[LAD] The modular audio chronicles ep. 1

Etienne Rouge contact at e-rouge.net
Mon Jun 23 18:56:09 UTC 2014

(Here is an unusual mail trying to describe as entertainingly as 
possible what it's like to set up a modular production environment in 
GNU/Linux. I owe the greatest of respect to anyone who've made the 
softwares mentioned below and their work do not misunderstand a joke for 
a blunt critic. )

Dear Lads,

You haven't heard much from me lately, and I'm sorry for that. For one 
year and a half I've been sitting in front of my minimal -yet fairly 
high endish - music production set up doing nothing but programming.
Those expensive things were only used to playback cd and digital files...

... you know what that means :

I was becoming an audiophile.

Holly horse poop, I can't beleive I said that... but it's true.

Few weeks ago, realizing this dreadful fact- I decided to start a rehab 
: let's fire up the preamp and let's record some stuffs. Just to prove 
the world I'm not just another bragging gear slut (hopefully).

Of course, just to make things harder I decided not to use the 
full-featured highly expected (and probably amazing) Ardour 3. Why not ? 
Because I've suffered 8 years of (gnu's not)Unix propaganda and now I 
praise "modularity" above anything else.

Mh, and I guess 27 years of Legos(tm) didn't help neither (Don't judge 
me, Technics are a great prototyping tool. ... . That's the best excuse 
I have).

Lately, thanks to nedko (gladish), male (non-suite), drobilla (patchage, 
ingen), falktx (Carla)  (I always have to check the letters order for 
this one nick :/) and few others,goal my  has become -somehow- tangible.

Part one : THE SETUP

When you start a big music project with high expectations with GNU/linux 
you need two things :
1) Make sure not to have a deadline
2) Make sure you are fully relaxed

Cause, you know how it is : those softwares are all quite young and only 
used by few people. Therefore, "few people" means very few bug reports. 
And of course those softs are made by  volunteers who can only solve 
them when they have enough time. Considering all this, it's already 
great everything works !

Having few bugs every once in a while in a software is no big deal... 
But the thing with modular audio, by definition, is that you're gonna 
use dozens of them. At once.

And bugs DO stack.

But I'm rushing a bit, we're not there yet, cause at this point of the 
story I haven't picked my softwares already (except for the non-suite). 
I don't have any effects nor midi anything : I need to gather some more 
stuffs to work with. And I must say I felt a bit like Indiana Johns 
having to gather some pieces of a mysterious puzzle : "Your six strings 
shall sound heavenly and You synths shall have many melodies.  and you 
will have to travel the Internet to find what you need."

Ok, the guitar part is an easy one : guitarix. It's just amazing. Let's 
use it... and ! Oh gosh ! It's a trap ! There's no way to recall a 
preset, it not patched with NSM... quick ! Use CLI, they MUST  have a 
"import" option ! Oh crap  NO ! They don't !

I thought my quest would be easy but no. Instead of being able to pick 
guitarix, I found a new quest : "use the LV2 version".

No big deal, let's just move to another place. Carla. it usually works 
fine... but...gosh all my plugins are here except the amp simulator... 
what the heck ?

Ingen then... erf... no, for some reasons this plugin doesn't make a 
sound. Damn. Back to Carla... with another quest :

"You shall not use the Stable version. Use the git version". It's gonna 
be harder than I thought.

Building is usually a piece of cake... but not this one time.

Eventually, in a last desperate attempt, I tried one more build, and 
succeed.... Until QT5 -my trusted friend for years- suddenly decides to 
betray me  by placing booby traps all over the place to make sure I'm 
not able to add any effect. Luckily, the scientist in the team -Falktx- 
has been able to diffuse those.

Finally ! Now I have a guitarix preset I can save and load with NSM.

Holly crap.

Everything's set for the guitar. It's tome to move on to  our glorious 
quest for MIDI.

This quest was such a weird experience. I went to the vaste land of 
Rosegarden, where the GUI almost made me blind and mad. I tried  the 
purity of a non-sequencer until  it  exploded right in my face. I went 
to an oddly useless 1 bar non-chromatic sequencer...

Ok. It's gonna Seq24 then. It's not perfect, but I can use it.... Let's 
just call the maintainer to fix the few problems... or not. Nobody's 
actually taking care of this software.

Screw it. I'll use it anyway.

It's been a week already, and most of the musicians in my party have 
given up for an easier world where you can buy peace.

I've been able to make some sounds and that's what keeps me going... I 
don't know how long this will take, but I'll gather all the pieces of 
this modular music machine.
Eventually  with the help of the LAD's scientist, it'll work properly.

Let's keep faith.



P.S. : As tedious as it was, I'm still thrilled by the potential of a 
well integrated modular audio software suite. I must say I'm even more 
exited when I see what's *already* possible today. Therefore I'd like to 
make a call for a working group around this question cause it's really 
(*really*) close to something great. I believe that a nice dialog 
between users trying to setup real production environments and coders 
can quickly bring out a kick-ass suite that can bring linux audio to the 
next level.

P.P.S : all the best, and thanks for reading.

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