Mixing It Up with the Behringer BCF2000
Using the Behringer as a MIDI control surface is nice, but it does require hand-assigning every button for every project. In my experience, it also doesn't do a good job at honoring the bank selectors—in MIDI mode you have eight tracks' worth of controls, and only that. If you want to mix a 24-track project, you have to be good about grouping your submixes and break your project down into passes. It's a viable way to work, but it can become a pain, and reassigning your faders as you go can confuse you when you change over (naturally, if you're running a number of BCFs in tandem, this limitation ceases to be a serious problem).
There is a better way to use the BCF2000 with Ardour, and that's in Mackie Emulation mode. Basically, you tell Ardour you're already connected to an eight-track Mackie control surface. The Mackie preset gives you a seven-plus-master mix layout, with pan pots at the top (except for the master track—there your pan pot is a jog/shuttle wheel) and each track having mute and solo buttons—very handy. It assigns the tracks in numbered order from left to right (corresponding to your track order in Ardour from top to bottom), with track eight being the Master bus.
Why is this a better way? It gives you access to all the controls on the BCF. MIDI mode allows easy assignment of pots and faders, but try assigning one of the buttons, and you'll find yourself quickly tempted to burn the thing at the stake. Button presses seem to register on assignment, but then when you go to use them, they don't work. This problem may be correctable by building a preset in Behringer's preset building software (Figure 6), depending on the preset you build and your version of Ardour. Your mileage may vary.
Section 10.6 of the manual gives detailed (and accurate) setup instructions for putting the Behringer in Mackie Emulation mode. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of Mackie mode seems to be in flux in Ardour's current development cycle. Some versions work very well—others don't work at all. Again, your mileage may vary (www.ardour.org/files/manual/sn-mackie.html).
Despite the bumps in the road due to Ardour's rapid development cycle, I wouldn't trade this little mixer for the world. It's easily saved me ten hours a week mixing down my podcasts, and the quality of the mixes has gone up as well. Mixing software faders with a mouse is a sucker's game compared to the precision you get mixing hardware faders with your fingers. For $200, this control surface delivers motorized faders and high-definition response in a well-designed, solid package that's fully supported by the Linux kernel and ALSA-MIDI.
That means it's also useful in a number of other high-level MIDI and audio programs for Linux, such as Rosegarden or LMMS or other programs that can accept MIDI control symbols. Let the mixing begin!
Dan Sawyer is the founder of ArtisticWhispers Productions (www.artisticwhispers.com), a small audio/video studio in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been an enthusiastic advocate for free and open-source software since the late 1990s. He currently is podcasting his science-fiction thriller Antithesis and his short story anthology Sculpting God. He also hosts “The Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour”, a cultural commentary podcast. Author contact information is available at www.jdsawyer.net.