The Sound Of Linux 2007

In this article I've selected what I consider to be some of the past year's outstanding achievements in the world of Linux music and sound software. It's not really a "Best Of 2007", it's just my personal choices for what I found most interesting and significant in the past year.

Ardour

It just keeps getting better. Thanks to its compile-time options I now use two very different versions of Ardour, one compiled with support for VST plugins on my 32-bit JAD box and another built for my 64-bit machine (which runs 64 Studio, naturally). Ardour is the true heart of Studio Dave, and I put it to good use throughout 2007. I produced a demo CD for one of my students, recorded a variety of original songs and instrumentals for my own CDs, remastered a batch of tape recordings made with friends in the 1960s and 1970s, and recorded single-song demos for a student who is working on getting into the Nashville songwriting scene. Curiously, no-one seems to notice that I'm not using Pro-Tools.

Incidentally, I've switched to the 2.0-ongoing branch of Ardour's development. This branch sits between the stable release tarballs and the bleeding edge development version, and it's a reasonably safe way to check out some of the features headed for the release versions. Some cool changes are coming down the line for the next stable tarball, I'll be sure to tell you about them in this column.

The Rosegarden Crew

Chris Cannam & Co. worked overtime this past year to deliver an upgraded Rosegarden and the fantastic Sonic Visualiser. Most recently Chris has given the community a much-needed gift, his new Rubber Band library for high-quality pitch-shifting and time-stretching. This kind of software is a critical component in modern music-making, especially for pitch correction and in any loop-based music production. Rubber Band is already included in the Ardour 2.0-ongoing source tree, and I expect it will become the de facto library for pitch/time compansion throughout the Linux audio software world. Thanks, Chris, the Linux sound and music community loves you and your crew.

wineasio

A couple of years ago Robert Reif devised a way for Wine to access the advanced capabilities of the ASIO driver for Windows sound and music programs. A small step for most Wine users, perhaps, but a giant leap forward to Windows-based sound and music folk. Like Linux, a default Windows system has unsuitably high latencies that make it unusable for professional needs. Most Windows audio software typically uses the Steinberg ASIO driver technology to bypass the bottlenecks, reducing latencies from hundreds of milliseconds to ten or even less. Alas, Robert's work was essentially a proof-of-concept, but I'm happy to report that the JAD developer known as Drumfix has carried on wineasio development. His improvements include enhanced audio port configuration, a better build/install procedure, sync to JACK transport, and even a bridge for working with 64-bit JACK in a 32-bit Wine session. Very cool stuff, very exciting news for Windows-based musicians who want to switch to Linux.

JOST

Lucio Asnaghi (aka kunitoki) appears to have devoted his work to two main goals: To expand the available native Linux audio applications base and to create a highly flexible environment for running LADSPA, DSSI, and native VST/VSTi plugins. Lucio achieves his first goal by porting open-source Windows plugins and applications, and his second goal is realized by his on-going work on JOST (the JACK Host) system. JOST began rather modestly, but its most recent incarnations include support for multiple instances of an internal MIDI sequencer, a much-improved GUI (built with the excellent JUCE framework), and support for JACK transport (master control only at this time). Frankly, I consider JOST to be one of the coolest applications available for Linux-based music-makers.

Csound5

When I first saw it in the late 1980s Csound was simply a powerful language for audio synthesis and processing that included some tools for music composition. Today's Csound has expanded to include multiple instantiation, modern programming constructs, flexible audio and MIDI I/O, ALSA and JACK support, user-defined opcodes, new synthesis and processing routines, a new applications programming interface API, more tools for composition, and support for interfacing with external languages such as Python and Java. Even better, a whole ecology of Csound-related applications has evolved, many of which enjoyed considerable development in 2007 (Rory Walsh's Lettuce and Steven Yi's blue are two superb examples of this ecology). And as though all that goodness just wasn't enough, the developers have strived to ensure compatibility across the major platforms (Windows, OSX, Linux). Profound respect and admiration goes to John ffitch, Matt Ingalls, Michael Gogins, Victor Lazzarini, Steven Yi, Rory Walsh, and the entire Csound development and user community for maintaining and expanding this amazing environment. There might be something audio-related that Csound can't do, but I haven't discovered it yet.

Reaper

I can hear it now: "Why include Reaper ?". Well, why not ? It may not be native Linux software, but it runs beautifully under Wine (especially with the wineasio driver), its developers are supportive of Linux users, and its lively community includes more than a few hard-core Linuxen.

The basic features of any DAW are fairly well-defined now, so much so that relatively unhindered access to those features has become a design priority. Native Linux audio developers might do well to consider and plunder some aspects of Reaper's design (as would many Windows and Mac developers), such as the vertical zoom in its track display and its simple "ready to go" basic configuration. However, Reaper is no minor application, its feature set is extensive, and its configuration can be as complex as needed. It's also in rapid and constant development, with perhaps more than two dozen significant updates in 2007 (version 2.026 was released as I wrote this article).

Alex Stone's Linux Audio Odyssey

Alex Stone is a musician with a seemingly simple request: He just wants his software to live up to its full potential. Not an unusual request, but as Alex discovered, it can be extremely difficult or even impossible to do so with Windows. Enter Alex's encounter with Ubuntu Studio and a resultant voyage of discovery that has his peers expressing amazed respect for his accomplishments. The whole story can be read on this Reaper forum thread, and I do mean the whole story. Alex has meticulously recorded his experiences in that thread, resulting in a most captivating story. The gist of that story is that after much effort, Alex completely replaced his Gigasampler/Reaper system with a more powerful Linuxsampler/Reaper system, and the details are fascinating and very well-reported (Alex is a good writer). Suffice to say, if you want a Windows-based or Mac-based musician to get a clue as to what's possible with Linux, turn him or her on to Alex's story.

