Resource management in chucklib

This tutorial is about using PR/BP's resource management hooks to create a relatively complex process that can be invoked and run with the same simple commands as in the previous tutorial.

What you should learn in this tutorial:


Let's agree on some terms up front:

Constructor/destructor hooks

A hook is just a place where the user can insert code into the normal flow of execution. chucklib has a lot of hooks, since I wanted it to be very flexible.

For resource management, think of the hooks in pairs:

Permanent resource hooks:

Runtime resource hooks:

You can think of them in a hierarchy, with ~prep and ~freeCleanup as the parents and ~asPattern/~stopCleanup as the children. Parents can have many children, but any given child will have only one parental pair (contemporary living arrangements excepted!). Likewise, ~prep and ~freeCleanup should only run once for the lifetime of the BP, while ~asPattern and ~stopCleanup should run as many times as the process is played and stopped.

Important: BP's by default reuse the same stream when it is played again after being stopped. That allows the process to pick up where it left off. If you are using runtime resources, they will be created only when the pattern resets. Therefore, you should set the ~alwaysReset flag to true, to make sure the runtime constructor gets executed every time you play.

Also important: If you create runtime resources, make sure you release them in ~stopCleanup. If you don't, and the resources get created again on the next play, you might have duplicate objects or synths to which you no longer have a reference. So, you might have synths that you can never free! That's bad.

I usually write code into the runtime constructor so that if the object still exists, I won't recreate it. A simple way is to save the resource in an environment variable when you create it (which you have to do if you want to free it later), then set that variable to nil when you free the resource. At creation time, check to see if the variable is nil. If so, you have to create the resource; otherwise, don't. The example will illustrate.

Example: Overlapping effects

To show how it works in practice, let's make a process that will play a sound file buffer onto a MixerChannel repeatedly, and which will also randomly select filter synths and overlap them in a serial effect chain (cascading the effects rather than adding them).

What resources do we need?

In addition, we need a synth to play back the buffer. That's better handled as a runtime resource, though, because the process should make noise only when it's playing.

A couple of other design decisions before jumping straight to the coding:

Is the process pattern going to have any parameters you might want to change while the process is running (see Tutorial 1)? I decided on three: fade in/out time for an effect synth, hold time for an effect, and a delta factor to control the degree of overlap (1.0 = no overlap, 0.0 = complete overlap, two effects start at the same time).

What do we need to know about the effects?

So we need a data structure that will hold these entities in a single object. For adhoc structures like this, I like Event because it has a very simple shortcut syntax. Note that "args:" is a { function } returning an [array], so that the random parameters will be reevaluated on each call.

(name: \effectname,
func: { },
args: { [\parm1, rrand(...), \parm2, rrand(...)] }) 

All the effects will share a common input, envelope and output phase. Rather than repeat the same code for each effect, we can use a synthdef wrapping technique to embed the function along with its arguments into a wrapper synthdef. I'll explain it in more detail when we get to it in the code.

Time to look at some code!

   ~event = (eventKey: \singleSynthPlayer);
   ~soundfile = "sounds/a11wlk01.wav";

As in Tutorial 1, cloning abstractProcess builds some useful general methods into the process. Most important is the ability to chuck patterns in while the process is playing.

We also have to specify the event type; singleSynthPlayer is a very stripped-down version of the default event (see streams-patterns-events help for details). The correct syntax is as shown here: assign ~event to an (event: ...) with a single key/value pair, eventKey: \nameOfEventPrototype. The name will be looked up in the ProtoEvent() collection.

~soundfile is there because I don't believe in hardcoding anything unless it increases the complexity to a ridiculous degree. Putting the file path in a variable means I could load a different file just as easily:

// just an example of overriding a default parameter; this isn't in the PR code!
PR(\fxOverlap).chuck(BP(\overlap), nil, (soundfile: "sounds/some-other-file.aiff")); 

Next comes an array of effect specifications, in the format explained above.

