tom moody

Archive for the ‘linux diary’ Category

"Streets of Passive Aggression"

"Streets of Passive Aggression" [4.1 MB .mp3]

As noted previously, I've been working with the Tracktion digital audio workstation, which, amazingly for a commercial DAW, offers a Linux version in addition to the standard Mac & Cheese alternatives. My understanding is its JUCE code is designed to work with any OS, and, on Linux, integrates very well with the JACK audio standard.

I use looping MIDI files quite a bit in my autodidact-ish form of composing -- that is, listening to C2-F3-F2-A2-D3-A3-F3-D#3-C#3 (or whatever) over and over as I write the next part that plays in harmony or counterpoint to that. If I have to keep adjusting the loop markers to keep notes from disappearing -- as happens constantly with Ardour, I get frustrated and go read an e-book or something instead of working on music. Several people on the Linuxmusicians forum noted that Tracktion and Bitwig are "stable" in that regard, so I'm checking out the alternatives.

The good news is Tracktion-on-Linux is incredibly stable for long term editing work with MIDI and audio. It's superior to Cubase and Ableton in its ability to render loops "on the fly" (as they say) and place them in the timeline as you are working. It also has a better browser that allows you to quickly find and move samples from your PC into an open project window, or individual sample players.

The bad news, on Linux at least, is it doesn't handle third party plugins well. They tend to crash, or not have save-able presets. This forces you to use Tracktion plugins -- which are perfectly fine for most effects such as delay, reverb, compressor, limiter, but somewhat lacking for software synthesizer choices. Tracktion has a ROMpler-type sampler, that you can arrange in racks of multiple samplers, and that's what I used to make this track, pulling from my burgeoning, motley sample archive. (Many of these sound files originate "on the internet," including 808 kits, the Legowelt synth collection, and some truly gritty 8-bit "Streets of Rage" samples -- hat tip to kiptok for that last one, I think). The one softsynth used here, Helm (that chirping sound at the beginning and end) is pretty reliable as a plugin as long as you don't care about saving presets -- Tracktion remembers the settings for project, however.

So, for the moment, at least, am treating Tracktion as a self-contained instrument sitting on the PC -- like a virtual Octatrack -- until I get a better handle on the "plugin situation."

- tom moody

March 17th, 2017 at 9:54 am

Posted in linux diary, music - tm

"Nova's Elixir"

"Nova's Elixir" [3.5 MB .mp3]

Original title: "Softsynth Interaction." Have been learning the Tracktion digital audio workstation, which has a Linux version. Looping MIDI works there, where it's still buggy on Ardour. Tracktion-on-Linux is incredibly stable as long as you use their house plugins. Instead of an unfortunate limitation, am trying to think of it as fact of life and treat Tracktion as a self-contained instrument sitting on the PC -- like a virtual Octatrack -- that can do some interesting things.

Have not yet gone full-on Tracktion; most of this tune is made in Ardour with a combination of Ardour- and Tracktion-made loops.

The basic beat was done in Ardour with the LSP Plugins sampler instrument. The first two synth voices are also Ardour-made, employing (i) the Calf Monosynth and Harrison reverb running inside the Carla plugin host (which works fine except for the audible pop at the loop point -- the developer hasn't coded for that yet and it only affects monitoring, not the exported audio loop, but it's still annoying) and (ii) Loomer Aspect.

The other synth voices and beats are all sequenced in Tracktion using non-Tracktion plugins, then imported back into Ardour for a final mix. The synths are Loomer Aspect (a different patch), Helm and ZynAddSubFX. I got these working at about the 90% level -- I couldn't save presets or they might crash but it was enough to get some audio saved.

