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Behavioral Abstraction

In Nyquist, all functions are subject to transformations. You can think of transformations as additional parameters to every function, and functions are free to use these additional parameters in any way. The set of transformation parameters is captured in what is referred to as the transformation environment. (Note that the term environment is heavily overloaded in computer science. This is yet another usage of the term.)

Behavioral abstraction is the ability of functions to adapt their behavior to the transformation environment. This environment may contain certain abstract notions, such as loudness, stretching a sound in time, etc. These notions will mean different things to different functions. For example, an oscillator should produce more periods of oscillation in order to stretch its output. An envelope, on the other hand, might only change the duration of the sustain portion of the envelope in order to stretch. Stretching a sample could mean resampling it to change its duration by the appropriate amount.

Thus, transformations in Nyquist are not simply operations on signals. For example, if I want to stretch a note, it does not make sense to compute the note first and then stretch the signal. Doing so would cause a drop in the pitch. Instead, a transformation modifies the transformation environment in which the note is computed. Think of transformations as making requests to functions. It is up to the function to carry out the request. Since the function is always in complete control, it is possible to perform transformations with "intelligence;" that is, the function can perform an appropriate transformation, such as maintaining the desired pitch and stretching only the "sustain" portion of an envelope to obtain a longer note.

The Environment

The transformation environment consists of a set of special variables. These variables should not be read directly and should never be set directly by the programmer. Instead, there are functions to read them, and they are automatically set and restored by transformation operators, which will be described below.

The transformation environment consists of the following elements. Although each element has a "standard interpretation," the designer of an instrument or the composer of a complex behavior is free to interpret the environment in any way. For example, a change in *loud* may change timbre more than amplitude, and *transpose* may be ignored by percussion instruments:

*warp*
Time transformation, including time shift, time stretch, and continuous time warp. The value of *warp* is interpreted as a function from logical (local score) time to physical (global real) time. Do not access *warp* directly. Instead, use local-to-global(t) to convert from a logical (local) time to real (global) time. Most often, you will call local-to-global(0). Several transformation operators operate on *warp*, including at (@), stretch (~), and warp. See also get-duration() and get-warp().

*loud*
Loudness, expressed in decibels. The default (nominal) loudness is 0.0 dB (no change). Do not access *loud* directly. Instead, use get-loud() to get the current value of *loud* and either loud or loud-abs to modify it.

*transpose*
Pitch transposition, expressed in semitones. (Default: 0.0). Do not access *transpose* directly. Instead, use get-transpose() to get the current value of *transpose* and either transpose or transpose-abs to modify it.

*sustain*
The "sustain," "articulation," "duty factor," or amount by which to separate or overlap sequential notes. For example, staccato might be expressed with a *sustain* of 0.5, while very legato playing might be expressed with a *sustain* of 1.2. Specifically, *sustain* stretches the duration of notes (sustain) without affecting the inter-onset time (the rhythm). Do not access *sustain* directly. Instead, use get-sustain() to get the current value of *sustain* and either sustain or sustain-abs to modify it.

*start*
Start time of a clipping region. Note: unlike the previous elements of the environment, *start* has a precise interpretation: no sound should be generated before *start*. This is implemented in all the low-level sound functions, so it can generally be ignored. You can read *start* directly, but use extract or extract-abs to modify it. Note 2: Due to some internal confusion between the specified starting time and the actual starting time of a signal after clipping, *start* is not fully implemented.

*stop*
Stop time of clipping region. By analogy to *start*, no sound should be generated after this time. *start* and *stop* allow a composer to preview a small section of a work without computing it from beginning to end. You can read *stop* directly, but use extract or extract-abs to modify it. Note: Due to some internal confusion between the specified starting time and the actual starting time of a signal after clipping, *stop* is not fully implemented.

*control-srate*
Sample rate of control signals. This environment element provides the default sample rate for control signals. There is no formal distinction between a control signal and an audio signal. You can read *control-srate* directly, but use control-srate or control-srate-abs to modify it.

*sound-srate*
Sample rate of musical sounds. This environment element provides the default sample rate for musical sounds. You can read *sound-srate* directly, but use sound-srate or sound-srate-abs to modify it.

Sequential Behavior

Previous examples have shown the use of seq, the sequential behavior operator. We can now explain seq in terms of transformations. Consider the simple expression:
play seq(my-note(c4, q), my-note(d4, i))
The idea is to create the first note at time 0, and to start the next note when the first one finishes. This is all accomplished by manipulating the environment. In particular, *warp* is modified so that what is locally time 0 for the second note is transformed, or warped, to the logical stop time of the first note.

One way to understand this in detail is to imagine how it might be executed: first, *warp* is set to an initial value that has no effect on time, and my-note(c4, q) is evaluated. A sound is returned and saved. The sound has an ending time, which in this case will be 1.0 because the duration q is 1.0. This ending time, 1.0, is used to construct a new *warp* that has the effect of shifting time by 1.0. The second note is evaluated, and will start at time 1. The sound that is returned is now added to the first sound to form a composite sound, whose duration will be 2.0. *warp* is restored to its initial value.

