LENS is a laptop ensemble, so if you have your own laptop and want to use that, then that’s great. During classes (e.g. the workshop sessions) we expect you to bring your laptop (and charger), and some headphones.

If you don’t have a laptop you can use, then let Ben know. We want this class to be accessible to everyone, so if the “BYO laptop” thing is an issue we’ll try our best to help you out with a loaner laptop for the semester.

We also have a limited number of headphones, audio interfaces), and MIDI controllers for LENS students to use in class or borrow if you need to. Let us know if you have a good use case for these!

Computer music software

Learning the basics of computer music programming is a core part of this course. There are two primary computer music software environments we’ll use in the LENS course Pure Data (Pd) and Extempore.

Pure Data (Pd)

We’ll be installing & using Pd on our laptops from week 1, so if you want to get a head start you could even download & install it now.

Pd is a visual computer music environment. It’s just a regular piece of software which runs on your computer, although there are also versions which run on Android/iOS phones and tablets and even on Raspberry Pi!

Pd is freely available and works on Windows, macOS & Linux. To install it, go to the Pd downloads page and get the latest version of “vanilla” Pd for your platform (as shown in the screenshot).

download box on the Pd website

Example code/patches
  • All of the built-in Pd objects come with an example patch which explains how to use them. You can access this help browser using the Help > Browser... menu.

  • Charles has written a series of introductory examples to Pure Data: ComputerMusicIntro examples

  • You can also find lots of great Pd examples in the rjlib library

  • Kreidler, J. Programming Electronic Music in Pd (2013). This book is freely available online, and is a good “from the ground up” introduction to how to make music in Pd. Some of the screenshots are a bit out of date, but since Pd hasn’t changed very much since it was written the actual content is still quite current and useful.

  • Puckette, M. Theory and Technique of Electronic Music (2007). This is a book by the creator of Pd, and even though it uses Pd for all the examples it’s really a more general book about how computer music works. It covers a bunch of the mathematical & signal processing foundations of the techniques you’ll learn in the course, and if you’re into that sort of thing then you might enjoy this book. However, in this course understanding the maths is less important than understanding the use of these thins in a LENS context, so we won’t cover the more maths-y stuff in this course.

  • Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music (available through ANU library online). A great resource that covers all the concepts in this course with chapters written by current computer music composers and researchers.


We’ll be installing & using Extempore on our laptops from week 3, but again—there’s nothing stopping you getting started sooner!

Extempore is a text-based computer music environment (partly developed by Ben & others at ANU!). You might have seen Ben use it in his livecoding, but you can use it for “offline” music-making as well.


If you’re new to Extempore, start with the Quickstart page in Extempore’s online documentation, which includes instructions on how to install it on your laptop. Like Pd, Extempore is free & works on Windows, macOS & Linux.

Example code

As far as example code goes, Extempore comes with a bunch of example code (it’s in the examples/ folder). One cool place to start is the examples/sharedsystem folder. You can also read around the Extempore documentation website, (for example to learn to make music with the Extempore pattern language).

Screen recording software

Recording videos of your work is a crucial part of this course, you’ll be doing it every week for your AV diary submission.

In this course you get to decide which screen recording software you’ll use, as long as it produces videos in a format which can be processed by ffmpeg.

Here are a few suggestions:

A few more tips:

  1. Some of these tools also have basic video editing features—which you’ll probably need if you want to trim your videos to time, cut & stitch separate parts of the video together, etc. However, OBS doesn’t really do that, so if you want to use OBS (which is great at what it does) you’ll need something to edit the videos as well.

  2. When you’re recording, make sure it’s capturing the direct audio output as well (which can sometimes be a bit tricky). With OBS on macOS, this can be tricky—you might need to use something like BlackHole to route the audio into OBS so that it records properly.


You don’t need to buy anything to take this course, but if you want to buy something, we understand, computer music gear is fun!

Here are a few things you might like to look at:

  • Some nice headphones. You can get great headphones from between $50-$150, for a cheaper option we like Audio Technica and for a more expensive option, have a look at Sony MDR-7506 or BeyerDynamic DT770 pro.

  • An audio interface for your laptop. If you only need two outputs, you might be fine with the headphone output on your laptop. External audio interfaces connect to your computer over USB and give you more audio inputs and outputs with higher quality sound and more (physical) connector options. They sometimes have better audio drivers and provide a smoother audio experience (particularly in Windows). There are lots of great audio interfaces with 2 microphone inputs and 2 line outputs for about $200 (e.g., PreSonus AudioBox USB96). You can get more expensive interfaces if you want that have more inputs and outputs if you want, but these are more useful if you’re setting up a small studio, not for laptop ensemble :-)

  • A hardware MIDI Controller. It’s often more fun to control music with your hands rather than with a keyboard and mouse (unless you’re a live coder)! We like the Korg NanoKontrol which gives you some knobs and sliders for about $100 and works nicely with Pd or Extempore. The Akai LPD8 gives you knobs and pads, but not sliders.

Here’s what’s not required for this class:

  • Expensive synthesisers, Ableton Live, Eurorack systems, etc. Well all of this stuff is awesome and fun, but you can do a lot of learning and music making with just a laptop and a pair of headphones so stick with those for the moment!

Other books

There are other computer music languages & software packages as well, and you’re always welcome to mess around with whatever creative tools you like. However, for the LENS curriculum we’ll cover those two, and you’re also expected to use one or the other as the foundation for your final LENS performance. Still, if you’re keen to explore further here area a few good options.

Updated:    16 Jan 2021 / Responsible Officer:    Head of School / Page Contact:    Ben Swift / License:    CC BY-NC-SA 4.0