      // these will be compiled into synthdefs in ~prep
   ~effects = [
      (name: \ringmod1, func: { |sig, freq|, 0, sig)
      }, args: { [\freq, exprand(100, 2000)] }),

      (name: \ringmod2, func: { |sig, freq, lofreq, hifreq|, hifreq), 0, sig)
      }, args: { [\freq, rrand(0.1, 1.6), \lofreq, exprand(100, 2000),
         \hifreq, exprand(100, 2000)] }),

      (name: \comb1, func: { |sig, delay, dur|, delay + 0.01, delay, dur)
      }, args: { [\delay, exprand(50, 500).reciprocal, \dur, rrand(0.05, 1.0)] }),

      (name: \comb2, func: { |sig, freq, lodelay, hidelay, dur|, hidelay + 0.01,, hidelay), dur)
      }, args: { var d1 = exprand(50, 500).reciprocal, d2 = exprand(50, 500).reciprocal;
         [\freq, rrand(0.2, 14.0), \lodelay, min(d1, d2), \hidelay, max(d1, d2),
         \dur, rrand(0.05, 1.0)] }),

      (name: \echo, func: { |sig, delay, dur|, delay + 0.01, delay, dur)
      }, args: { [\delay, rrand(0.4, 1.0), \dur, rrand(4.0, 12.0)] })

The ~prep Method starts to do the heavy lifting. First we load the buffer and create a synthdef to play the buffer.

   ~prep = {
      ~buffer =, ~soundfile);
      SynthDef(\bufPlayer1, { |outbus, bufnum, gate = 1|
         var   basefreq = * 0.94,
            trig = +, basefreq * 0.5, basefreq * 0.9)),
            env =[1, 1, 0], #[1, 0.2], -4, 1), gate, doneAction:2),
            sig =, bufnum,, trig,
     , * 0.5, trig));, * env,
      ~bufplayer = \bufPlayer1;

For each effect definition, we need a separate synthdef. All these synthdefs have some elements in common: an In UGen to read the signal from the audio bus, and an envelope to fade the effect in and out smoothly. Rather than copying paste these elements for every synthdef, it's easier to conceive of the SynthDef object as a wrapper for the function specified in the ~effects array.

The SynthDef.wrap call does exactly this: SynthDef.wrap(function, rates, prependArgs). Any arguments in the function will be promoted to synthdef inputs, addressable in the usual way [\argName, value]. We don't have to worry about the rates input (in fact, it's nil in the provided code). prependArgs is important, though. We can pass values or signals from the enclosing synthdef into the inner function—in this case, the dry signal gets passed in.

         // build effects by wrapping effect function in a fade in/out envelope
         // also include random panning{ |fxdef|
         SynthDef(, { |gate = 1, fadetime = 4, holdtime = 4, outbus|
            var   sig =, 2),
               wetenv =[0, 1, 1, 0], [fadetime, holdtime, fadetime],
                  \lin), gate, doneAction:2),
            wetsig = SynthDef.wrap(fxdef[\func], nil, [sig]);
            sig =,, 0.9), wetenv.madd(2, -1));
  , sig);

In the case of the first effect listed above, \ringmod1, this code will produce a synthdef just like the following. The advantage of this structure is that I have to write the wrapper only once. Further, if I want to change the wrapper, I need to change it in only one place and every effect synthdef will pick it up.

// gate, fadetime, holdtime and outbus come from the wrapper
// freq from the inner function
SynthDef(\ringmod1, { |gate = 1, fadetime = 4, holdtime = 4, outbus, freq|
   var   sig =, 2),
      wetenv =[0, 1, 1, 0], [fadetime, holdtime, fadetime],
         \lin), gate, doneAction:2),
   wetsig =, 0, sig);   // this comes from the effect function
   sig =,, 0.9), wetenv.madd(2, -1));, sig);

A handful of patterns define synth parameters that will be evaluated on each iteration. These will be referenced later using BPStream.

