"Nova's Elixir"

"Nova's Elixir" [mp3 removed -- please listen on Bandcamp]

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]

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).

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.

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.

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."