Ubuntu Studio 20.04 LTS

Current home page of Ubuntu Studio

Yesterday I’ve tried and downloaded Ubuntu Studio 20.04 LTS “Focal Fossa” (with its standard XFCE desktop), wrote the Live image to a USB stick, and booted my work notebook from it after work.

That’s quite a nice release, and everything I tried worked right out of the proverbial box, even from that “Live” USB stick. There were some packages I’ve never even seen before, like for instance OBS Studio with which you could make training videos or even live stream some computer games to Youtube if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ardour is still in version 5 on it, and the reasons for that are explained in their news section.

Otherwise, it’s what the home page says: a free and open operating system for creative people, very nice, and everything which is difficult when using ‘normal’ distributions like my Debian (on which Ubuntu is based of course), or which would require some extra work like the audio and/or realtime stuff is preconfigured already, so you can simply start making music, or developing your photographs, make movies or drawings, whatever creative people might want to do.

Documentation including some really nice books is/are here.

Very nice, and highly recommended – that one costs nothing, makes things really easy, and brings the fun back into computing.

As always, thanks for reading.

Thoughts about switching to Linux

Marko Saric wrote an interesting article on opensource.com with the title ‘How to know if you’re ready to switch from Mac to Linux‘.

Just yesterday I was complaining about everything non-Mac or non-iOS in an email to my brother, and the reason for that were the audio system, the general focus on arts like music, photos, and videos, which no other system except those out of Cupertino handle as well in my opinion. Now comes someone and goes back from there, as did others before…

For me, I’m on Linux like forever now. I was some 20 or more years younger than now when I decided to switch from an OS which couldn’t in my opinion be supported anymore because it was deliberately a ‘black box’ (Windows) to something open source. My team lead at work during that time suggested to concentrate on Solaris instead of Linux, so I did both, and learned about both.

Like many here in Germany, I started with Suse, then later switched to Red Hat for a while, and decided sooner or later that I had enough of its ‘RPM hell’, so with a brief side-step over the BSDs to learn about proper package management and Gentoo (make it all yourself, a bit like Arch now) I ended up with Debian due to a tip of a younger colleague in the healthcare IT company I was working for by then.

Marko, in his very nice and recommended article above, recommends Fedora – and although he’s right about the Gnome desktop environment and many other things, please keep in mind that opensource.com is sponsored by Red Hat (which were by now bought by my current employers), while Debian is strictly non-commercial which I prefer by far. The fact that it’s no company at all means that it can’t be bought or sold or otherwise ruined by bad management and/or shareholder or other interest than the interest of those who actually make it. The best model of all IMNSHO.

So why was I complaining about not being on a Mac or on iOS in that email to my brother? It was mainly because of this article (in German) on gearnews, about Steinberg’s Cubasis 3 now also being available for the Android operating system (formerly iOS only).

Of course that’s a clever and bold move from Steinberg (who belong to Yamaha, the world’s biggest vendor of musical intruments in case you didn’t know that). But it’s the underlying Android OS (by Google mostly) which neglected audio during the last years, and which – in opposite to its Apple counterparts – still isn’t really fit for multitasking at all. Plus Apple makes (or has someone make) their own processors, and their A13 chip in the new iPhone SE is pretty much without any real competition (look at benchmarks if you don’t believe me) – even if the current Google Pixel 3a is still the best value per Dollar (or Euro) for the general public and user(s), for artists there’s still nothing better than an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac, no matter the cost.

So there you have it. Why am I still on Linux then? Well, first because of the costs (can’t afford a MacBook Pro and an iPad Pro and whatever), but mostly because of the freedom. The freedom of choice, the freedom to build my own hardware, or to tinker with my OS and system as much as I like, the freedom to recommend or even give it all to friends if I like to, and, last not least, on Linux we’re having some real ‘badass’ stuff as well, and it’s getting better day by day. Try Ardour as an example, yes it also exists for Windows or a Mac, but it’s native on Linux – and that makes all the difference. Or Blender, or Gimp, or RawTherapee – we’re getting there, people, even the so-called ‘creatives’ amongst us.

So go and read that article of Marko’s, even if you’re currently not on a Mac. And substitute ‘Fedora’ with either ‘Arch’ (or ‘Manjaro’ if you want an Arch which is a bit easier to install), or with ‘Debian’ (or ‘Ubuntu’ or ‘Mint’ or whatever) if you want the best package management (which is pretty much irrelevant for a rolling release distro like Arch or Manjaro & Co).

Recommended reading.

