Linux-based audio toys

Lately I have been playing with the href="http://www-ccrma.stanford.edu/planetccrma/software/"
>Planet CCRMA audio metadistribution for Red Hat and
Fedora.

Stanford’s Center for Computer
Research in Music and Acoustics
is a very well-known computer
music institution, and they have set up an apt-rpm repository
which features two metapackages: one contains a low-latency (and soon,
preemptible) Linux 2.4 kernel and ALSA packages, and the other
contains over a hundred audio applications, including

  • csound software synthesis system
  • Ardour multitrack hard-disk recorder
    and DAW

  • Rosegarden MIDI sequencer (a
    Cubase clone)

  • Hydrogen drum machine
  • a CM/ title="Common Lisp Music">CLM/ title="Common Music Notation">CMN environment

  • ecasound audio processing system
  • JACK patchbay

all built to interoperate. It also includes ALSA- and JACK-enabled
versions of common audio libraries and utilities like title="X Multimedia System">xmms and Ogg Vorbis. Two
“apt-get install” commands install the whole shebang once apt is
properly configured (which, on my multi-purpose and multi-repository
system, required pinning the CCRMA repository at a higher priority
than any other). If you want to dedicate a machine to audio, CCRMA
also has a Fedora mirror so you only need to deal with one
repository.

The Planet CCRMA docs include a href="http://www-ccrma.stanford.edu/planetccrma/software/packages.html">full
list of included software.

This means that I can finally do a bit of home recording, but even
better, it means I can start playing with all of the toys I was
playing with when I was studying href="http://www.mcgill.ca/music/theory/technology/">computer music
at McGill. Since I left that program because of organizational
and life issues, and not because I didn’t enjoy computer music,
this is a Very Good Thing.

One thing that was missing from Planet CCRMA was the
MAX/MSP environment. I was very pleased to find that
despite the original having gone href="http://www.cycling74.com/products/order.html#max">commercial, that
IRCAM (where MAX originated) has maintained an open-source version of
MAX with a Java frontend and C backend which is reasonably portable,
called href="http://freesoftware.ircam.fr/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=14">jMax. I’ve had a bit of trouble getting it built
but I’m looking forward being able to pull out my old MAX patches and
start up where I left off in 1996.

All of this combined with my new guitar (which came back freshly set
up from Brian Dubbledam‘s
shop at the Ottawa
Folklore Centre
tonight) means that I have a new (well, old)
hobby building, and that you will probably be subjected to audio
soon. I make no claims of quality!

All in all, this is the best example I have seen yet of open
source software meeting the challenge. I have obtained for free the
equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars worth of audio software on
proprietary platforms, and I was able to get it all interoperating
easily thanks to the efforts of the CCRMA — efforts which would not
have been permitted or even possible if the packages were closed.

One problem I am going to encounter immediately is that I have only
an onboard (SBLive, sigh) sound card and no mics. While eventually I’m
sure I’ll accumulate a couple of decent microphones, appropriate preamps
and direct boxes, and an outboard audio interface for my PC, right
away I want to get away with the minimum investment necessary to get
sound from my guitar amplifier (no direct out) and a bass amp
(either no direct out or balanced, so practically no direct out)
into the sound card. Suggestions are welcome. I’m kicking myself for
having thrown out an old NAD tape deck with bad motors and a perfectly
good preamp section a couple of weeks ago.

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