JACK

If I had to select one piece of software that I consider to be crucial to Linux audio development, it'd be JACK. Almost all the software mentioned above either requires it or performs best with it. Some of JACK's notable improvements in 2007 include direct support for MIDI, improved support for multi-processor systems, and a new version for Windows. Linux can claim a variety of excellent sound and music applications, but JACK truly holds the keys to the kingdom. Major kudos to Paul Davis, Stephane Letz, Sampo Savolainen, Chris Cannam (again!), Steve Harris, Jesse Chappell, and everyone else on the JACK team.

The Wrap

There you have it, some of my favorite Linux sound and music software from the year 2007. I look forward to new development in the coming year, and if 2008 is only half as good as 2007 then we're in for another great year.

I want to thank my readers for their comments and support throughout the year, and I invite you all to keep 'em coming. I also want to shout out a big "Muchas gracias!" to the staff at the Linux Journal for their patience with me and their always-excellent presentation of my work. Vast blessings upon all of you, I hope you've been enjoying a terrific holiday season, and I promise to keep bringing on the noise throughout the new year. Peace out.

______________________

Similis sum folio de quo ludunt venti.

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thanks

haber's picture

thanks alex this is good

Linux for the new user.

Alex Stone's picture

Dave, thanks very much for the comments and appraisal of my linux journey. The thread you mentioned is a diary of sorts, documenting the journey for a new user, in the current linux world.
As a result of my discoveries, i've got some words to add to yours, from the perspective of a new user, unfamiliar with linux in general, but passionately determined to making it all work.
The question i've been most asked is, why?

And probably a fair question too. but i wonder if the question is asked from a perspective of, 'But linux is a geek's OS.'
And that's what i set out to discover and determine for myself. I admit to being somewhat jaded with the commercial offerings for our craft, as it seemed to me we paid good cash for 'nearly' products.I've been in this since the start of computer based audio/midi production, so i've spent quite some cash over the years, buying upgrade after upgrade in the earnest hope the programme would perform as stated. And somewhat sadly, they just never seemed to live up to expectations, including mine. To complicate matters further, i write classical music for concert and film, and the prospects of simply getting enough ports, and a programme robust enough to run large sample bases, were very thin on the ground, as much to do with Win architecture as anything else.

So i guess you could say, i was ripe for the change.

For those who write for linux, and i've been delighted to discover there are many fine craftsmen out there who pursue a high standard of excellence, i offer the following from a former Win/Mac user who doesn't know how to code, wouldn't know how to compile if he stepped in it, but wants you to know the learning curve is being pursued avidly, and relentlessly.

If there's one thing i suffered from over many years of writing in a box, it's the lack of ports, both audio and midi. Nearly every programme on the planet, whatever the os flavour may be, seems to be geared towards 16 channel users. If someone comments that writing for a full orchestra in a box is impossible or unfeasible, then it simply isn't true. We are limited only by the number of ports/channels/tracks you build in your programmes. From the superb Wine, to the excellent Jackd, to the delightful Reaper, to the frankly outstanding Linuxsampler, one thing stands out most of all. The user, and i specifically refer to linux dummies like me, start hitting the limits early, and lack the skills to get around this without serious study, and a lot of mistakes. Ok, that's fair, i need to make a contribution too, and i'm doing that.
But if you'd like Linux to be taken even more seriously as a viable alternative by the average user, who may not be as motivated or determined as I, then this simple adjustment may just make a big difference.

I share Dave's view of Jack. It has proved to be a revelation to me: a wonderful programme that really pulls everything together, and the potential for lashing everything together is huge. Why then does it seem that some programmes seem reluctant to take advantage of Jack's midi opportunities? Are they developed enough? I'd dearly like to try, but it's difficult to find a programme that i can, by default, set to use Jack midi, and take advantage of the accurate sync. This goes for Wine too. I'm full of admiration for the Wine team, and the opportunities they've given me to use my choice of Daw, written for Win, in a linux environment. I ask the Wine team to consider, as part of the default compile, raising by quite a margin, the default ports available to users. Again, there is a wonderful opportunity here to raise the awareness of linux as a viable os for professional production, with a simple adjustment in the programme.

I share the above not as a criticism of linux, the programme developers, or the direction each programme takes. Quite the contrary, I have discovered a new world of opportunity and greater potential for a me, an ordinary writer trying to pursue his craft as well as possible. It would not be possible without the wonderful skills,passion,and determination of many, who devote so much of their time in the pursuit of excellence.
This will sound like an empassioned plea, but i most respectfully urge all of you to continue with the same intent as when you started, and not get bogged down in semantics, endless meetings, personal differences, or any of those other things that seem to afflict so many in the commercial world, and stunt growth and development.
I also take this opportunity to say thank you to all of you for giving me the opportunity to take another step along the road of excellence, through the fine tools you create. So to Werner Schweer, the team at linuxsampler, the team at Reaper, Paul and Stephane and the rest of the team at Jack, Drumfix and the others who developed and created Wineasio, the team at Wine, and the many others who develop libraries, utilities, and associated programmes, thank you. Your work, vision, time, and determination is appreciated.

Dave, i wish you and the team at linux Journal, much success in 2008. This site has become required reading on a daily basis, and continues to be a wonderful reference source.

Regards,

Alex Stone.

very nice

Anonymous's picture

It's what turns a Linux PC into a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

From what I understand people are typically use to dealing with monolythic aplications that
are do-all for Windows or OS X. Lots of them have ways to route midi and pcm, but they tend to
proprietary to one company or another.

With Linux you have lots of smaller, fairly competent, programs. With Jack you can combine
them how you want and introduce lots of fairly interesting plugins and filters and all sorts
of fancy stuff.

link: serial

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