The challenge here was mastering. That beat has a very heavy bass kick that interacts badly with other tracks when you boost the gain for a "CD mix." To get it up to the same volume level as my other tracks without obvious distortion, I had to use the PSP Vintage Warmer on (sigh) Windows, which I was hoping to move away from. None of the Linux limiters I tried (including Tracktion's) could handle the job. If I was a pro mixing engineer I would fix this in the mix but it's beyond my skill set ATM. [/linux diary]

- tom moody

March 14th, 2017 at 7:52 am

Posted in linux diary, music - tm

linux musings

Dell makes high-end laptops that run Ubuntu -- who knew? It's the only "major" hardware supplier that does, according to Linux Magazine. On the niche side, Think Penguin offers PCs and laptops configured for various Linux distros (as they're called). Highly recommended if you are looking to buck the system, that is, step outside the Apple/Microsoft/Google thought control paradigm. (The ambitious can also remake W10 in a more honest image -- see funfare's instructions). Unfortunately Ubuntu has an obnoxious "unity desktop" that's more user friendly than it needs to be; worse, Ubuntu is managed by a for-profit company, Canonical, that lost some credibility by partnering with Amazon on some customer enhancement whatever (apparently you can now opt out of this). Other distros, such as Mint, avoid the unity and the canon.

In the world of audio-for-Linux, a schism is brewing because some commercial DAW developers are suddenly making workstations that run on Linux, using its super-flexible JACK protocol. Tracktion and Bitwig both offer these, in addition to Apple and MS versions. The problem is plugins. Linux users have developed a range of interesting products using the LV2 standard, regarded by many as superior to the VST protocol developed by Steinberg (of Cubase fame), that serves as the audio industry standard, for better or worse. Neither Tracktion nor Bitwig load LV2 plugins, only VSTs. There are various bridges that no one seems ecstatic about. To take advantage of LV2, you must use Linux-centric DAWs such as Ardour or Qtractor. Unfortunately the Linux DAWs are clunky and crude compared to the commercial ones -- I've had ongoing issues with Ardour's MIDI tracks in Loop mode, and crashing from various plugins. Either Tracktion/Bitwig need to embrace the house standard (not going to happen, it appears) or Ardour needs to get a whole lot tighter (might happen, given time and competition).

- tom moody

March 8th, 2017 at 9:31 am

Posted in linux diary

network plasticity

From a recent interview:

Angelo Romeo: What does the Internet mean to you today?

Geert Lovink: I got to know computers and computer networks in the late 1980s in my late 20s so I can’t say I grew up with them, even though their arrival was announced in films, magazines and science fiction was announced well before I was born. As an undergrad I was still using IBM punch cards. I would not describe my generation as pioneers. We grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, in the ruins of the industrial revolution. It was not a period of prosperity but one of crisis, decay and unemployment. Doom and gloom: no gentrification but squats. In that environment the internet offered an alternative future that first came to us through cyberpunk sci-fi literature. The 1968 generation had nothing to offer to us, and we became cynical because of their failed idealism and double standards. Armed struggle was bankrupt. It is with a certain ironic ambivalence that we entered the internet realm. Some of my friends did not enter the game, while others did. Younger people jumped on it. Internet indeed offered us an opportunity, to get out of the margins, claim a strategic terrain and move into the unknown, cyberspace. This is pretty much the same, 30 years later. The younger you are, the better. The internet never disappointed me. It is society that steers it architectures and applications. Turned into platform capitalism, filtered by authoritarian regimes, pushed by neo-liberal design of the precarious self, that’s what the internet means to us today. This doesn’t say anything about tomorrow. Luckily, we can still speculate about ‘network plasticity’. Platform is not our destiny.

Am a bit more pessimistic about the resilience of "the network," as in, a world wide web, in view of monopolist challenges to neutrality, on the one hand, and the sheeplike migration of citizens to "platforms," on the other. Even smaller networks that are parasitic to the global Internet will be affected by Balkanization. A small case in point, I've been learning to use a Linux system, and while some of the how-to is handled over IRC chat, much is still dependent on Googling. The Ardour forum moderators tell newbies, in so many words, "don't rely on our in-house search to find if your topic has been covered, use Google, it's much more thorough." If Google searching (or DuckDuckGo, or Bing) becomes deprecated because of post-neutrality slow lanes or "platform" dominance of search, Linux mavericks are screwed.

- tom moody

February 27th, 2017 at 8:57 am

Posted in linux diary, theory

linux vs apple

Libre Music Production discusses and promotes Linux audio with interviews, plug-in reviews and tutorials.