Notice that the semantics of seq can be expressed in terms of transformations. To generalize, the operational rule for seq is: evaluate the first behavior according to the current *warp*. Evaluate each successive behavior with *warp* modified to shift the new note's starting time to the ending time of the previous behavior. Restore *warp* to its original value and return a sound which is the sum of the results.

In the Nyquist implementation, audio samples are only computed when they are needed, and the second part of the seq is not evaluated until the ending time (called the logical stop time) of the first part. It is still the case that when the second part is evaluated, it will see *warp* bound to the ending time of the first part.

A language detail: Even though Nyquist defers evaluation of the second part of the seq, the expression can reference variables according to ordinary Lisp/SAL scope rules. This is because the seq captures the expression in a closure, which retains all of the variable bindings.

Simultaneous Behavior

Another operator is sim, which invokes multiple behaviors at the same time. For example,
play 0.5 * sim(my-note(c4, q), my-note(d4, i))
will play both notes starting at the same time.

The operational rule for sim is: evaluate each behavior at the current *warp* and return the sum of the results. (In SAL, the sim function applied to sounds is equivalent to adding them with the infix + operator. The following section illustrates two concepts: first, a sound is not a behavior, and second, the sim operator and the at transformation can be used to place sounds in time.

Sounds vs. Behaviors

The following example loads a sound from a file in the current directory and stores it in a-snd:
; load a sound
;
set a-snd = s-read(strcat(current-path(), "demo-snd.aiff"))

; play it ; play a-snd

One might then be tempted to write the following:

play seq(a-snd, a-snd)  ;WRONG!
Why is this wrong? Recall that seq works by modifying *warp*, not by operating on sounds. So, seq will proceed by evaluating a-snd with different values of *warp*. However, the result of evaluating a-snd (a variable) is always the same sound, regardless of the environment; in this case, the second a-snd should start at time 0.0, just like the first. In this case, after the first sound ends, Nyquist is unable to "back up" to time zero, so in fact, this will play two sounds in sequence, but that is a result of an implementation detail rather than correct program execution. In fact, a future version of Nyquist might (correctly) stop and report an error when it detects that the second sound in the sequence has a real start time that is before the requested one.

How then do we obtain a sequence of two sounds properly? What we really need here is a behavior that transforms a given sound according to the current transformation environment. That job is performed by cue. For example, the following will behave as expected, producing a sequence of two sounds:

play seq(cue(a-snd), cue(a-snd))
This example is correct because the second expression will shift the sound stored in a-snd to start at the end time of the first expression.

The lesson here is very important: sounds are not behaviors! Behaviors are computations that generate sounds according to the transformation environment. Once a sound has been generated, it can be stored, copied, added to other sounds, and used in many other operations, but sounds are not subject to transformations. To transform a sound, use cue, sound, or control. The differences between these operations are discussed later. For now, here is a "cue sheet" style score that plays 4 copies of a-snd:

; use sim and at to place sounds in time
;
play sim(cue(a-snd) @ 0.0,
         cue(a-snd) @ 0.7,
         cue(a-snd) @ 1.0,
         cue(a-snd) @ 1.2)

The At Transformation

The second concept introduced by the previous example is the @ operation, which shifts the *warp* component of the environment. For example,
cue(a-snd) @ 0.7
can be explained operationally as follows: modify *warp* by shifting it by 0.7 and evaluate cue(a-snd). Return the resulting sound after restoring *warp* to its original value. Notice how @ is used inside a sim construct to locate copies of a-snd in time. This is the standard way to represent a note-list or a cue-sheet in Nyquist.

This also explains why sounds need to be cue'd in order to be shifted in time or arranged in sequence. If this were not the case, then sim would take all of its parameters (a set of sounds) and line them up to start at the same time. But cue(a-snd) @ 0.7 is just a sound, so sim would "undo" the effect of @, making all of the sounds in the previous example start simultaneously, in spite of the @! Since sim respects the intrinsic starting times of sounds, a special operation, cue, is needed to create a new sound with a new starting time.

The Stretch Transformation

In addition to At (denoted in SAL by the @ operator, the Stretch transformation is very important. It appeared in the introduction, and it is denoted in SAL by the ~ operator (or in LISP by the stretch special form). Stretch also operates on the *warp* component of the environment. For example,
osc(c4) ~ 3
does the following: modify *warp*, scaling the degree of "stretch" by 3, and evaluate osc(c4). The osc behavior uses the stretch factor to determime the duration, so it will return a sound that is 3 seconds long. Restore *warp* to its original value. Like At, Stretch only affects behaviors. a-snd ~ 10 is equivalent to a-snd because a-snd is a sound, not a behavior. Behaviors are functions that compute sounds according to the environment and return a sound.

