Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe

Updates on the latest plans for Linux audio functionality from the first developers' conference in Germany.
Applications and Distributions

The last session focused on the actual programs LAD people have written and new means of packaging and distribution. As the possible interactions between applications become more complex, some development efforts have taken on the task of ensuring that the new user finds a ready-made integrated environment that includes a system prepared for low-latency, high-priority performance. The environment needs a selection of applications that can take advantage of the new Linux sound system.

Francois Dechelle demonstrated recent free software developments taking place at IRCAM in Paris. The jMax software is already quite well-known and has evolved into one of the most sophisticated audio production and processing environments available for Linux. jMax can be thought of as a synthesizer, a sample playback machine, a DSP engine, an audio/video composition and processing environment or even a LADSPA plugin. Although Francois's demonstration was plagued by technical difficulties, it was enough to be able to glimpse jMax's enormous flexibility. Francois also presented news regarding the OpenMusic project, another free software development sponsored by IRCAM. OpenMusic is targeted for composers; that is, it is essentially music composition software, very advanced in its features and capabilities. Alas, the port to Linux is incomplete, but a dedicated team at IRCAM continues the work. We can expect wonderful things when we finally see OpenMusic 1.0 for Linux.

Andrea Glorioso reported on the efforts of the AGNULA team, of which I am proud to be a member. AGNULA stands for "a GNU/Linux audio" distribution, and it has been designed to provide turnkey systems for new Linux users who especially want to work with audio and video software. AGNULA plans to release two complete distributions, one based on Debian and another based on Red Hat. These distributions are complete systems, not crippled in any way, with enhancements such as a kernel patched for low-latency and a collection of entirely free software (free in the sense described by the FSF). A 0.9 release of the Debian distribution (Demudi) should be ready this summer.

The PlanetCCRMA suite is another response to the need for a system targeted at new users interested in the possibilities of Linux audio and video software. Developer Fernando Pablo Lopez-Lezcano described PlanetCCRMA's evolution in historical and technical perspective. Fernando also described the system's use of the apt-get utility so familiar to Debian users. With apt-get and a fast network connection, a user can download, install and update the entire PlanetCCRMA system over the Internet. Alternatively, she can download CD ISO images and install the system off-line. Unlike AGNULA, PlanetCCRMA is not an actual distribution. Instead, it depends on an existing Red Hat installation (7.x, 8.x) and replaces the default kernel with a kernel optimized for multimedia performance (low-latency, capabilities-enabled, high-priority scheduling). It also adds the ALSA drivers to your system and, of course, provides an excellent bundle of selected audio/video applications for Linux.

My own presentation was a rather rambling account of issues I've encountered while documenting Linux audio software. The lack of release dates, the constant evolution of the software described and the rapid pace of system development all conspire to make the doc writer's work difficult, particularly if he is trying to write tutorial documentation for normal users. Other documentation issues include standardized bug report and test forms, the need to distinguish between reference and instructional documentation and the predictable difficulty of writing simple and clear user-level introductions and tutorials.

The Wrap

The open session on Sunday was quite exciting; applications were demonstrated, code was viewed and shared, conversation and discussion thrived and many pictures were taken. Memorable moments included Torben Hohn's demonstration of the gAlan synthesis/processing network environment, Stefen Westerfeld's presentation of the BEAST synthesis/composition software, Fernando Lopez-Lezcano's composition for quad-speaker playback and Frank Barknecht's awesome demo of Pd-as-techno-machine.

Informal discussions took place throughout the conference, over breakfast and dinner, while sampling the excellent beer and in apartments and hotel rooms until the wee hours. I think I averaged about four hours of sleep per night, and by Monday morning I was exhausted and exhilarated. Nevertheless, on my flight back to the US I found myself wishing for another few days in Karlsruhe. I was told that the city and its environs include many lovely sights, but involvement with the conference was so intense that none of us got to be tourists. Perhaps next year's meeting will be a little longer, and we'll be able to see more of Karlsruhe, visit Heidelberg or take a bicycle ride along the Rhein and into the Schwarzwald.


Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.


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Re: Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe

Anonymous's picture

thats all good n a bag of beans. Now write a VST wrapper for the plugins and drivers... maybee then linux will be actually useful instead of lost in its own little crappy audio world like it is now.... Hell figure out a way to load windoze VST plugs via wine or sumptin.. Until then no one that produces will give a rats ass.

captchas suck. this implementation sucks more than most.

nonymous's picture

I had some valid points for both sides of the argument, but now that I am so irritated by the @*$&^#! captcha, I am just going to rant about that.

It took me like 10 tries to get the first one right. Now I have to enter another one to actually post?

