Exploring the current state of musical Linux with interviews of developers
of popular packages.
Linux is ready for prime time when it comes to music production. New
offerings from Linux audio developers are pushing creative and technical
boundaries. And, with the maturity of the Linux desktop and growth of
standards-based hardware setups, making music with Linux has never
Linux always has had a place for musicians looking for inexpensive
rigs to record and create music, but historically, it’s been a pain to
maintain. Digging through arcane documentation and deciphering man pages
is not something that interests many musicians.
Loading up Linux is not as intimidating as it once was, and a helpful
community is going strong. Beyond tinkering types looking for cheap beats,
users range in experience and skill. Linux is still the underdog when
it comes to its reputation for thin creative applications though.
Recently, musically inclined Linux developers have turned out a variety
of new and updated software packages for both production and creative
uses. From full-fledged DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), to robust
soft-synths and versatile effects platforms, the OSS audio ecosystem
A surge in technology-focused academic music programs has brought a
fresh crop of software-savvy musicians into the fold. The modular synth
movement also has nurtured an interest in how sound is made and encouraged curiosity
about the technology behind it.
One of the biggest hurdles in the past was the lack of core drivers for
the wide variety of outboard gear used by music producers. With USB 2.0
and improvements in ALSA and JACK, more hardware became available for
use. Companies slowly have opened their systems to third-party developers,
allowing more low-level drivers to be built.
In terms of raw horsepower, the ubiquity of multicore processors
and cheap RAM has enabled Linux to take advantage of powerful
machines. Specifically, multithreaded software design available to
developers in the Linux kernel offer audio packages that offload DSP and UI
to various cores. Beyond OS multithreading, music software devs have
taken advantage of this in a variety of ways.
A well known API called Jack Audio Connection Kit (JACK) handles multiple
inter-application connections as well as audio hardware communication
with a multithreaded approach, enabling low latency with both audio
DSP and MIDI connections.
Ardour has leveraged multithreaded processing for some time. In early
versions, it was used to distribute audio processing and the main interface
and OS interaction to separate cores. Now it offers powerful parallel
rendering on a multitude of tracks with complex effects.