Linux MIDI: A Brief Survey, Part 2
Paul Davis is well known for his Ardour and JACK projects, and he also has made significant contributions to ALSA development. Thus, it should be no surprise to learn that Paul also created one of the coolest Linux MIDI sequencers, called SoftWerk.
SoftWerk's design has been inspired by the Schaltwerk, a hardware analog sequencer built by the Doepfer company. The inspiration is evident if you compare this image with the screenshot in Figure 6. However, SoftWerk can do things quite beyond the capabilities of its hardware ancestor.
In its default configuration, SoftWerk opens with eight sequence tracks, each with 16 steps. Steps can be toggled on or off, the sequence length may be lengthened or shortened at will and additional tracks can be added. No provision for saving performances is supplied, but you can record your SoftWerk's output with the ALSA sequencer interface, or you can capture the audio output from your SoftWerk-driven synths.
Some interesting controls have been added to SoftWerk, including some handy randomization controls. MIDI note numbers may be entered into step positions manually, by way of a MIDI keyboard, or you can have SoftWerk enter random MIDI note values. Sequences can be played forward, backward, end to end or in random order.
Figure 6 demonstrates SoftWerk at work with the Crystal VSTi plugin running under the libfst system. This is another gift from Paul Davis and Torben Hohn that enables the use of VST/VSTi plugins under Linux.
SoftWerk essentially is a performance-oriented sequencer, and I must say that I whiled away many hours playing around with it. You can have incredible fun with it, but remember that SoftWerk also is a capable instrument and a welcome addition to any Linux MIDI-based studio.
TiSM is Samuel Dufour-Kowalski's Temporal Information Sequencing Machine, a real-time MIDI sequencing environment based on the Tcl programming language. TiSM differs greatly from the other sequencers presented here, requiring the user to learn how to compose scripts in Tcl (an easy language for beginners) that control the sound production of a MIDI system.
Figure 7 shows off TiSM's various GUI helper panels. Despite these nice graphic displays, program operation absolutely depends on user-supplied Tcl scripts. Fortunately, some example scripts are available from the TiSM Web site (see Resources), along with a PDF document describing the basic use of the program; this document also is readable on-line.
TiSM has by far the highest geek appeal of the sequencers presented in this article. The user needs to comprehend TiSM's design structure and the Tcl language, as well as the composition and significance of MIDI data messages. Although these demands may not be amenable to the casual MIDI musician, for those of us who want total control over the MIDI stream, TiSM is a good way to get it.
Next time, I'll present some synthesizer editor/librarians and some other useful MIDI utilities. Until then, you can download and try out some of these sequencers. Let me know if you make any music with them, I'll be glad to point people to your efforts. And don't forget to let the developers of this software know what you like about their work and what you'd like to see in future versions. It all works better that way.
Many other MIDI applications for Linux are listed here.
Dave Phillips is a musician, teacher and writer living in Findlay, Ohio. He has been an active member of the Linux audio community since his first contact with Linux in 1995. He is the author of The Book of Linux Music & Sound, as well as numerous articles in Linux Journal.
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