Musician Scott Peterson, in a LMP interview, makes a case (pro and con) for using Linux:

And of course, my maker leanings are the same that inspired me to learn Linux and begin moving away from proprietary computer hardware and software. Once you buy into, say, the Apple ecosystem you are trapped. Yes it works, yes it’s stable, yes in many ways it’s great. However, once Apple starts removing ports, removing the ability to install after-market upgrades, or control what applications are installed on your computer/iPhone, there’s nothing you can do about it: you have already bought into a (very expensive) hardware/software system (a Technosystem if you will) and extricating oneself from it can be difficult as it requires the learning of new tools, new software, a new OS, etc.

In a society increasingly bound together by "tech" it's becoming easier for banks, businesses and governments to own you because of this learning curve issue. (See, e.g., Munich's attempt to wean itself from Microsoft). Even without maker leanings (the urge to solder parts and/or assemble your own motherboard) you might simply want to avoid owing your soul to the company store, as the song goes, by switching to a software realm based on principles of openness, collaboration, and intellectual freedom. Sounds corny but Apple, Google, and Microsoft are not the place for "hope and change" any more than Obama was.

- tom moody

February 13th, 2017 at 9:19 am

windows resistance is futile

The city government of Munich, Germany switched from Windows to Linux in 2004 but appears to be on verge of returning to the Borg. Tech Republic gives some background:

At the time Munich began the move to LiMux in 2004 it was one of the largest organizations to reject Windows, and Microsoft took the city's leaving so seriously that then CEO Steve Ballmer flew to Munich to meet the mayor. More recently, Microsoft last year moved its German company headquarters to Munich.

Microsoft's tactics seem to have paid off, as Munich's politicos are "poised" to vote next week for a move to Windows 10. It's ironic that as Linux has improved over the last ten years, Microsoft has gotten worse, and the most compelling argument for a business or government to use it is still "everyone else does." Meanwhile, ordinary consumers overwhelmingly reside in Apple-or-Google-land, because they are all using "devices."

- tom moody

February 13th, 2017 at 8:46 am

"Gamma Surfer," "SIDGuts Sequence"

"Gamma Surfer" [mp3 removed -- please listen on Bandcamp]

"SIDGuts Sequence" [mp3 removed -- please listen on Bandcamp]

Back to music-making on Linux. These tunes were produced using the digital audio workstation Ardour. Its midi-looping bug still hasn't been fixed -- I complained and was told I was being redundant, that's what the bug tracker is for and this is already a known issue. Yeah but it's been a known issue for over six months, how are you supposed to know what users think is a priority to fix if we don't speak up and ... oh, never mind.
One thing about Linux is the developers aren't part of a corporate empire that employs help desk personnel to pretend to care about customer concerns, so the developers handle their own forum traffic and are mucho crabby from dealing directly with humanity at its neediest.
Anyway, because they won't or can't fix the known bug, I decided as a workaround to use the sequencer on my modular synth to write the melodies, and use Ardour's MIDI clock to keep everything in sync so the synth notes could be recorded and edited in the workstation as audio. This worked well, and Ardour's latency compensation eliminated the slight lag in recording time. But then Ardour was crashing like mad during the editing process. I don't even dare mention this on the forum -- the developer would just heave a sigh and refer me to the "how to report crashes" page. Am hoping that the upgrade to 5.3 (done after these tunes) will fix some of that.
So the sounds here are mostly recordings of modular synth patches, with some added percussion from softsynths and snippets from Ableton where I transgressed on my all-Linux-and-modular premise.

Update: Just finished another tune using Ardour 5.3 and it was extremely stable. Whatever was causing crashes in the previous version has apparently been remedied.

Update, Oct. 1: The MIDI looping bug was fixed in Ardour version 5.4.

- tom moody

September 10th, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Posted in linux diary, music - tm

digital residency concludes


My residency at (the online component of London's Gazelli Art House gallery) wrapped up this week.

Last post (page back through 20 drawings or use thumbnails)

First post and intro/bio

Archive with artists who have participated so far (Laura Brothers, Philip Colbert, Hyo Myoung Kim, Giovanna Olmos)

As noted earlier, the works aren't actually untitled; I left the captions blank on the pages where I posted content, to keep typography on the page to a minimum. But they might as well have been untitled since I stuck with the unmemorable sketch_x# scheme.

