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Using Beamer export to produce slideshows and article-style handouts from the same org source

Project overview

The project is training material for a one-week intensive workshop in audio synthesis and live-performance control in the SuperCollider programming language. The workshop was commissioned by CHEARS, the China ElectroAcoustic Resource Survey, and will be given first in Shenyang, PRC.

I wanted to have thorough presentation slides available, for some kinds of explanation that are difficult otherwise, and also give a PDF book to workshop attendees for their future reference. During the writing process, the book became more important, as a way to provide copyright-free tutorials for translation into Chinese. The book eventually grew to 237 pages (with, admittedly, more white space per page than a standard prose layout), rendered from 10849 lines of LaTeX code, all of which were generated directly by the org Beamer exporter with no manual edits to any of the tex files.

Achieving that required some ingenuity in both org mode and LaTeX. This worg page documents the project's design and implementation.


  • One org source to produce slideshows and printed material.
    • Beamer export for both formats.
      • Normal beamer document class for slides.
      • Document class article for the book, with \usepackage{beamerarticle} in the preamble.
    • Header files to determine PDF layout.
    • Additional explanatory text that will be omitted from slideshows.
      • Use the beamer class option ignorenonframetext for slides.
      • Put notes under frame-level headings, with the beamer tag B_ignoreheading.
  • Indexed glossaries of terms, classes and methods, without writing cumbersome LaTeX syntax for the glossaries package.
    • Keep glossary definitions in org tables.
    • Convert to LaTeX syntax using emacs-lisp source blocks.
    • Convert only once in the book combining all chapters, but once per slideshow.
  • Extract captioned source blocks into plain-text files for SuperCollider.
    • org-element-map did all the hard work.


One source: File structure

The LaTeX preamble controls the output format; so, to have different output from the same org source, the preamble must be separate from the content. Here, we have two headers:

  •, which specifies the document class beamer with the presentation option.
  •, which specifies the article class and adds the beamerarticle package so that the article class can interpret beamer formatting commands.

Other formatting differences are implemented here. For instance, inline code fragments are colored green in the slides, but remain black in the article.

Header files contain nothing specific to any chapter, and content files are strictly content, no formatting definitions. Neither of these are exported directly. The export files provide the title and author fields, and include (#+INCLUDE:) the appropriate header and content files. They also include the glossary file; details to follow.

#+startup: beamer
#+LaTeX_CLASS: beamer
#+LaTeX_CLASS_OPTIONS: [ignorenonframetext,presentation]
#+BEAMER_THEME: default
#+startup: beamer
#+LaTeX_CLASS: article
#+LaTeX_CLASS_OPTIONS: [a4paper,twoside,11pt]
#+BEAMER_THEME: default
#+LATEX_HEADER: \usepackage{beamerarticle}
#+startup: beamer

* Workshop introduction
** Workshop introduction
*** Workshop goals
**** Teach synthesis techniques by experimentation
     - SC lets us take apart synthesizer components, and put them back together.
     - SC's /Just-In-Time library/ makes it easy to re-patch components interactively.
**** Teach techniques for live control and performance
     - Control by graphic interfaces and external devices.
     - End goal: A group composition, to perform together.
**** *Have fun programming!*
     - Emphasis on /play/ over /correctness/.
#+startup: beamer

#+TITLE: SuperCollider Week, Day 1 \\ Introductory SC, Synthesis and Sequencing
#+DATE: \today
#+AUTHOR: H. James Harkins

#+INCLUDE: "../"
#+include: "../"

#+include: "./" :minlevel 1

I settled on a project layout like this:

  • shows/ directory
    • LaTeX preamble for Beamer's presentation style
    • Preamble for the article document class, with the beamerarticle package
    • Tables of glossary definitions, and emacs-lisp source blocks for conversion
    • 01-intro/ directory
      • Slide contents, no header info at all
      • Defines this chapter's header (title, author, etc.), includes, and
      • img/ directory (png and PDF files for Part I)
    • 02-synth/ directory, structured like 01 Similar directories for chapters 3–6
    • full-article/ directory
      • Defines title etc., includes,, all content files and additional sections at the end for glossaries

To render the slides for day 1, I visit in Emacs and export to Beamer. The print- or tablet-ready book comes from This should also be exported by the Beamer backend, even though the document class is article. This makes sense, however; the org source uses Beamer-specific markup which the normal LaTeX backend will not understand. It's LaTeX itself that "converts" the format to article through inclusion of the beamerarticle package.

