Making Art and Music with Code on Your Raspberry Pi

By Richard Wentk

Part of Raspberry Pi For Kids For Dummies Cheat Sheet

You can do a lot with art, music, and code. The Raspberry Pi isn’t the best computer for making art and music because it’s not very fast. The Pi 2 isn’t so bad, but the older models are too slow for all but the simplest animations and compositions. So you may want to use a grown-up expensive computer to explore further.

The brilliant thing about coding is that you can learn the basics on almost any computer. Code is code. There are big differences between, say, a Mac, a Pi, and a Windows computer, but art and music software works in a similar way on all of them. You don’t have to relearn everything from scratch if you move. (Actually, Scratch works the same way, too.)

Here are some other projects to look at. Some are easy to get started with; others are harder. You can do amazing things with all of them, and they’re all free.

Processing

Processing is free and popular with professional designers and digital artists. It’s a bit like a grown-up version of Turtle graphics. You can draw squares, circles, and other shapes, define your own shapes, draw with textures, and create complicated animations. Processing is about as easy to learn as Python, so although it’s not totally easy, it’s not too hard either. Some people have made amazing art with it.

HTML5 and Canvas

This is plain old web design, so you don’t need to download any software. You just write code into a file and load it into any browser. This sounds simple, but you can create some incredible animations and special effects without much code. And if you build a portfolio of really cool projects, you’ll be a hot item when you start looking for a job. To find out more, search the web for “HTML 5 canvas tutorial” and start from there.

Pure Data

Pure Date (often called Pd) is a free music and audio processor that is very popular with Linux developers and is often used in audio apps. To start with, you can plug audio-building blocks together with your mouse. As you get more experienced, you can start creating your own code. Although it doesn’t look very polished, it’s used by some musicians, film composers, and recording studio engineers – and not just for weird experimental music.

SuperCollider

SuperCollider is the grown-up version of Sonic Pi. It works a lot like Sonic Pi and uses a lot of the same ideas. But it does a whole lot more. It’s not as simple as Pd, so you may have a hard time working out how to get music out of it, but you can make some unique and original sounds with it. There are plenty of examples to look at. And SuperCollider will teach you a lot about sound design and programming.

Blender

Blender is a 3D animation tool. You really do need a fast computer to work with it because 3D animation uses a lot of computer power, but you can move and animate shapes with Python code. Blender is complicated, because 3D animation is complicated. It’s quite a few steps beyond drawing lines with a turtle. Blender is also not very easy to use. The design is unusual – and not in a good way. But if you want to make impressive movies that look like they have a million-dollar budget, Blender is a good place to start.

openFrameworks

Do you want a challenge? Would you like to learn what the professionals do? Do you want to look at code written in one of the most difficult and least forgiving of all computer languages? You absolutely don’t want to start here. But if you’ve been using Python for a while and are getting comfortable with it, and you want to move to the next level – that’s where openFrameworks lives. It uses a computer language called C++, which is famously awkward and difficult. And you’ll need to work out how to build software in C++, which isn’t easy either. But if you want a genius-level project to stretch yourself, try working out how to make art with openFrameworks, and see how you get on.