Linux Audio Conference 2007

March 30th, 2007 by donnek Leave a reply »

I haven’t posted for a while, so I’m going to cheat and backdate this one. The reason was LAC 2007. I’ve been saying apologetically for a couple of years now that multimedia in Linux is about 18 months behind other OSs in having something that is really useable on the desktop. After LAC 2007, I realised that I had to stop saying this, because multimedia in Linux is available here and now, and offers the same freedom, openness and low cost that we are already familiar with in Linux.

So the posting shortage has been due to my exploration of just a few of the amazing tools now available in Linux for composing music (and also video). LAC 2007 was a real eye-opener, and I personally am very grateful to the organisers and presenters for the wealth of information they presented. One of the most attractive aspects was the time set aside for hands-on tutorials and workshops – there’s nothing like actually using an app to get a feel for it.

I also need to say a special thanks to Stefan Kersten for helping me get SuperCollider running on my laptop. I had tried in vain several times after seeing Simon Blackmore demoing it at a Bloc seminar, but Stefan sorted it out in a couple of minutes!

It was the first time I had been to Berlin, and it was wonderful to wander around the city, now being substantially reshaped and rebuilt after German reunification. It was strange to consider that as little as 20 years ago I might have been arrested as a spy for walking down some of the streets I visited. The Technische Universitaet was a wonderful setting for the event, and the Lichthof in particular, a sort of atrium around which the various activities were clustered, has to be seen to be fully appreciated. There were also a number of concerts and sound installations to enjoy. The published proceedings of the conference (a snip at 8€) give a great overview of all the stuff that is going on behind the scenes on Linux audio – worth reading.

Highlights of the conference for me were:

  1. Hartmut Noack on his Linux Audio Workstation, one of which I am using to type this, with some very pleasant ambient music running in the background (I have to say it is “very pleasant”, because it is self-composed!)
  2. Rui Nuno Capela on his lightweight Qtractor sequencer.
  3. Michael Bohle and friends on JAD (Jacklab Audio Distribution), their audio version of openSUSE, adding another dimension to the best Linux distro out there.
  4. Steven Yi on blue, his attractive frontend for CSound. Steven’s homepage contains some delightful examples of compositions using blue/CSound.
  5. The Recursive Dog crew for their hands-on demo of the Arduino board, and the musical instruments they have built.
  6. Sergio Luque for his walkthrough of the composition process with SuperCollider, explaining how one of his own works was put together.
  7. The Canorus team demoing their music score editor – some great ideas, although unfortunately the software itself isn’t really useable yet.
  8. Richard Spindler on his Open Movie Editor, which appears to be a great leap forward for the average desktop user.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Linux audio is the fact that at a stroke it lowers the threshold for participation in creative audio work. Open any magazine like Sound on Sound or Computer Music and you’ll see lots of reviews of various pieces of software which are marketed as giving you the edge in audio production. Some of them certainly look very striking, with non-standard GUIs the order of the day. The prices may not be all that bad either, until you start thinking about needing to use two or five or eight of these apps. Then the cost starts to mount. Plus, of course, you are dependent on the whim and fortunes of individual companies, both for your OS and for your apps.

For many of the young people who want to get involved in music-making, of whatever type, this sort of expenditure is a gamble. Do you buy something cheap, and find you’ve wasted your £40 because it is very limited in what you can do with it, or do you pay a lot more and find you can’t use it properly? There’s little you can do about hardware costs (although the relative cost of keyboards, mics and guitars is now pretty low, and secondhand prices are even better), but software costs can certainly be slashed if you use Linux. Even if you buy a supported audio distro like Studio To Go or 64 Studio, the range of software you get still makes this a bargain compared to the proprietary solutions being offered.

So Linux is a tremendous opportunity for young people who don’t have much spare cash, and don’t mind experimenting with the sort of stuff which you won’t see covered in the newsstand mags, but which now gives shrinkwrap software a good run for its money.

I’ll be returning to this in future posts ….

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