      ~fade = Pwhite(2.0, 8.0, inf);
      ~hold = Pwhite(5.0, 16.0, inf);
      ~dfactor = Pwhite(0.4, 0.7, inf);

      ~chan = MixerChannel(\bufPlayer, inChannels:2, outChannels:2);

Now here's a line that's easy to overlook, but which is critical. For success, the process's pattern must kick off the source (buffer player synth) every time the process is played. If the ~alwaysReset flag is false, the pattern will resume instead of restarting from the beginning and the synth will not be recreated on subsequent play requests.

This flag should be true for any process that creates resources at the beginning of play and releases them upon stop (in ~stopCleanup).

   ~alwaysReset = true;

Now, the pattern. It appears in two sections: the first, which creates the buffer player synth, and the second which periodically spawns a new effect. Pseq joins the two into an event sequence.

   ~asPattern = {

Pfuncn executes the function once (as many times as the number argument, actually, but here it's 1). I use makeBundle to make sure the sound of the synth appears at exactly the right time. (I'll cover the handling of latency in a later tutorial. In the meantime, if you're not familiar with the purpose of messaging latency, read the server timing help file in the SuperCollider distribution.)

The function has to return an event, specifying the length of time to wait for the next event in the delta key (it's given in beats). play: 0 suppresses the default event's action, so that this event functions as a rest.

Note that before doing anything, we make sure that ~bufsynth is empty. If it already contains a value and we go ahead with the new synth creation, we might lose the reference to an existing synth and be unable to free it later. It then becomes a resource that was allocated that cannot be released, or a memory leak.

            ~bufsynth.isNil.if({  // does my runtime resource exist?
               ~chan.server.makeBundle(~leadTime / thisThread.clock.tempo, {
                  ~bufsynth =, 
                     [\bufnum, ~buffer.bufnum]);
            (play: 0, delta: rrand(2.0, 5.0))   // dummy event
         }, 1),

Pbind serves as the looping mechanism, choosing the effect, envelope times, and event delta. After we get the new event out of Pbind, .collect lets us insert the effect-specific parameters into the event.

Note the formula for delta. The synth's envelope is defined in three segments (fade in, sustain, fade out) so the total duration of the synth will be holdtime + (fadetime*2). This value gets multiplied by the next value from the dfactor stream—smaller values mean more overlap, larger values, less.

            \chan, ~chan,
            \isFx, true,
            \fxdef, Pfunc({ ~effects.choose }),
            \instrument, Pfunc({ |ev| ev[\fxdef].name }),
            \fadetime, BPStream(\fade),
            \holdtime, BPStream(\hold),
            \delta, Pfunc({ |ev| (ev[\holdtime] + (ev[\fadetime] * 2)) })
               * BPStream(\dfactor)
         ).collect({ |ev|
            ev[\fxdef].args.pairsDo({ |key, value|
               ev.put(key, value)
      ], 1)

Sit tight, not much left! When the process is stopped, we have to terminate the source synth. set(\gate, 0) is the standard way to release a sustaining envelope. It's also necessary to clear the ~bufsynth variable so the synth can be recreated on the next play. The " !? { } " structure ensures that the cleanup will take place only if a bufsynth is currently active. If not (if the variable is nil), the cleanup should be skipped.

   ~stopCleanup = {
      ~bufsynth !? { ~bufsynth.set(\gate, 0); ~bufsynth = nil; };

And, in ~freeCleanup, we have to drop the mixer channel and the source buffer at minimum. I go one step further and release the effect synthdefs from the server. (I have a shortcut for this in my library: \ sends the message [\d_free, \aSymbol] to all the registered servers.)

   ~freeCleanup = {
      [~chan, ~buffer].free;{ |fxdef| });
}) => PR(\fxOverlap);

That's it! Then, of course, the benefit is that playback is extremely simple.

PR(\fxOverlap) => BP(\test);

Pwhite(0.1, 0.4, inf) =>.dfactor BP(\test);
Pwhite(0.4, 0.8, inf) =>.dfactor BP(\test);


So, to recap:

Keeping all of a process's resources in the same PR has a couple of significant benefits for live performance: