eChucK Overview

In Uncategorized on July 25, 2011 at 4:39 am

You may be wondering:  “What the ChucK is eChucK?” and rightfully so.  eChucK is electronic ChucK, a hardware implementation of a music programming language modeled after modular synthesizers.  Now say that ten times fast!  Haha, in simpler terms eChucK makes music.

The way that eChucK makes music is we create very simple circuits and wire them together into a musical electronic system.  Each of the simple circuits is a distilled down basic version of a fancy expensive modular synthesizer module.

For example, we might use a 555 time oscillator to create a square wave clock signal on one little eChucK board, send that into a CD4017 based Baby10 step sequencer, and then drive a 40106 voltage controlled oscillator to create our music signal.  Send that into a pair of powered computer speakers and you’ve got yourself a simple little music maker for a barebones price (or free if you scrounge for parts).

So what about this ChucK music programming language?  Well, eChucK was imagined by a ChucK programmer, namely me, as a way of implementing the software pieces that bolt together to make music in hardware form.

The history here is that in the 1960’s the modular synthesizer was invented and existed as huge electronic monstrosities full of tubes and transistors and such.  Each modular synthesizer consisted of many modules that fit together into a rack, forming a monolith of music.  Patch cables wired all the modules together and the whole thing looked like an old timey telephone switch operator’s panel, basically a tangle of cables on a panel.  Once you wired it up you adjusted knobs and switches on the panels to make different sounds.

Fast forward to recent years and a young music grad student named Ge Wang gets the idea to model these modular synthesizers as well as other musical instruments in software form.  The famous quote from his professor was:  “Go for it!” and ChucK was born.  Today ChucK continues to evolve into more and more powerful forms as new versions are released from time to time.

We now bring you to October of 2007 and I am browsing through the downloads page of the Apple computer web site (don’t worry, ChucK is cross-platform to Mac, Linux, and PC), and what do i behold?  Why it’s ChucK of course!  Amazed that such a thing exists as a programming language that creates music, I quickly download it and give it a try.  Suddenly I am a ChucKist and begin to code away with glee.

Then I notice on the ChucK website that there is a forum for ChucK on!  Oh joy, i can share my excitement with others.  Well, long story short my background in programming and electronics gets me thinking and talking and pretty soon I envision an electronic version of ChucK:  eChucK.

So we’ve come around full circle from electronics to software and back to electronics, only now it’s 50 years later and electronics have gotten a whole lot smaller and cheaper.  So small and so cheap, in fact, that we can make little simplified versions of the bulky 1960’s modules on circuit boards the size of a large postage stamp.  Things now become not just smaller but easier, cheaper, and a whole lot more fun for the average person who could never afford to get their hands on the old monoliths.

Well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it as the song says.  Now you have a better idea of what eChucK is all about and how it came to be.  In another blog entry I will discuss more of the details of the eChucK implementation.  Happy reading!



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