Funky Monday, and about making music on Windows

Just got a nice remix on one of my latest tracks from Charli56, and he called/renamed it into “Funky Monday”:

Thanks so much Charli, love it! 🙂

I was thinking of writing something about how I made my add-on on Windows for that track, using the new Ardour 6 on Windows. This is the start window after installation:

Ardour6_Welcome_Screen_Windows
Welcome screen of Ardour 6 on Windows

It says everything there is to say – Ardour is originally developed on Linux, and that’s where it probably runs best, at least I’m using it without many problems since years. On Windows there’s not much developer staff, so no real support for that (sorry). And yes, it *did* crash on me on Windows already (after deinstalling some Cakewalk DAW from Bandlab which had many pointers grabbed and put onto itself, very bad behaviour), and yes, I know my way around gdb (on Linux) or WinDbg (on Windows), but my time and love for that environment is also a bit restricted so to say…

Anyway, I’ve received some more freebie plugins via the makers of my audio interface which is Focusrite – and this time they partnered with PositiveGrid who then provided some cost-free stuff to download as plugins for Windows and Mac. So I downloaded their Windows VST version, and integrated and used it here for this track. Looks like this:

Ardour 6 and Positive Grid on Windows
Ardour 6 and some free Plugins from PositiveGrid on Windows

That is their ’69 Blue Line V2 amp simulation, modeled after an Ampeg SVT again (have another free one from the Guitarix project on Linux). And there’s also a compressor in the signal chain as you see, so for a basic ‘driven’ bass sound this is about all you’d need. I added an Effects send channel with some additional Chorus, Delay, and Reverb plugins from the same maker, but didn’t switch that on in the track you see here which is the one from ‘Funky Monday’ above.

Sounds nice, tho I doubt that I’ll come back to Windows just for this very often – it’s more likely that I’ll do that if I need that nice XLN Audio “Addictive Keys” Studio Grand piano for Zuleikha again.

Steinberg open-sourced their VST specifications, so with more and more VST3 plugins coming out I’m hoping that some day they’ll be platform-agnostic so that we can use them everywhere without things like Wine or WineASIO. Until then, I’ll sometimes maybe return to Windows, let’s see.

As always, thanks for listening, and also for reading.

Ardour 6.0 is released

Great news for all fans of free and open source software: Ardour 6.0 is out. In fact I was waiting for the announcement since last week or so, when Harrison Consoles announced their new version 6.0 of Mixbus and Mixbus 32c, both of which are based upon Ardour.

So this is how the original looks like:

Screenshot of the song “Reaching Out” in Ardour 6.0 on Robin Gareus’ machine

You can read the announcement and get some links from Paul Davis, who is the founder and main developer of Ardour (and Jack and other great programs), here.

And after using it for free for over two years already, I decided to finally subscribe to it, making this the first and only software subscription for me (with the exception of Wikiloops, glad to support that platform as well).

I’ve not seen or tried version 6 yet since on Linux I’ll get it more or less automatically via the KXStudio repositories, but now I can also download the Windows and/or Mac versions of it if I like to – and sure, never tried it on Windows, so why not? I know that some plugins like the ones from Calf Studio Gear are available for Linux only, but so what – I can still try and compare it to others, right? Will be fun I guess 🙂

So thanks to Paul, Robin, and the countless other developers who make something that great even possible. Hats off to you guys and girls.

You can download precompiled versions of Ardour starting at 1US$ here.

Thanks for reading.

How to make a “systemwide” Sonarworks on Linux – the easy way

I’ve been contemplating on trying Sonarworks since a while, and after WhiteDrum55 and kimbo both acknowledged its usefulness in a thread in a Wikiloops forum, and after I learned that Sonarworks even offer some kind of beta version of their plugin on Linux, I downloaded and tried that. I was sold after 20 seconds, and decided to buy it after an hour or two.

So what does Sonarworks do, you might ask. Well basically it equals out the frequency curves of your headphones (and speakers in the ‘Studio’ version). Looks like this for some headphone models we have:

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-50-29
Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-51-04
Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-51-40

These are, from top to bottom, the curves (in blue) before correction, the corrective ones (in green), and the resulting ones (in purple) for the Sennheiser HD598 (my main “open” cans), the AKG K141-2 (Zuleikha’s), and the Sennheiser HD569 (my closed ones).

So that software makes them basically sound almost alike, definitely more neutral. Which is invaluable for recording and mixing.

