Linux Audio Development: A Report from Karlsruhe
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 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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