Many thanks to the gallery for the post-internet-while-remaining-on-the-internet show. I recycled/remade some recent Linux work and dropped in several new pieces. Sticking to a 640 x 640 pixel format and working in one style for four weeks was good for me -- like yoga, or working with a personal trainer called "the remorseless internet."

- tom moody

March 29th, 2016 at 7:47 am

Posted in art - tm, linux diary

ardour 4.6 bug re: midi playback

Speaking of Linux and the future, I've been learning Ardour (a digital audio workstation) on a Linux PC.
I had noticed Ardour was playing the first couple of MIDI notes silently in loop mode. I thought it was me but it's a known bug. There's even an .ogg video showing the error. Apparently it worked in Version 4.4 but broke in 4.6 and is still broken in 4.7, the current version.
Since I mainly work with MIDI loops playing hardware and software instruments, this is kind of disastrous. The dropped notes are only a problem on streaming/playback. If you render the loop as audio all the notes are there. But it's very frustrating at the composing stage not to hear exactly what you will be recording. I anxiously await Version 4.8 and the fixing of this bug.

On the topic of Linux and the difficulties of keeping it compatible with hardware, ports, and so forth, I was fortunate to find a PC with an internal PCI slot. This means I can do my audio with an RME Hammerfall (HDSP 9632) soundcard. Linux drivers and mixers were written to work with this card, probably 10 years (?) ago. But most PCs use PCIe (PCI Express) slots now, which won't work with that particular RME card. This post on the Ardour forum discusses the problems with the gradual dating of hardware recognized as Linux-friendly. (seablade: "in the PCI world honestly... that situation really is relatively unchanged to my knowledge, and the fact is that many manufacturers just aren't focusing on that area. USB has become a much larger area these days though, and while I won't agree Firewire audio is dead, I will say that it is certainly on it's way out at this point.")

Update: The MIDI dropped notes bug was fixed but MIDI looping is still imperfect, audio-playback-wise. When monitoring a MIDI loop running a softsynth, you get silent notes or stuck notes. There are workarounds such as slightly enlarging the loop brackets in non-grid mode, but what a pain. Also, in loop mode, using the plugin host Carla, you get audible pops at the loop point. Unacceptable. (Except this is being done by volunteers, mostly, and you can't really complain.)

- tom moody

March 18th, 2016 at 2:33 pm

which OS is the future

Speaking of the Expert Sleepers plugins and hardware, here's an amusing forum exchange about which computer operating system is "the future":

hems: Not having a linux version [of Expert Sleepers] is a real deal breaker. Product manufacturers like ES and cycling74 must start thinking about the future (linux), and not only the present (osx) and the past (windows).

A couple of responses to hems:

bsmith: I dunno, I'm still pretty nervous about the y2k bug around the corner. Just got back from seeing sixth sense at the movies - that M. Night Shyamalan and his clever plot twists, I tell ya...

And (a bit more substantively):

Waz: Windows is definitely not "the past". I would say apple's recent decisions both in design and software will cause it some major headaches and put it into that category. I've been running solely in a linux environment for 3 years and in dual boot for well over a decade. Recently, I had to install windows 10 to use Ableton. W10 is pretty solid, well designed, and stable. I easily have way less headaches than in the linux environment. Things just work when you plug them in. No editing config files and installing binaries/packages from all over the internet. With that said, I still use Linux for my day to day stuff, but it has a LOOOONG way to go if it wants to compete with W10, or OSX in the general population. For music people especially, JACK is a fucking nightmare to work with. For power-users, multi-desktop monitor support is just terrible. This is in an age when the general population is starting to use multi-monitor systems for work and play. For gamers, Linux is another nightmare. I have over 200 linux games in my steam library. I think 40 or 50 work properly. The other 150 need some pretty heavy editing of config files due to my multi-monitor setup. Not to mention the headaches that come from developers who abandon their linux ports. General end-users don't want to run scripts, edit configs, search for dependencies, and work in the command line.

- tom moody

March 18th, 2016 at 1:47 pm