Paul Davis: an Ardour for the Challenge

It is no exaggeration to claim that Paul Davis' software is employed by every serious Linux audio user and developer.
Advice and Considerations

DP: What advice do you typically give to someone who wants to get into programming music and sound software libre?

PD: Please don't start a new project! Find some software that does something useful for you, or close to what you are thinking about, and consider improving it/changing it/redesigning it. Far too many new developers massively underestimate the work involved in creating a useful, final version of any audio/music software—I know I did, by an amount measured in years! There are a few exceptions. Rui Nuno Capela's QTractor Project is progressing at a pace that is embarrassing to me, and little tools like tuners and so forth can be quick to develop and finish. But please, no more MIDI trackers, MIDI sequencers and so on until you've done some work on the existing programs and have established beyond all reasonable doubt that they cannot be bent to your will.

DP: Do you have any general advice for users of music and sound software libre?

PD: No advice, only apologies for developers like myself using them as Guinea pigs and testing platforms. Oh, and be patient. Oh, and send money!

DP: What do you consider to be the greatest strength(s) and greatest weakness(es) of Linux audio?

PD: I believe that from a technical standpoint, Linux is still a far superior platform for audio than anything else out there. Not only does it have better performance for just about anything that matters, it also has a suite of development tools that make a developer's life much easier. Many OS X developers love XCode on that platform, which is great but locked into the Mac. And, where is valgrind when you need it? When I started working more intensely on the native OS X version of Ardour, I held OS X and Apple in very high esteem. Their user interface work has always been exceptional. Sadly, I have to admit that as I have gotten deeper into OS X as a developer, I have become less and less impressed. The things that are really great about Linux from a developer's perspective are just not there—most of all simplicity and transparency. It also helps that I helped design JACK, the audio I/O framework that most pro-audio and music apps on Linux use—I am working in a style and paradigm I can truly call my own (though I'd like to note that many other people have commented on its simplicity for developers and its power for users).

However, useful software for noncomputer-centric users means a lot of work for someone. And a lot of work implies a lot of time. In our culture, a lot of time generally means a lot of money, one way or another (inheritance, windfall or income). The Linux audio ecosystem has not yet found good ways of generating this money, and as a result, our software (my own and that of many Linux audio developers) lacks some of the things that can be found in proprietary software for Windows or OS X. I say that there is a direct relationship simply because of the time = money equation. If I could pay the right three people to work on Ardour, it's hard to imagine what we could not do. Ableton employs many, many more people than that and it shows in their software. Look at something incredibly basic like tempo-sync'ed LFOs in a plugin or softsynth. I don't know of any Linux audio software that does this, but it's been in proprietary software for at least five or six years.

So, we have a set of really, really excellent tools for users with a technical/computer-centric perspective on their work. We have not reached the same level of accomplishment in terms of providing tools for people who don't want to understand how computers work. And by comparison with a tool like GarageBand, we haven't even done very well at tools that hide the assumptions about how “professional” audio software is supposed to be used (GarageBand hides this very, very well, though at considerable cost to users who develop sophisticated needs rather rapidly).

DP: What else goes on in your life that you'd like readers to know about?

PD: Moving to Berlin to teach for a semester at the Technical University within a week of moving our son off to Los Angeles to go to film school has to be one of the highest stress things I've ever been involved in.

Dave Phillips is a professional musician and writer living in Findlay, Ohio. He's been using Linux since the mid-1990s and was one of the original founders of the Linux Audio Developers group. He is the author of The Book of Linux Music & Sound (No Starch Press, 2000) and has written many articles on Linux music and sound issues for various journals and on-line news sites. When he isn't playing with light and sound, he enjoys reading Latin literature, practicing t'ai chi, chasing shar-pei puppies and spending time with his beloved Ivy.


Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.