Nested Transformations

Transformations can be combined using nested expressions. For example,
sim(cue(a-snd),
    loud(6.0, cue(a-snd) @ 3))
scales the amplitude as well as shifts the second entrance of a-snd.

Why use loud instead of simply multiplying a-snd by some scale factor? Using loud gives the behavior the chance to implement the abstract property loudness in an appropriate way, e.g. by including timbral changes. In this case, the behavior is cue, which implements loudness by simple amplitude scaling, so the result is equivalent to multiplication by db-to-linear(6.0).

Transformations can also be applied to groups of behaviors:

loud(6.0, sim(cue(a-snd) @ 0.0,
              cue(a-snd) @ 0.7))

Defining Behaviors

Groups of behaviors can be named using define (we already saw this in the definitions of my-note and env-note). Here is another example of a behavior definition and its use. The definition has one parameter:
define function snds(dly)
  return sim(cue(a-snd) @ 0.0,
             cue(a-snd) @ 0.7,
             cue(a-snd) @ 1.0,
             cue(a-snd) @ (1.2 + dly))

play snds(0.1) play loud(0.25, snds(0.3) ~ 0.9)

In the last line, snds is transformed: the transformations will apply to the cue behaviors within snds. The loud transformation will scale the sounds by 0.25, and the stretch (~) will apply to the shift (@) amounts 0.0, 0.7, 1.0, and 1.2 + dly. The sounds themselves (copies of a-snd) will not be stretched because cue never stretches sounds.

Section "Transformations" describes the full set of transformations.

Overriding Default Transformations

In Nyquist, behaviors are the important abstraction mechanism. A behavior represents a class of related functions or sounds. For example, a behavior can represent a musical note. When a note is stretched, it usually means that the tone sustains for more oscillations, but if the "note" is a drum roll, the note sustains by more repetitions of the component drum strokes. The concept of sustain is so fundamental that we do not really think of different note durations as being different instances of an abstract behavior, but in a music programming language, we need a way to model these abtract behaviors. As the tone and drum roll examples show, there is no one right way to "stretch," so the language must allow users to define exactly what it means to stretch. By extension, the Nyquist programmer can define how all of the transformations affect different behaviors.

To make programming easier, almost all Nyquist sounds are constructed from primitive behaviors that obey the environment in obvious ways: Stretch transformations make things longer and At transformations shift things in time. But sometimes you have to override the default behaviors. Maybe the attack phase of an envelope should not stretch when the note is stretched, or maybe when you stretch a trill, you should get more notes rather than a slower trill.

To override default behaviors, you almost always follow the same programming pattern: first, capture the environment in a local variable; then, use one of the absolute transformations to "turn off" the environment's effect and compute the sound as desired. The following example creates a very simple envelope with a fixed rise time to illustrate the technique.

define function two-phase-env(rise-time)
  begin
    with dur = get-duration(1)
    return pwl(rise-time, 1, dur) ~~ 1.0
  end
To "capture the environment in a local variable," a with construct is used to create the local variable dur and set it to the value of get-duration(1), which answers the question: "If I apply use the environment to stretch something whose nominal duration is 1, what is the resulting duration?" (Since time transformations can involve continuous time deformations, this question is not as simple as it may sound, so please use the provided function rather than peeking inside the *warp* structure and trying to do it yourself.) Next, we "turn off" stretching using the stretch-abs form, which in SAL is denoted by the ~~ operator. Finally, we are ready to compute the envelope using pwl. Here, we use absolute durations. The first breakpoint is at rise-time, so the attack time is given by the rise-time parameter. The pwl decays back to zero at time dur, so the overall duration matches the duration expected from the environment encountered by this instance of two-phase-env. Note, however, that since the pwl is evaluated in a different environment established by ~~, it is not stretched (or perhaps more accurately, it is stretched by 1.0). This is good because it means rise-time will not be stretched, but we must be careful to extend the envelope to dur so that it has the expected duration.

Sample Rates

The global environment contains *sound-srate* and *control-srate*, which determine the sample rates of sounds and control signals. These can be overridden at any point by the transformations sound-srate-abs and control-srate-abs; for example,
sound-srate-abs(44100.0, osc(c4)
will compute a tone using a 44.1Khz sample rate even if the default rate is set to something different.

As with other components of the environment, you should never change *sound-srate* or *control-srate* directly. The global environment is determined by two additional variables: *default-sound-srate* and *default-control-srate*. You can add lines like the following to your init.lsp file to change the default global environment:

(setf *default-sound-srate* 44100.0)
(setf *default-control-srate* 1102.5)
You can also do this using preferences in NyquistIDE. If you have already started Nyquist and want to change the defaults, the preferences or the following functions can be used:
exec set-control-srate(1102.5)
exec set-sound-srate(22050.0)
These modify the default values and reinitialize the Nyquist environment.


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