Linux Audio Conference 2011: A Report From Maynooth
On May 7 and 8 I attended the Linux Audio Conference for 2011 held in Maynooth, Ireland. Due to a temporary mental malfeasance - for some reason I assumed the Earth rotated in the opposite direction - I booked my flight for the wrong departure date and was unable to change its itinerary without paying out a hefty sum to the airline. So, on Saturday morning I arrived at NUI in Maynooth, completely out of sync with the local time zone and ready to pack four days worth of activity into two.
Due to scheduling constraints it's impossible for anyone to attend all the presentations and demonstrations at the conference, so I didn't bother trying. I attended some of the scheduled presentations, but the bulk of my time was spent in inspiring conversations and casual meetings with friends old and new. Of course the talk focused on the conference events, related Linux audio news and stories, and where to find the best pubs in Maynooth.
Before all else I want to send a huge shout-out of thanks to Dr. Victor Lazzarini and his able crew at NUIM. As far as I could tell everything flowed smoothly from time slot to time slot with no logistical disasters. The presentations I attended were well-prepared and very enjoyable, thanks especially to the great efforts of the organizers.
Time worked against me, but I was able to catch Jeremy Jongepier's hands-on demonstration of his creative use of Linux audio software such as QTractor, Yoshimi, QSynth, and others; Joern Nettingsmeier's lecture on loudness metering and why it matters; an update on recent improvements to the Fluidsynth soundfont synthesizer; and Conor Dempsey's unveiling of the WADE system, a portal for on-line audio synthesis. Of course I missed a dozen other presentations, due primarily to those lively conversations that went on constantly in the halls at NUIM and at the restaurants and pubs in Maynooth.
It was a pleasure simply to regard the intelligence and dedication of the participants. In fact, one recent convert stated that his original persuasion to get into the community had to do with the quality of the people involved with it. That quality is considerable - developers such as Paul Davis, Rui Nuno Capela, John ffitch, and Fons Adriaensen are regulars at the conference, along with a host of other developers and users who benefit hugely from the social discourse (and from the scheduled presentations, of course). For instance, in addition to attending my selected presentations I conversed at length with Krzysztof Foltzman regarding a problem with his CALF audio plugins in Ardour3, I watched room-mate Harry van Haaren give a detailed demonstration of his neat work with a Python/Csound-based music sequencer until 3 AM, developer Nedko Arnaudov explained for me the superiority of the waf build system, and I listened in on an interesting planning meeting for the major Csound developers (I'm not a major or minor Csound developer, just an interested long-time user).
Alas, I was disappointed by the absence of my friend Fons Adriaensen. Fons was scheduled to make the keynote address and to present his recent research on loudness measurement. Fortunately Joern Nettingsmeier (aka Fons v2) handled that presentation with great success.
As a late arrival I was able to attend only one of the evening concerts, but it was a good evening. I still retain a strong sonic memory of the closing piece by Fernando Lopez-Lezcano, an homage to the late Max V. Mathews. Tastes vary, of course, but everything I heard was high-quality stuff. To my ears it sounds like Linux music-making tools are perfectly suitable for a wide variety of musical styles.
I always leave the conference with a revived sense of purpose and inspiration to help continue the good work underway and to investigate new channels of creative development and production. The topic papers in the conference Proceedings are clear evidence that those new channels are many and various - they are all engaging papers, by the way - and by this time you should be able to access the video recordings and other materials from the presentations and workshops.
Before leaving this report I want to focus for a few moments on that presentation written by Fons Adriaensen. In my teaching I have many occasions to demonstrate waveform displays of the music under discussion, and over the years I've noted the disturbing trend towards maximizing volume at the mastering stage, i.e. the results of what is called the Loudness Wars. Some of us take such developments seriously, and I'm convinced that the saturated amplitude range in most popular music is a bane to the appreciation of some of music's finer elements. Thankfully, many other people have a similar concern for the trend, so many in fact that the EBU has finally recognized the Loudness Wars as a certifiable Bad Thing. Fons's paper presented an excellent summary of the intent of the EBU's R-128, a set of recommended tools and practices for the accurate measurement of loudness. Various metering solutions were introduced and explained with all the necessary math, which went cruising right over my noggin, but the presentation clearly stated the case for concern about the loudness trends. Proxy presenter Joern Nettingsmeier is himself an accomplished audio engineer and a clear, organized speaker. In short, I learned a lot from the presentation, and I intend to follow this line of research more closely, thanks to Fons and Joern.
On May 12 group member Aurelien posted this announcement on the Linux audio user's mail-list :
[Announcing] a video of Sebkha-Chott live performances in 2010.
Sebkha-Chott's setup onstage uses:
- FFADO (2 Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 daisy-chained)
- AMS (4 of them)
- SooperLooper (timebase master)
- QLC (for lights)
- Lives (for VJing)
- LADSPA plugins
Everything [goes] through the machine, which also manages the in-ear monitors.
The recording, mixing and mastering were done [at] B4GSTUD, the studio of the AMMD, which uses:
- ALSA (RME HDSP 9652 and HD24XR)
The video editing and so on was done with Kdenlive
I think I didn't forget anything
Here ... [is] the video."
In case it's not apparent, their audio system is built on Linux audio software, including their sequencers and synthesizers. How you react to the music and performance will be a matter of taste - I think they're a pretty cool group - but again the qualities of the production can leave little doubt of Linux's viability in a professional audio context. My compliments to the group, this is impressive work.
I purchased the recently released book on SuperCollider3, so my next article will focus on what I've been gleaning from its many pages. The language evolves continually, it's been a while since I put serious time into it, and a lot of cool new features have appeared for it. Join me in a couple of weeks, we'll have some fun with some of the new things in SuperCollider.