Explanatory prose

Slides minimize the amount of text on one screen, by using shorter, simpler sentences in outline layouts. Some issues call for a narrative discussion in prose. Prose should not be shown in a slide presentation!

Beamer can omit text from a presentation using the document class option ignorenonframetext. Text that appears outside of a frame environment will be suppressed. The trick is to get org to export text outside of a frame, without affecting sectioning.

Org creates a frame when it encounters a headline at the level defined by the H: export option, and it closes the frame at the next headline at this level or higher. This project uses H:3, so normally, the contents under every third-level headline will be enclosed in begin/end frame tags.

If the headline has the Beamer-specific tag :B_ignoreheading:, then the heading and the begin/end frame commands are suppressed, but all the content appears.

#+OPTIONS: H:3 texht:t
#+LaTeX_CLASS: beamer
#+LaTeX_CLASS_OPTIONS: [ignorenonframetext,presentation]

* Section head
** Subsection head
*** Frame title
**** Block header
     - Bullet point.
*** More explanation coming                                 :B_ignoreheading:
    :BEAMER_env: ignoreheading
    Here, we explain points from the previous frame in more
    detail. This text will always appear in the exported LaTeX, but
    the /ignorenonframetext/ class option will prevent it from being
    rendered in the presentation.
% Created 2014-05-01 Thu 16:05

\section{Section head}
\subsection{Subsection head}
\begin{frame}[label=sec-1-1-1]{Frame title}
\begin{block}{Block header}
\item Bullet point.

Here, we explain points from the previous frame in more
detail. This text will always appear in the exported \LaTeX{}, but
the \emph{ignorenonframetext} class option will prevent it from being
rendered in the presentation.

Problem: Position of \maketitle command

Because of ignorenonframetext, the LaTeX \maketitle command must appear in a frame for the slideshows. But, it should not be in a frame for the article. Further, we can't distinguish between presentation and article based on the org export backend, because both are exported by the Beamer backend.

In my environment, I used a hack that assumes Beamer has been added to org-latex-classes under the exact string "beamer." This is not ideal, because a user might have added a custom class under a different name. Nicolas Goaziou proposed an alternate approach using regular expressions, but I didn't implement it in my environment.

This code snippet should replace the expression following the comment ;; 10. Title command in the function org-beamer-template, defined in ox-beamer.el.

;; 10. Title command.
(let ((titlecmd (org-element-normalize-string
 (cond ((string= "" title) nil)
       ((not (stringp org-latex-title-command)) nil)
       ((string-match "\\(?:[^%]\\|^\\)%s"
        (format org-latex-title-command title))
       (t org-latex-title-command)))))
  (if (string= (plist-get info :latex-class) "beamer")
      (format "\\begin{frame}%s\\end{frame}" titlecmd)

Problem: Relative links to images

Image files are stored in img/ directories under the directory for each part. The images must also be accessible from full-article/, so simple links of the form ./img/filename will not work. Instead, this form of link handles both export locations: ../01-intro/img/filename.


The LaTeX glossaries package handled all my requirements: multiple glossaries for different categories of terms and automatic indexing of references to terms in the text. The syntax of the \newglossaryentry command is more verbose than I wanted to manage by hand. Org tables are a useful alternative.

I divided glossary entries into four categories: terms and concepts, unit generators, other classes, and methods. I used two table structures:

  • For UGens: Category (not used), name, description, and list of inputs.
  • Others: Term, plural form, description.