An indication of whether it's case-sensitive would probably have eliminated the first 3-4 fails. Then I just got unreadable ones. Yes I can read, but the display is excessively ambiguous at 1600x1200 on my 21" CRT.

A dhtml function to just regenerate the image would be slightly less annoying than having to resubmit the whole page.

I have wasted valuable time which would have been better spent helping create/improve software for the benefit of all humanity, and I daresay that is a higher negative cost than suffering the theoretical spam it is intended to prevent. (Yes, I could have cut those losses by just bailing out immediately, but I believe crusading for usability is every software designer's duty.)

Please improve on this situation!

> Now write a VST wrapper

Anonymous's picture

> Now write a VST wrapper for the plugins and drivers...
> maybee then linux will be actually useful instead of lost
> in its own little crappy audio world like it is now

For those unable to parse this, let me translate it for you. It actually means:

"I am a thoroughly brainwashed Microsoftie unable to do anything without my decorative little WinXP desktop in the background, and so totally tied to my VST plugins that I can't even make a cup of coffee because my kettle has no VST interface. So, because you Linux lot cannot accomodate my myopic view of the world, you are all obviously irrelevant and unprofessional. Oh, and Leenucks sux and XP r0x0rs!!"

There, that should be a bit clearer.

Re: Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe

Anonymous's picture

Possibly windows-vst-plugins (and macintosh-plugins on PPC-linux) can be embedded to a linux-host-application natively. AFAIK, over 90% of all plugins are not linked against any operating system library. They came with own widgetsets and all using api functions come from the host application.

Re: Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe (author res

Anonymous's picture

Not that I want a rat's ass, but FYI Kjetil Matheussen's VSTserver provides VST support for LADSPA plugins and Pd. It's very cool, I've experimented with up to a dozen or more VST plugins activated in a Pd patch. Btw, Kjetil did indeed utilize some WINE capabilities to achieve his software.

Also, Paul Davis recently experimented with JACK + VST. If all goes well I think we might expect VST support from JACK. More cool...

Regarding drivers: ALSA has evolved into a splendid audio system, it's doubtful we'd get much of a technical "win" by attempting ASIO support (if that's what you're talking about).

== dp

Re: Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe (author res

Anonymous's picture

Jack supports ASIO under Linux, just start it with the -a option. It's just a way of defining the data size sent to the PCI card, not a way of getting low latency etc. Some cards support this transfer mode, some don't.

All these things, ASIO, VST, Direct Monitoring, Rewire etc etc are just brand names. They don't guarantee good performance or sound, just a particular standard and way of achieving a goal.
We would have VST native in Ardour now if the header files were re-distributable, the technical side is not hard. (Emulating windows gui is another matter...)

You can do the same things under Linux, but they are called JACK, ALSA, LADSPA etc etc.

Re: Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe (author res

Anonymous's picture

you're no producer, just a kid who uses pirated copies of windows audio software he found on kazzaa and dreams of being the next drum&bass "star"... get off the crystal, stop snorting ketamine, take a bath and maybe we'll take you seriously.

Re: Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe

Anonymous's picture

Open your eyes and get informed. Most studios don't tell you which

operating system they use. Upon close inspection, you may find

out some interesting facts. Or the, maybe not. You see what you want to see.

Re: Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe

Anonymous's picture

I just wish and hope that the ALSA drivers will start working better than the OSS ones soon. I have tried them with three different sound boards, and had to revert to the OSS drivers on the grounds that they seem to behave better.

It's not MP3 just because its compressed audio

Anonymous's picture

> Pictures and MP3s from the conference are available on-line.

Anyone else upset that about MP3 being the Kleenex of audio? Those are ogg/vorbis, not MP3.

Re: It's not MP3 just because its compressed audio (author respo

Anonymous's picture

Another oops. My bad, sorry about that.

== dp

Oops, I forgot to mention SuSE

Anonymous's picture

I should have mentioned that thanks also go to SuSE for their support. The general Linux community owes SuSE big thanks for directly supporting the ALSA project, it's the kind of project that benefits everyone.

== dp


Anonymous's picture

Hey Dave.
great summary. That'll show my M$-loving friends how far we are and what is to expect.

Maybe Linuxjournal should always append a picture like
that one of yours to show what shiny happy people we are.

All I long for now is a Linux-Audio-User-and-Docu-hacking-Convention.
Thanks to Lukas, Francois, Julien and Joern for the little jamming you/we did! Had a great time!

Cheers, tobias.

Re: yep.

Anonymous's picture


Re: Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe

Anonymous's picture

Wonderful summary, Dave, that captures especially well the nice spirit and friendly vibe surrounding the LAD conference. Maybe next year, I have enough Pd patches ready to host a whole dance night ;)



Frank Barknecht