Mix Libre

by Dave Phillips

It's a mixed bag this week from Studio Dave. I'll skip the preliminaries and just invite you to dive in and check out some of the latest news from the ever-expanding world of Linux sound and music software. There's far more going on than I can possibly cover in my allotted space, but here's a quick survey of some recent remarkable activity.

LAC 2007

The next Linux Audio Conference will be held at the Technical University in Berlin, Germany, from March 22 through March 25, 2007. I missed last year's conference but I hope to attend and present a demonstration at this one. According to its organizers, the conference "... aims at bringing together developers and users of Linux and open source audio software with the target of information sharing, project discussion and music." Various events have been planned, including public talks and workshops, concerts, and tutorials. Some parts of the conference will be available in live streaming audio/video, and the text presentations will be published as a volume of the conference proceedings. Admission is free for all events except the concerts, so if you're in Berlin during those days you might want to drop in and see/hear what's going on at the cutting edge of Linux audio development and deployment.

Distro Watch

Some time ago I reviewed some of the fine "live" CDs of Linux systems optimimzed for multimedia work. I'm happy to report that those distributions continue to evolve and that their ranks have grown. MusiX has attained release level 0.79 (I tested 0.59), Dynebolic has reached version 2.3 (I profiled 2.1), and we can now add JAD (JackLab Audio Distribution) to the "live" list.

Marcos Guglielmetti, maintainer and chief designer of the MusiX distribution, recently sent a very cool message to the Linux Audio Users mail list. It seems that MusiX is being used in classes at Joe Wilson Intermediate School in Cedar Hill, Texas, USA, thanks to the efforts of instructor Marilyn Hagle. Marilyn teaches general music to 5th and 6th grade students, with the help of programs such as Solfege, Hydrogen, and NoteEdit. The students enjoy working with the system, and an upcoming concert will feature works that have been arranged with the software they've used in MusiX. Marilyn further noted that she has greater intentions for the system now that Blender and Cinelerra have been added to it. She has experience with Blender and hopes to use MusiX to help her kids to produce a full-blown music video. I love hearing reports like this one, so feel free to send me your own success stories with Linux in the classroom (music or otherwise). By the way, Marilyn started using computers in the classroom in 1982 and moved to software libre in 1998. According to Marcos, she thinks educators are "crazy or lazy" for not using Linux. Well, who am I to disagree ?

It so happens that my ancient 800 MHz machine has developed a nasty problem: I wanted to install the 32-bit version of 64Studio on this box but its PS2 ports are damaged. No problem, just use the USB ports, right ? That should have worked, but I discovered that for some reason my USB keyboard was abandoned by the system as soon as I reached the language setup. At that point the keyboard no longer functioned at all. Alas, this problem occurs on almost every distro I tried, with the exception of Dynebolic. When that system is launched with the "linux nohid" boot option everything works, including my USB mouse and keyboard. As a result, my old hardware has become a Dynebolic-based media center, and I love it, especially (cue segue) the awesome Amarok.


Figure 1: Amarok

Amarok has been reviewed, previewed, and profiled sufficiently elsewhere (see the Google lists), so I won't bother with a detailed account of its features. I will say that it has completely replaced XMMS as the music player of choice here at Studio Dave. My personal favorite aspects of the program include its unique playlist support and its 'way cool Context tabs. "Context" here means cover art retrieved from Amazon.com, song lyrics culled from a lyrics database, and artist biographies fetched from Wikipedia. Amarok packs a lot of other power under its hood, but you'll just have to check it out for yourself if you'd like to learn more about its media device support, or how it works with your iPod, or its integration with last.fm and Magnatunes, or... well, you get the idea. The only complaint I have about the program is its lack of support for JACK. Hopefully the developers will address that glaring omission and bring Amarok into the wider world of JACK-savvy Linux audio applications. I await the day.

Amarok's motto, "Rediscover your music!", is no mere slogan, so if you're looking for a modern player for your modern audio library, take Amarok for a spin. As we say here in the chill hinterlands of northwest Ohio, it's the bee's knees.

The bang Book

Figure 2: The bang Book

Pd documentation has been expanded with the release of The bang Book, a collection of essays, articles, and photographs assembled from the 1st International Pd~Convention held in Graz in the Fall of 2004. I've read the book in its entirety, and I do recommend it for all Pd users and developers, but I must emphasize that it is not a tutorial or how-to. The bulk of the text is dedicated more to the sociological and philosophical aspects of the program, relating Pd to current media theory and cultural anthropology. The quality of the writing varies, but the overall readability is quite impressive, particularly since English is not a first language for most (all?) of the authors. Standout sections include Frank Barknecht's excellent essay on his RRADical software, a fine interview with Miller Puckette (Pd's inventor), and Susanne Schmidt's musings on the motivations for writing free software.

