sdf PhD





Exploring visual representation of sound
in computer music software through
programming and composition


AbstractSummary tables of contents

Selected content from
a thesis submitted with a portfolio of works to the University of Huddersfield in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

December 2013

Samuel David Freeman

Minor amendments
April–June 2014

S D Freeman PhD thesis

Full text download: sdfreeman_phd_thesis_amended.pdf (11.4 MB)

Citation (bibtex):

	type = {{PhD}},
	title = {Exploring visual representation of sound 
	in computer music software through programming and composition},
	url = {},
	school = {University of Huddersfield},
	author = {Freeman, Samuel David},
	year = {2013}

The pages of this website duplicate the sections of the thesis; footnotes are presented as sidenotes,[n0] and navigation to the next page is given at the foot of each page.

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Presented through contextualisation of the portfolio works are developments of a practice in which the acts of programming and composition are intrinsically connected. This practice-based research (conducted 2009–2013) explores visual representation of sound in computer music software.

Towards greater understanding of composing with the software medium, initial questions are taken as stimulus to explore the subject through artistic practice and critical thinking. The project begins by asking: How might the ways in which sound is visually represented influence the choices that are made while those representations are being manipulated and organised as music? Which aspects of sound are represented visually, and how are those aspects shown?

Recognising sound as a psychophysical phenomenon, the physical and psychological aspects of aesthetic interest to my work are identified. Technological factors of mediating these aspects for the interactive visual-domain of software are considered, and a techno-aesthetic understanding developed.

Through compositional studies of different approaches to the problem of looking at sound in software, on screen, a number of conceptual themes emerge in this work: the idea of software as substance, both as a malleable material (such as in live coding), and in terms of outcome artefacts; the direct mapping between audio data and screen pixels; the use of colour that maintains awareness of its discrete (as opposed to continuous) basis; the need for integrated display of parameter controls with their target data; and the tildegraph concept that began as a conceptual model of a gramophone and which is a spatio-visual sound synthesis technique related to wave terrain synthesis. The spiroid-frequency-space representation is introduced, contextualised, and combined both with those themes and a bespoke geometrical drawing system (named thisis), to create a new modular computer music software environment named sdfsys.

Summary tables of contents


1: Introduction →