The two structures called for two lisp functions; they are essentially the same except for the strings generated and the handling of table rows. The non-UGen function includes arguments for the table and identifiers to embed in the LaTeX syntax, to be supplied in the #+CALL lines.

#+name: gloss
| Term  | Plural  | Description                                                                                              |
| ADSR  |         | An Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release envelope                                                                 |
| proxy | proxies | A placeholder that allows you to define connections between modules independent of each module's content |
#+name: makegloss
#+begin_src emacs-lisp :var tbl=gloss glosstype='nil :exports none :results value latex
  (let ((str "")
        (gltype (if glosstype (format "type=%s," glosstype) "")))
    (pop tbl)
    (pop tbl)
    (while tbl
      (let ((item (pop tbl)))
        (setq str
              (concat str
                      (format "\\newglossaryentry{%s}{%sname={%s},%sdescription={%s}}\n"
                              (car item)
                              (pop item)
                              (let ((plural (pop item)))
                                (if (string= plural "")
                                  (format "plural={%s}," plural)))
                              (car item))))))

Problem: Redundant glossary export in the full article

The two output styles raise some conflicting requirements:

  • Presentation style: Because of the ignorenonframetext class option, the \newglossaryentry commands must appear within a frame. They cannot go into Each separate contents file must include its own calls to the glossary functions.
  • Article style: The contents files are included in the same export file – which would produce redundant copies of the glossary entries.

This calls for conditional execution of the Babel calls. A not-quite-obvious feature of Babel properties is that they may be Emacs-lisp expressions. That leads to a solution: Use a code block at the beginning of the 0* and files to set a flag, hjh-exporting-slides.

#+name: set-slide-flag
#+begin_src emacs-lisp :exports results :results value latex
(setq hjh-exporting-slides 't)
#+name: set-slide-flag
#+begin_src emacs-lisp :exports results :results value latex
(setq hjh-exporting-slides nil)

Then, the #+CALL: lines can use an (if...) expression to decide whether the :exports property should be "results" or "none." If this result is "none," then Babel skips that call. So, each glossary section evaluates only once per export, no matter how many contents files are included.

#+call: makegloss :exports (if hjh-exporting-slides "results" "none") :results value latex
#+results: makegloss
#+name: makegloss_art
#+call: makegloss :exports (if hjh-exporting-slides "none" "results") :results value latex
#+results: makegloss_art

Output format

By default, org treats CALL results as example blocks. In LaTeX export, example blocks are wrapped in a verbatim environment. These functions return LaTeX syntax, to embed into the LaTeX document as is. Adding "value latex" to the :results property takes care of that.

Extraction of captioned source code blocks

I also wanted to provide SuperCollider code files containing the numbered examples from the text. That means iterating over the source code blocks, and collecting the code from every block that has a caption. (Code blocks without a caption do not receive a listing number.)

The Swiss-army-knife function org-element-map handles the iteration in a way that is absurdly simple to use: first, use org-element-parse-buffer to get an object structure for the org buffer's contents, and then call org-element-map on the parsed tree, filtering on 'src-block.

Each element identified this way is rather complex. Extensive tests with Emacs step debugging helped me find several processing steps:

  1. The interesting bit of the source-block element is the second item in the list: (car (cdr element)).
  2. plist-get finds the relevant strings in this second item. But this function returns not only the string, but several other properties. The string we need is at the head of the list, but this may be buried within several nested lists. So I wrote a function, hjh-get-string-from-nested-thing, that keeps stripping off "car" from the object, until it finds a string.
  3. This string itself also includes formatting properties, so I had to use substring-no-properties on these items.