The book is available as a freely downloadable PDF file, but you can order a hardbound version via email. The bound version includes a DVD of audio and video works presented at the Graz convention. See the book link above for more information.


Since I no longer maintain the Linux Sound & Music Applications pages I thought it would be a good idea to add some notices here regarding new releases and significant updates to the Linnux sound and music software arsenal. In no particular order then, here are some newsflashes from the Linux (but not only Linux) audio-oriented mail lists.

Catching Up With The Commons

I've written about the Common family of music and sound software many times in my articles. Bill Schottstaedt and Rick Taube are the principal architects of the family's outstanding applications, and they are certainly two of the most industrious developers in the music software community. Bill's Snd has evolved to version 8.8, and he continues to maintain and develop his Common Lisp Music synthesis environment and his Common Music Notation. Rick Taube's Common Music has reached version 2.10, with expanded support for SAL (an easier syntax for working with Common Music), display rendering via gnuplot, and improved realtime audio realization with Todd Ingalls' Sa.


Figure 3: IanniX

Csound 5.04 has been released, along with its usual bundle of new features and bug fixes. I've been experimenting a bit with the OSC (Open Sound Control) support in this release, thanks especially to a unique program called IanniX. Its Web page describes IanniX as "a graphical editor of multidimensional and multi-formal scores, a kind of poly-temporal meta-sequencer", based on ideas first articulated and presented by composer Iannis Xenakis in his UPIC system of music composition software. IanniX presents the user with a canvas upon which various graphic shapes and designs act as control elements for external synthesizers. Its control messages are packaged in the OSC format, ergo any OSC-aware synthesizer can function as IanniX's audio engine. Happily, Csound is one of those synths, and thanks to much assistance from master Csounders David Akbari and Jonathan Murphy I was able to control IanniX via Csound's OSC opcodes. I've only begun to test the system, but it looks very promising as a unique composition environment. By the way, if Csound isn't your particular cup of synthesis tea the IanniX developers have thoughtfully included examples for use with ChucK, SuperCollider3, and Pd (of course).

Figure 4: ImproSculpt

I've also been working with Øyvind Brandtsegg's superb ImproSculpt, my favorite Csound interface. ImproSculpt is especially designed for live performance, with user-controllable modules for pitch-tracking, pattern sequencing, soundfile granulization, and many other useful effects and functions. It is not a generalized interface for Csound, but if you've ever wondered what modern Csound can do, ImproSculpt provides a superb extended example of its capabilities. An ImproSculpt Wiki has been established, check it out for more details regarding this wonderful software.

By the way, Steven Yi caught up with the man and his work in an interview with Øyvind Brandtsegg in the latest issue of the Csound Journal. It's a good read, well worth your attention.

Other recent notable Csound developments include a new release of Steven Yi's great blue Csound synthesis and composition environment, Jacob Joaquin's new Csound blog, and Toby Shepard's Csound Wiki. Csound thrives these days, no doubt.


Figure 5: Rosegarden

Hot on the heels of its recent 1.4 release, here comes Rosegarden 1.5 with more new features and fixes. Perhaps the most exciting addition to this release is its support for audio time-stretching, but alas, I haven't had an opportunity to build and test this new version (it's not yet in the 64Studio or Debian repositories). As soon as I get into it I'll post a more substantial review. In the meanwhile you could download and try it yourself, so feel free to post here any preliminary reports of your experiences with Rosegarden 1.5.

Regarding ZynAddSubFX

Figure 6: ZynAddSubFX

Paul Nasca's ZynAddSubFX is certainly one of the most popular software synthesizers for Linux, but it does have some problems with its JACK support. The synth will sometimes unceremoniously pop out of the JACK graph, making it a rather risky proposition for live use. ZynAddSubFX is a very complex piece of coding, and it is apparently a non-trivial undertaking to improve its behavior with JACK. However, a group of users and developers have taken up the task, and patches are already available from Karsten Wiese's SF repository and Frieder Bürzele's ZynPatches site. Improvements include better JACK support, ALSA MIDI sequencer support, and preliminary support for the new combined JACK/MIDI protocol. Check out the newness, make your usability reports, and feel free to join in the development fun, you can help make one of our best synths even better.


Linux audio developers continue to pump out the good stuff, so try some, you might like it, and be sure to let the devels know how it works or doesn't work for you. Feel free to post comments here too, and I'll return in a couple of weeks with more news from the Linux sounding edge.