Lee Goddard .net — another boring personal homepage

Zen and the art of ....

Generative Sound With L-Systems

L-system Tree
Lindenmayer tree,
A → AB, B → A.

Computer-generated music has been an interest of mine since dissing it whilst at university in 1999, where I took a course called AI a and Creativity with the lovely and inspiring Maggie Boden OBE. However, despite the clever psuedo-music and clichés of Garage Band and Baysian networks, I find the attempt at human-sounding music to be depressingly emotionless, their lack of lyrics and lyricism removing them far even from the song machines of Orwell's 1984.

But I have always been fascinated by the idea (shared by Kandinsky, Klee, Victor Pasmore to name three of my faviourites) that paintings and images could be rendered as music, so when I cam across the extremely simple Lindenmayer System, the music application was obvious and irresistible, and the first prototype created within a day.

The appeal of the equation, generally used to model plant growth, is its simplicity, as this rough graphing demo illustrates. Without simulating varying soil, light, and weather conditions, growth is unnaturally regular, but the instantly familiar shapes produced by equations of as few as four bits encourages me to think Lindenmayer and co were closer to discovering some secrets of creation than anyone. But that's another subject.

L-system Tree
Sierpinski Median Curve, twice L → R-F-R+, R → -L+F+L-

As for the 'musical' output, it depends on your taste, and how you imagine a plant might sound. To my ear, it is often reminiscent of Terry Riley's dervish music, and thus the to Acton's own The Who's tribute to Terry Riley (and Avatar Meher Baba), and thus Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime.

The two above sounds combined:

My current system is a mixture of HTML5, MooTools (for ease of OO), with the binary midi files being encoded by old-fashioned Perl with Moose (using MIDI-Perl kindly dontated to the world by Sean M Burke). The resluting MIDI file is the imported into Logic Pro, and mastered through a Yamaha 01X and a variety of synths and samplers. However, my work has been moving towards landscapes of Lsystem 'plants,' which would push my current paradigm to the limit, so a rewrite in Java is planned for next year. This would also allow live alteration of a loop, which could be interesting for performance.


I am looking for three- to twleve-month contract, anywhere a British citizen can work — I frequently work in my native London (freeloading on my kind family), but would welcome the change to work anywhere else at all. I am happy to work with Perl in any form, or Java (though I have yet to take a Sun/Oracle certification), but I am especially interested in HTML5 and advanced OO JavaScript, preferably using Angular, any MVC/P framework like Backbone, with or without jQuery/MooTools/Underscore, and real-time work with HTML5 audio, Web Audio API, SVG and canvas manipulation. My ideal role would be making use of Node.js — I've lots of non-commercial experience, but am still finding few contract opportunities that make use of such interesting tech, let alone in an Agile environment with dev/CI/stage VMs managed through Jira.

In the past year or so, I have been focusing my free time on using and improving the Node/HTML5 L-systems audio, described above. Personal projects include Freedharma (Backbone), an SPWA to create video subtitle files in real-time (Angular), Plonk, a (Web Sockets/Audio) rip-off of Plink, a collaborative music doodling tool, a bit like the silly brush toy which you can see in the Zen section above. From the server's point of view, it's just a chat server, for the client is a kind of musical etchasketch. It does demonstrate the power of WebSockets and weaknesses of the HTML5 canvas element. Perhaps I'll write an article. I'd let you see it, but what ISP supports WebSockets?

When Mozilla eventually completely fixe their HTML5 audio looping bug, I hope to continue development of a simple HTML5 multitrack that allows the mixing and looping, cutting and pasting, of SoundCloud and other online audio files, in the style of Logic/Cubase.

Latest Scribblings

JavaScript, Work: More Textbook PCM Visualisation

Spectragraph of a PCM of an oud riff

As a base for the on-going habitat soundscape program, I’ve AMD-wrapped my PCM visualiser of some years ago, and given it a place in bower, too. Mainly so I could easily subclass to add a spectragraph, too. Github.


JavaScript, Work: Life

Conway's Game Of Life in JS with three.js

Over the weekend I had a go at three.js and Conway’s Game Of Life — I’m sure I can get it to make music somehow, but am disappointed to learn that the shapes appear not to be photosensitive, and ray tracking in JS is not fast. Three.js is great for someone like me, who has […]


Blah blah balh, Home-life: Word of the Day: “Reification”

Marilyn Monroe, Niagara

Today’s word is ‘reification’ — suggested by Sid Arthur of Northern India, via The Marxists use of the German ‘Verdinglichung,’ ie ‘thing making.’ This concept is at the hub of Western Civilisation, Capitalism, and the mechanisms visible within Capitalist states to repel threats from within the system by subsuming those threats, commercialising them, removing their […]


Work: How to welcome new staff

I’ve worked at more than 15 companies in the past 15 years — I enjoy the variety and the choice of ‘holiday’ time to spend with my little kids.  From these 15+ companies, I can certainly say without the slimmest doubt, that there is a right way and a wrong way to welcome new staff, […]


Home-life: Architechting Distributed Systems: the bleedin’ obvious

Distributed systems were a big deal when I was reading Intelligent Systems at the graduate research centre for cognitive science at the University of Sussex — there were tutorials, seminars, lectures, books: I would not be surprised if there were courses devoted to it, there was certainly active research devoted to it. I remember thinking […]


Home-life: Angular Mixer

A coupe of years ago, whilst working away from home, I started writing a sound mixer in MooTools. All went went, until I hit looping bug in Firefox and then my l-system project caught my eye again… Now I’m looking for something to work on with Angular, shortly after being handed a bunch of mp3 […]


Life 3D

This verseion of Conway's Game Of Life works in 3D, but I've not yet had time to find some goods seeds.

I'm curious if the shapes can make interesting sounds.

(Drag, click-click, to control pan and zoom.)