Free time, Linux Audio, and Songwriting?

It’s been a while since I wrote much of anything. I still keep an eye on the server, but it just seems like I haven’t been able to find the free time to sit down and write much of anything. Two things have appeared that have eaten ALL my spare time lately: A PS2, and a new version of Rosegarden.

Someone gave us a PS2 for Christmas. I played a couple of the games popular today and was pretty underwhelmed. We got a couple of educational games for Paul and he likes them a lot, but as far as I was concerned, I couldn’t see all the interest. I’d see people talking about various games but just figured they weren’t for me. And then, I found a game called ‘Call of Duty.’ The first time I tried it out, before I knew it, 2 hours had gone by. No matter what, every time I sit down with it thinking that I’d play it for 20 minutes or so, before I know it, hours melt away.

As for Rosegarden, it’s at least a much more productive endeavor. For those of you who don’t know, Rosegarden is a multitrack MIDI and audio recording program for Linux, much like Sonar is for Windows. I have Sonar, and it served me well until a couple of things came along. Firstly, I started the web page and blog, which meant that if I wanted to use Sonar, I’d have to take down the server, reboot into Windows, and then when I was done, boot back into Linux, and make sure the server came back up just fine. In the meantime, the web pages and blog would be unavailable, which is something I wanted to avoid if I could, out of my (probably unnecessary) determination to keep them running 24 hrs/day. It was a nuisance, to say the least, and one which conspired to prevent me from using Sonar very often. And if I didn’t use Sonar, that meant that I wasn’t writing songs, or working on recording demo tracks of ones I’d already written. It took so long to get everything set up to do anything that I just tended not to do that very often. And then I started having even more problems than usual with Windows. I had learned my lesson early on about allowing automatic updates, and had turned those off, but one day, my stupid Windows decided to install some “updates” anyway, and those resulted in me no longer having administrator privileges on my own computer. That was a real pain to fix, and really irritated me. A couple of months later, the same thing happened, and Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, forced another update on me, which totally screwed up audio on my machine. So, no longer was it merely inconvenient to do anything with music on it, it was no longer very productive. I had pops and crackles, and my 2GB machine now claimed that it didn’t have enough memory to load the very same soundfonts I had been using for years. Since I once again didn’t have “Administrator” privileges on my own computer, thanks to Microsoft, fixing it was a real burden. With my bizarre work schedule, where my “spare time” might only be between 2 and 3am, it was just too much of a pain trying to do anything, and trying to keep up with Windows’ repeated insistence on breaking itself was just too much. I started looking for programs for Linux that would do everything I needed. I found quite a few that were available, and started trying them.

I found a couple of command-line multi-track recorders. Now, I’m not a HUGE fan of GUIs, but trying to control a multi-track recording program from the command-line is not something I really want to experience.

I found Ardour, which is a multitrack DAW (audio only). It was REALLY nice, and worked well, but I needed MIDI for composition (yes MIDI had spoiled me, and I found that trying to write with audio-only tools wasn’t working for me anymore). While it’s possible to sync it with various Linux MIDI sequencers, it was cumbersome, to say the least.

I found QTractor, which is audio and MIDI, and it worked really well, but it was lacking some features I really needed. It is written by one person, and he just can’t add features fast enough to make it a viable equivalent to Sonar.

I found Rosegarden, which did everything I needed, but had some bugs. A week or so ago, a new version came out so I decided to give it a try. I got it compiled and started testing it, and found out that the really irritating bugs had been squashed. I tried various things with it, and found out that I can have it running, plus a couple of software synths, in addition to the web server, blog program, the email server, and all the other things I run regularly (Firefox, Thunderbird, etc), and never use any virtual memory (swap file). Heck, on Windows, running Sonar with virtually nothing else running, and all other services turned off, my 2.6GHz machine was almost maxed out and using a LOT of virtual memory! I’m still fine-tuning the various parameters in the program, but so far, it looks very promising. I’m actually writing music again, which is what I’ve been wanting to do for months.

All of this means that time I was spending listening to what the thieves, crooks, and tyrants in government are doing is taken up by, in one case, something MUCH more productive, and in the other case, by something that is a total waste of time (but addictive). It’s something that I don’t think anyone needs me to point out, and most of the time it’s something that it seems like nobody really even cares about.

My blog is something that I use to simply get things off my chest. If I hear one of our so-called “representatives” say something totally inane, or just simply wrong, which covers 99.9% of everything they say, I would write in my blog to get it off my chest.

Other times, I would just write about things I had learned in my over 30 years of doing pro-audio and recording.

So, in a nutshell, I’ll keep writing in the blog, but I’m spending more time actually writing MUSIC than I have for almost a year, and playing with Rosegarden.

(For those of you unfamiliar with Linux audio applications, there are MANY – probably more than are available for WinXP. Some are excellent. Some are odd. Some are buggy. But, all are free. Linux itself is free, of course. You can put together a system consisting of the O/S itself, an Audio/MIDI recording program such as Rosegarden, a softsynth (QSynth/Fluidsynth), some VST/DSSI synths and effects plugins, a sampler (Linuxsampler), and whatever else you need, for a grand total of $0. And the hardware requirements are FAR less than what you would need for Windows.)

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4 Responses to Free time, Linux Audio, and Songwriting?

  1. Ken says:

    Thanks for the music software overview. I can only say I’m totally impressed with GNU/Linux, I meant to transfer over a few years earlier, but other priorities got in the way.

    What kind of Internet connection do you have that allows you to have a home server? Or do you really have biz class service?

    • Al Thompson says:

      I’ve got DSL at home, which can get a little sluggish if several people are checking out the music at once, but it’s usually not an issue. There’s enough outbound bandwidth that 2 or 3 people can be listening to music, while a couple of others are just reading. I’ve only got my personal website and my band’s website on my home machine now. I moved the blog to wordpress.com a few weeks ago- it was just easier if I didn’t have to keep up with upgrades and backups, etc. The blog software is kind of a CPU hog, and if it got a lot of people on it at the same time, I occasionally had some audio problems, os it helped a bit in that regard also.

      I haven’t booted into Windows at home for over 2 years.

      • Ken says:

        Thanks! I presume you have a dynamic IP if you’re on residential DSL.

        Most of the professional hosts seem to use separate machines for MySQL (database) and PHP (blog software like WordPress), so *maybe* the large CPU usage when those software components are run on a single machine is partly why they logically break the software components up that way.

        I haven’t tried compiling the new Rosegarden version yet, I know how to do that, that’s not the problem. I need to learn a little more about tracking all the installed files so later, if the need arises, removing all the added components and dependencies can be done without leaving bits and pieces all over the file hierarchy. Jeez, as I was writing that out “make uninstall” jumped into my mind. One of the hardest parts of Linux seems to be wrapping one’s mind around the simpler way of doing things differently, that only appear more complicated (because they’re different) but in fact, aren’t.

        Good luck Al!

  2. Al Thompson says:

    The CPU usage of PHP and MySQL wasn’t terrible. If I was only doing “normal” things on my machine, I would never have noticed the usage. Even running the audio apps, I didn’t usually have a problem, but just sometimes, I would get a pop- I think if someone was doing a search of the blog, it hogged CPU.

    Compiling is a snap, as long as you have the dependencies all present.

    (from the directory where you untar’ed the tarball)
    ./configure
    make
    (then, as root, from the same directory)
    make install

    That’s it. Took about 2 or 3 minutes when I compiled 1.7.3.

    make uninstall
    make clean

    should get you back, but to tell the truth, I’ve never done it.

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