Take a Peek at Some of the Freshest Projects Around

A view to a killer app or four, including LMMS, inotail, Karmen and GAMGI.
LMMS—Linux MultiMedia Studio

Initial screenshots of LMMS will give you a hint of FruityLoops and the like, but in reality, LMMS takes a completely different tack. LMMS takes on a micro-managed approach, and it probably will appeal to control freaks who want to generate their own samples or instruments from scratch. With the ability to layer instruments and tracks, you can create whole songs from the ground up.

LMMS—the Music Suite for the Ultimate Control Freak

Unlike most compositional software under Linux, LMMS takes an alternative approach to midi for many circumstances, by synthesizing through wave instead. This sidesteps the often annoying process of making midi work under Linux, although midi still can be used and is very much a part of LMMS. By tweaking all the knobs and available options, you can generate entirely original sounds and use them in any way you see fit.

I managed to generate some brilliant effects and samples for my own musical projects. This likely will appeal most to dance-music DJs and also to fans of Nine Inch Nails or the more recent Massive Attack-style music for those who want unique samples, or it will appeal to fans of retro 1980s synthesized sound for those who want to make whole orchestrations.

Installation is a breeze, as LMMS resides in many distributions' repositories. Under Debian-based distributions, all I had to do was a simple:

# apt-get install lmms

For those who can't find a binary for their system, however, a simple:

$ ./configure
$ make
(as root or sudo) 
# make install

with the source is all that is required. Thankfully, LMMS doesn't have too many strange dependencies, so it should compile right off the bat for most systems.

Once you dive into the world of LMMS, a steep learning curve presents itself. Some tutorials and demos are included, but these will leave most users in the dark on many issues (but they are worth examining as they do uncover the uses of many GUI items). The demos are indeed worth a look and show off the capabilities of the program. The demos include Bach's “Preludium and Fuge in A Minor”, which is impressive when you watch the keys played in real time under each instrument's settings, and other cool demos are included that range from general dance music to the occasional more atmospheric piece.

The best tip for exploring LMMS for the first time is to click on the yellow star on the left whose tab is titled My presets. From here, you can play around with some already-tweaked instrument settings and various GUI buttons and sound settings until you come up with something that sounds interesting and the interface becomes more familiar. Also, be sure to look at the green musical note above the yellow star, titled My samples. This contains the base instruments to begin with and offers a large variety, including (but not limited to) some impressive drum samples, Latin guitars, as well as some amazing string, choir and atmospheric effects.

Despite all of the features and demos, however, it's worth visiting the LMMS Wiki. Documentation is still lacking for this project, but hopefully this improves in the future, particularly in relation to chord compositions and note editing. Documentation issues aside, the program is quite stable at the moment and can at least be used as a good beat sequencer. If you can figure out the interface for instrument composition, whole tracks also will be at your fingertips.

Some other impressive features are JACK and LADSPA support, but best of all is the ability to mix an instrument in surround as opposed to just stereo. When I asked lead developer Tobias Doerffel about the development status, he mentioned that LMMS is still rather unstable on 64-bit platforms, but after this is fixed, it will be in a quite usable state. He also wants to include a mixer that mixes all of the tracks as well as improve the available JACK support.

Currently, this is fairly mature beta software that looks extremely promising, and it is lacking only decent documentation—definitely worth a look for any home musician.

For more information on LMMS, see:


John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.