time Threads
96 96.
Low Latency I/O (<10mS)
. . .
AudioReliable Audio I/O
. ..
On board 16-bit Audio
On board 4 channel Audio
. . . .
On board Digital I/O
. . .

Performance Projections

YearClocks /Multiply/AddRISC Clock Rate (MHz)DSP Clock Rate (MHz)

Up to the late 1970's, computer music engines were special purpose computers built from large numbers of moderately integrated components. They were accordingly expensive to develop, expensive to own, and not very portable. In the 1980's the development of completely integrated digital signal processing (DSP) chips, afforded the development of more integrated and easier to program systems. Our contribution during this period was the Reson8, a machine that combines 8 DSP56001 chips [Barrière et al. 1989]. Similar systems are available commercially, e.g. Kyma, and Protools and their popularity is now peaking .

In the 1990's our efforts moved away from integrating multiple DSP chips to the adaptation of high performance computer workstations and personal computers. Although the Reson8 is built from a small number of readily available elements, the performance of those elements is no longer competitive with RISC processors. An additional advantage of workstations and personal computers is that a complete computer music environment can be created by simply adding software to standard "off-the-shelf" systems manufactured and supported by large well-funded companies. The result of our efforts in this area, the HTM software environment [Freed 1992,1994a], forms the standard computing substrate for our work on new algorithms for musical sound synthesis and control.

Our latest work explores the reframing of older techniques of the 1960's and 1970's in modern, low power VLSI technology [Freed 1994b,1995].


[Barrière et al. 1989] Barrière, J-B, Baisnee, P-F, Freed, A., Baudot, M-D, 1989, "A Digital Signal Multiprocessor and its Musical Application", Proceedings of the 15th International Computer Music Conference, Ohio State University, CMA, San Francisco, CA.

[Freed 1992a] Freed, A. "Codevelopment of User Interface, Control and Digital Signal Processing with the HTM Environment," Proceedings of The International Conference on Signal Processing Applications & Technology, Dallas, Texas, 1994

[Freed 1994a] Freed, A. "New Tools for Rapid Prototyping of Musical Sound Synthesis Algorithms and Control Strategies." , Proceedings of The International Conference on Signal Processing Applications & Technology, Dallas, Texas, 1994.

[Freed 1994b] Freed, A. "The Rebirth of Computer Music by Analog Signal Processing", ICMC 1994,

[Freed 1995] Freed, A. Custom Hardware for Synthesis of Hundreds of Sinusoidal Partials, CNMAT internal, 1994, 1995.