The Linux Audio Conference 2004
The 2nd annual Linux audio software conference took place again at the wonderful ZKM (Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnology) in Karlsruhe, Germany, from April 29 through May 2. Last year's conference was successful enough to acquire greater sponsorship this year, with significant contribution from ZKM itself and SuSE. Community support was much expanded, with more than 30 presentations and workshops, four concerts, a dance and a final round-table discussion.
Given the necessary restrictions of publication, it is not possible to relate more than a superficial account of the conference, so I limit myself here to enumerating the topics and giving brief reports where applicable. If this conference suffered from any fault it had to be the sheer number of presentations. Due to the quantity of topics, it was necessary to schedule parallel presentations, so no one could attend every presentation. Of course, this was no real fault at all; if the organizers had not scheduled simultaneous presentations, the conference could have lasted for eight days instead of four. This might have been pleasing to the participants but it certainly would have exhausted even the formidable patience and resources of the conference hosts and organizers.
The quality and depth of the presentations naturally varied, and the overall tone of discourse was technical without being obscure. Presenters came from almost every European nation, and all presented in English with skills at least passable and more often quite good--better than many of my countrymen, in fact. At no time did I find myself straining to understand what was said, and I must thank all the topic presenters for their English-speaking efforts.
In addition to the officially scheduled presentations, many impromptu BOF (birds of a feather) sessions were announced. Some of those sessions were attended as heavily as the official topics, and I suspect we'll see some of them attain official status next year. Hardware manufacturers were represented by the makers of the Lionstracs Mediastation X76 and the Hartmann Neuron synthesizers. Other hardware manufacturers were present as attendees, so perhaps next year we'll see an expansion of hardware-focused presentations.
By the way, I must confess that I found it difficult to attend some presentations simply because I was meeting so many new friends and having so many interesting conversations. Often I looked at the clock only to find that I had missed a topic completely while engaged in an absorbing impromptu dialog, and I suspect I'm not the only person who had that problem.
My own pace of activity was defined by the circumstances of my arrival in Karlsruhe. The train from the Frankfurt airport rolled into the Karlsruhe station at 10:59 AM, my keynote address was scheduled to begin at 11:00 AM, so six minutes after arriving in Karlsruhe I was in a lecture hall at ZKM, ready to deliver the kickoff speech. From that time until Sunday evening, my life was a whirlwind of presentations, meetings, workshops and lengthy late-night conversations. Like last year, I averaged about five hours of sleep per night, yet I must admit that this pace was more exhilarating than exhausting.
My kickoff speech was followed by presentations by Jaroslav Kysela and Takashi Iwai. Both developers are core ALSA programmers, so their presentations naturally focused on the advances and future of the ALSA sound system. ALSA is now the default sound system for the Linux kernel. Jaroslav provided a brief overview of ALSA's history in the past year, while Takashi's presentation focused on user-level troubleshooting techniques, illustrating many great tools for newbies and those of us who are not-so-newbies.
Paul Davis is perhaps the most widely respected Linux audio developer, both for his outstanding contributions to the software base as the chief architect of the Ardour and JACK projects and for his generosity and civility towards his colleagues. His first presentation gave us a look at his recent libfst project, a system for seamlessly integrating VST/VSTi plugins into the Linux audio software universe. VST/VSTi plugins are fundamental to the Windows/Mac audio software worlds, and their incorporation into Linux is a win for everyone. Incidentally, Paul's project builds upon work begun by Kjetil Matheussen at Norway's NoTAM and expanded by Torben Hohn, author of the gAlan system.
Developer Bob Ham revealed plans for his Linux Audio Session Handler (LASH), a system for saving and restoring the states of and connections between any number of LASH-aware audio applications. LASH is a much-needed system. As Linux audio applications continue to subscribe to the JACK bus, a means for saving and restoring their states becomes most valuable. Restoring the connections for a few applications is not particularly burdensome, but as more applications are used the LASH system becomes a necessity. LASH is still in its infancy, and interested developers are urged to contact Bob Ham through the Linux Audio Developers mail list (see Resources).
Fernando Pablo Lopez-Lezcano is best known to the Linux audio software community as the developer and maintainer of the Planet CCRMA packages, a set of RPMs designed to make a simpler entry point for new users interested in learning about Linux audio software. However, Fernando is also a respected composer and teacher, and his topic presentation focused on his use of the Lisp programming language in the Common Music and Common Lisp Music music composition and synthesis environment. This presentation was successful enough to warrant a BOF workshop, a good indicator of interest in the subject and Fernando's abilities as an enthusiastic instructor.
Day 1's final presentation came from Thomas Grill. Thomas presented his flext system, which writers of external additions for the popular Max/MSP and Pd sound synthesis systems can use to write code-compatible versions of their extensions. Flext especially is valuable in light of the fact that Max/MSP is commercial while Pd is free software.
As the television commercials say, "But wait, that's not all!". Day 1 ended with the first of four scheduled concerts, presenting works by Michael Edwards, Ludger Brummer, Fernando Lopez-Lezcano and Orm Finnendahl. All the pieces were composed with the use of free software tools, and each piece had its singular attractions. The overall style could perhaps be summarized as "non-beat-oriented electroacoustic music", and while it may not be to everyone's liking I'm quite fond of such music and I greatly enjoyed this concert. I must add that all the conference concerts took place in ZKM's extraordinary Kubus, a marvelous hall designed for performance and recording.
Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.
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