Last week, on Thr 15 May 2008, the MerriLUG group met at Martha's
Exchange in Nashua.  We were privileged to have Christoph Doerbeck
presenting on "Linux DAW".  Somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 people
were there.  You can find the slides from the presentation on the
GNHLUG web site:

  "DAW" stands for "Digital Audio Workstation", and basically means
using a computer to produce and manipulate sound or music.  Christoph
demonstrated that Linux/FOSS is a real contender in this space.  And
when I say "demonstrated", I mean it.  He brought a portable kit that
was quite impressive.  A moderately sophisticated Yahama keyboard, a
FireWire audio I/O deck (Focusrite Saffire Pro/26), power console with
lamps, amplified speakers, all tied together into a laptop and rigged
up on a stand like a pro.  Woot!

  Christoph started off by talking about some general concepts -- what
sequencing is, how MIDI works, the joys of electrical problems and
their impact on analog audio, etc.  MIDI has evolved, and one can now
run virtual MIDI ports over USB.  I got to learn a little about MIDI
works at the protocol level, but his slides do a better job of
explaining than I can.

  Having introduced the general concepts, Christoph got into how he
made it work on his laptop.  He's running Fedora 8, and there's some
community support focused on audio with Fedora.  He recommended the
CCRMA ("karma") project, which is an add-on repository featuring
updates, additional software, and customized kernels.  He also gave
pointers to the Fedora Project's audio SIG.

  To prove that this wasn't limited to his slides, he then fired up
the Rosegarden music editor and let us see that it really worked.  He
was able to open existing file and have it play back via MIDI using
the Yahama keyboard.  He showed us the "matrix" editor, where one can
configure instruments and tracks, and the notation editor, which is
like electronic sheet music.  He showed percussion mode as well
regular instruments, and then played a song on the keyboard and had
Rosegarden "record" the musical score.  To a musical layman such as
myself, it was all extremely impressive.

  He did mention that it wasn't all fun and games; some work was
involved.  Like a lot of active FOSS efforts, this stuff is evolving
constantly.  That means that things get better all the time, but it
also means that sometimes things aren't as easy as they could be.  For
example, Christoph found that Rosegarden did not come with a "canned"
configuration for his Yahama keyboard, so he had to write his own file
to define it's capabilities.  Once he'd done that, he discovered a
utility which would take a MS-Windows-format file and convert it to
the Rosegarden format, thus saving most of that task.

  Still, as Christoph explained, the alternative is spending thousands
of dollars on closed, commercial software for Microsoft Windows, and
living with all the limitations and drawbacks thereof.  And I have yet
to find a non-trivial software program that doesn't have a learning
curve or need some set-up.  So I can definitely see how the Linux
software competes.

  Christoph has been presenting on Linux DAW concurrently at BLU
(, and will be returning there on Wed 20 May
(today!) to go into more depth.

  Next month in Nashua, Marc Nozell will be presenting an introduction
to MySQL -- assuming the MerriLUG curse doesn't strike again.  ;-)
Hope to see you (and Marc) there!

-- Ben
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