To generate the aggregate code file, then, I simply do M-x hjh-src-blocks-to-buffer, type in the starting listing number for this chapter, and in a few seconds, I get a buffer containing SuperCollider code separated by comments holding the captions, e.g.:

 Listing 6. A very simple synth.

a = {, 0, 0.1).dup }.play;

// To make it stop:
(defun hjh-get-string-from-nested-thing (thing)
  "Peel off 'car's from a nested list until the car is a string."
  (while (and thing (not (stringp thing)))
    (setq thing (car thing)))

(defun hjh-src-blocks-to-string (counter get-some)
  "Iterate src blocks from org-element and add them to a string."
  (interactive "nStarting listing number: \nP")
  (when (not counter) (setq counter 1))
  (let ((tree (org-element-parse-buffer))
        (string "")
        (get-all (not get-some)))
    (org-element-map tree 'src-block
      (lambda (element)
        (setq element (car (cdr element)))
        (let ((caption (hjh-get-string-from-nested-thing (plist-get element :caption)))
              (source (hjh-get-string-from-nested-thing (plist-get element :value))))
          (when caption
            (when (or get-all 
                      (let ((parms
                             (hjh-get-string-from-nested-thing (plist-get element :parameters))))
                        (and (stringp parms) (string-match-p "extract" parms))))
              (setq string (concat string (format "/**************
 Listing %d. %s

                                          (substring-no-properties caption)
                                          (substring-no-properties source)))))
            ; always increment if there was a caption
            (setq counter (1+ counter))))))

(defun hjh-src-blocks-to-buffer (counter get-some)
  "Put all the captioned source blocks from a buffer into another buffer."
  (interactive "nStarting listing number: \nP")
  (let* ((contents (hjh-src-blocks-to-string counter get-some))
         (bufpath (buffer-file-name))
         (newname (concat (file-name-sans-extension bufpath) ".scd"))
         (bufname (file-name-nondirectory newname))
         (newbuf (get-buffer-create bufname)))
    (with-current-buffer newbuf
      (insert contents)
      (set-visited-file-name newname))
    (switch-to-buffer-other-window newbuf)))

Partitioning the article export

Rather than create a document class to turn top-level headings into \part commands, I embedded the LaTeX code for it directly into the full-article template. The trick is closing the environments for the previous sections. This requires a top-level heading, which should not start a new section. I found that :B_ignoreheading: did not work for this, but an export filter by Suvayu Ali did exactly what I needed.

#+startup: beamer

#+TITLE: Workshop: Synthesis and Performance in SuperCollider
#+DATE: \today
#+AUTHOR: H. James Harkins

#+INCLUDE: "../"
#+include: "../"
* Part 1                                                      :ignoreheading:
#+latex: \clearpage\part{Introductory SC, Synthesis and Sequencing}
#+include: "../01-intro/" :minlevel 1

* Part 2                                                      :ignoreheading:
#+latex: \clearpage\part{Sequencing with Patterns; Synthesis Techniques}
#+include: "../02-synth/" :minlevel 1


Reliance on LaTeX-specific markup

One significant problem, which this project did not attempt to solve, is to reconcile the LaTeX's semantic markup with org's ideal of backend-independent markup. In LaTeX, it's common to define different markup commands for different types of text. This project, for instance, uses \cd{} for in-line code snippets and \ci{} for code keywords and identifiers. Both render in the monospace font, in the same color; by marking them up differently, I can easily change the formatting of one or the other by changing the command's definition. (In fact, there is a slight difference: \ci identifiers are put into an \mbox, to suppress hyphenation.)

Org's formatting markup is visual: asterisks for bold, slashes for italics and so on.

I think export macros could support semantic markup that could export to LaTeX or HTML equally well, but I didn't investigate that in this project. Here, I just embedded LaTeX commands directly into the org files: free standing for simple uses, and using export snippets1 for more intricate cases (such as code examples including curly braces, which LaTeX export treats specially).



Export snippets look like this: @@backendname:text...@@. They will export only to that backend. You can write several of them in a row for different backends: @@latex:\emph{italic}@@@@html:<i>italic</i>@@ and each export style receives the right snippet.

Documentation from the website (either in its HTML format or in its Org format) is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License version 1.3 or later. The code examples and css stylesheets are licensed under the GNU General Public License v3 or later.