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LilyPond talks earlier this year at IRCAM and Musikhochschule Stuttgart

From: Trevor Bača
Subject: LilyPond talks earlier this year at IRCAM and Musikhochschule Stuttgart
Date: Thu, 27 Aug 2009 23:25:40 -0400

Hi all,

I wanted to take a minute to provide feedback on two LilyPond-oriented presentations I was able to make earlier this year. This has been a busy year and so I've been largely absent from the -user and -devel lists for some time now (though usually catching up on the weekends). So early apologies for delayed feedback, since the presentations date from February and April.

Incidentally, this mail loosely follows the format of a thread here ...

... from an even earlier presentation of the same type of material.

* * *

LilyPond at IRCAM

I hope, of course, that regular readers of -devel are familiar with John Mandereau's involvement in LilyPond. John is our translation meister and a regular contributor to the LilyPond lists. John and I have collaborated on English-to-French translations of the performance indications of all my scores written since 2006, all of which are in LilyPond. Further, John just finished a year of research at IRCAM in Paris. It was during John's time at IRCAM that, together with the IRCAM management, John extended an invitation to me and Víctor Adán to come to IRCAM and give a talk. Víctor and I chose to talk about LilyPond and about the work that Víctor and I have done together on Abjad, which is a Python-based system that wraps LilyPond and lets composers build up bigger and bigger pieces of notation in an iterative and incremental way.

(You can read some about Abjad at the project website: Beware that the documentation is still less than something like 4 or 5% complete.)

Víctor and I delivered our talk at IRCAM on Friday, February 20th, and we were able to cover a number of topics, including: information about the text-based LilyPond input format; the ability to use programming languages like Python (or C++ or Java) to generate LilyPond input automatically; the way that LilyPond models measures and barlines (not as containers but as events in time that can be backgrounded behind other events); and the typographic control that LilyPond gives over the collection of grobs. Víctor and I were also able to cover topics that are particular to our work in Abjad, such as the special concept of the Abjad spanner, which is inspired directly by the LilyPond conception of the spanner.

We spent about two hours on the presentation and then followed the presentation with a hands-on LilyPond tutorial. Interestingly, the majority of researchers and composers in the audience (around 10 people total) were already quite familiar with LilyPond and, indeed, some of the composers present were already using LilyPond to some degree or another in their own work. (Important in this respect are the scores and programming utilities of Karim Haddad, a regular member of the LilyPond lists and composer at IRCAM. Karim has also authored utilities to help users of IRCAM's important OpenMusic platform interface with LilyPond, which I'm sure does a lot to help researchers and composers at IRCAM become introduced to the system.)

* * *

LilyPond at the Musikhochschule Stuttgart

Some weeks later, on Thursday, April 30th, I was able to give another talk about LilyPond and the work Víctor and I have done on Abjad, this time at the Musikhochschule in Stuttgart, Germany. The talk took place in the late afternoon with the composers at the Musikhochschule studying there with Marco Stroppa. I chose to cover substantially the same topics in the Stuttgart talk as Víctor and I had covered earlier in the IRCAM talk, though for reasons of time I omitted a hands-on LilyPond tutorial in favor of more examples delivered from a deck of slides.

There were 10 or 11 composers in the audience, and they came from all over the world: not only Germany but Italy, Israel, Norway and so on. I always try to ask about (1) engraving program experience and (2) programming language experience at the beginning of talks like this, and I was quite surprised that, at the Stuttgart Musikhochschule, none of the composers in attendance were using LilyPond and, even more surprisingly, most of the composers hadn't yet even heard of LilyPond. This differs from the composers that Víctor and I met earlier at IRCAM and also differed from composers I met last year at Cork, Ireland under similar circumstances. So the take-away point here is that different conservatories and music research institutions around the world have very different levels of exposure to LilyPond and the uses of the system.

I thought the talk was a success and it was interesting to see that at least two of the composers present in the audience did have previous programming experience (with Lisp and Java). I should probably do some follow-up at some point to see if any of the composers there were interested enough in LilyPond to start using the system in their own work, but so far I have not yet the time to do so.

* * *

OK, this concludes the updates and feedback from earlier in the year. I have to say that each time Víctor and I have done a version of this presentation (whether singly or together) it gets easier and easier to explain LilyPond's strong points and provide examples of what the system can do, especially if you're interested in modeling parts (or all) of your scores formally with an external programming language like Python.

Further, it also helps that each new release of LilyPond fixes more bugs, adds more features, and, *crucially*, provides SUBSTANTIALLY better documentation than did the releases that came before. The documentation improvements in recent months have been absolutely enormous and it is directly to the documentation that motivated composers who are new to the system always turn after we have time to work and talk together at a presentation.

Thanks again to the entire community.


Trevor Bača

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