LSU Computer Science PhD Student Uses Coding to Create Holiday Album

Santa Claus with DJ headphones in front of a microphoneDecember 12, 2023 

BATON ROUGE, LA – Imagine hearing a song that reminds you of Christmas but isn’t actually a Christmas song. LSU Computer Science PhD student Matthew Wright realized that certain notes and chords mimic holiday music, even if the result is a song that doesn’t exist. Using coding techniques he learned in his computer science (CS) classes, Wright is “composing” eight songs for a holiday album set to be released soon.

“The point of this album is to show people that you can combine things that you might not think go together, and you can get people interested in computer science or interested in music,” Wright said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Wright, who is from Fairfax, Va., was studying biology and bioinformatics at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond when he connected with LSU Computer Science Associate Professor David Shepherd, who was teaching at VCU at the time. Wright had been trying to get in touch with someone at VCU who was familiar with making music using computer coding, and someone recommended he reach out to Shepherd. Both now at LSU, Shepherd mentors Wright in his endeavor to use coding to not only make music, but also teach young kids how they can better understand coding through music.

“I’m focusing on the intersection of modern music production and computer science and using that as a tool to teach advanced CS concepts to middle schoolers and high schoolers,” Wright said. “It’s great to have Dr. Shepherd here coaching and guiding me.”

Shepherd introduced Wright to the TunePad application, which allows users to set variables and constants, essentially creating notes and chords.

“TunePad has a certain set of domain-specific commands you can give it,” Wright said. “You can write a function, and it will play a note on this keyboard. If you create a chord function, it will play that. TunePad gives the sound engine, the functions, and the programming a way to mix. Because it can play sounds, I can make all sorts of functions that I can manipulate, adding random sounds, chords and melodies.”

Some of the sound engines are reminiscent of a drum machine and can be programmed to sound like a kick drum, high hat, or snare drum, which helped Wright create some of the songs on his album, which include “Grinchmas,” “Pointsettah,” and “Gone Home.” 

“There are so many shortcuts with the software,” Wright said. “Music producers can just make music and skip the hard stuff, like if they just want to do the drums or melody. I’m excited to do this album and get it out to people, and hopefully, it will turn into something.”

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