After playing around with it a while in my DAW I thought how nice it would be to have these corrections systemwide, and in fact for Windows and for MacOS, Sonarworks offers a program they call “Systemwide” which does exactly that. But for Linux they don’t – so I’ve made one. 🙂

(Credits have to go to user sysrqer in this Linuxmusicians forum entry who’s describing how to do it in just a few words – so I’ll mostly add some screenshots to make it a bit more clear here)

You’ll need a few programs called ‘claudia’, ‘carla’, and ‘cadence’ for this, which come with the KXStudio repositories – so these are available for Debian and its many derivatives like for instance Ubuntu Studio. There are ways to do this on other distributions, but not with these tools, and therefore not that easy – so that’s out of the scope of this article.

So in Cadence, you’ll use LADISH to automatically load a studio after your login, like this (I called mine ‘Sonarworks’):

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-59

In the “Engine Settings” for Jack, you’ll have to mark a checkbox to “Ignore self connect requests to external ports only”, like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-41

Then, under “Tools”, you use ‘Claudia’ to set it all up:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-13-49

In ‘Claudia’ you have to set up that Studio (here ‘Sonarworks’), and add Carla to it, like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-14-11

In ‘Carla’, you’ll add the Sonarworks Reference 4 plugin which comes as a VST plugin for Linux (with an .so file type):

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-53-48

And in the “Patchbay” tab of ‘Carla’, you’ll do the cabling like this:

Screenshot from 2020-05-08 07-54-10

Make sure that you don’t have a second set of cabling running from the PulseAudio Jack Sink directly to the System playback inputs, and also check after a reboot, or after loading/unloading programs like Ardour.

And boom – you’re set:

Screenshot from 2020-05-09 11-57-53

With the wrench symbol in the plugin loaded into Carla, you can start the graphical interface of Sonarworks – so that is how my screen looks after I log into my system.

This isn’t all perfect yet, and the plugin itself has some relatively high demand on CPU (about 10% on my older Core i5 processor), but that will surely improve over time. Hearing music (and now also videos and other sources) like they should sound is invaluable to me, and well worth the price. Did my first new mixes for Wikiloops already using this, and I couldn’t be happier.

As always, thanks for reading.

The Gimp has some incredible fonts

I was looking for some free kanji-like vector graphics to make an album cover with just using one Chinese character, namely 詩.

Copied one out of a Youtube video, but then I stopped and thought “hmmm, cannot do this, at least not without asking…” – so I asked.

To just have something to do I decided to make a template for Wikiloops album cover images (size 465×456) in The Gimp, and once inside that program I looked into the fonts, and bingo! – there was everything (and more) which I wanted and needed for my next project. Have a look:

The Chinese character 詩 which means ‘poetry’ and also ‘song’ in English, size 220px

Awesome, isn’t it? Who knew that I had all the vector graphics I needed! So I wrote another email to the friendly calligrapher on Youtube and told him/them that he/they could ignore my last message, but feel free to be invited to Wikiloops in case they also make music like we do… oh, and their character was in simplified Chinese, while this one here is traditional.

I’m happy. Best things in life are free…

And as always, thanks for reading.

What to do in times of a pandemia

Well I can hardly give any tips of what best to do in a “lockdown” kind of situation, when you can’t or at least shouldn’t really leave the house. I can only tell you what we’re doing:

  • we went shopping of Friday after my work already, so we were through with that early on. It also helps if you enter the supermarkets as a single person, not with a whole family. Better for the distances we should keep…
  • reading is always good – my current favourite fiction author is Haruki Murakami as you might know if you’re reading this blog once in a while
  • listening to music and/or watching TV is what I’ll guess what most people would do, and of course we’re also doing that. Long running series like “Doctor Who” are good tips if you like that
  • If you’re a computer geek, get involved into some free and open source project – write some code or documentation, or share some tips via an own blog or Youtube or whatever
  • We’re the lucky ones, at least Zuleikha and me – we play instruments. Plus we are both members of Wikiloops where you can play with other musicians from all around the globe for free if you like. All you need is some way to get your instrument or voice into a computer, which is usually done with some kind of audio interface – see here for some examples. And Wikiloops just lifted its time restrictions, so even as a new user you can now start down- and uploading at once, without having to wait (or to pay).
  • If you are creative in another field – I consider myself a portrait photographer for instance – then do this at home as well. Take photos of your family, or in case you’re alone, take self portraits. There’s always something new to learn, and if it’s only about lighting.

Other than that I haven’t done much this weekend, in fact I wasn’t even out of the house except to feed the birds:

7e4_3222159-bird-food
Bird food, Mörfelden-Walldorf 2020

As I’ve read, the rate of new infections with SARS-CV2 aka the Corona virus is slowing down here in Germany. So maybe (and hopefully) it helps if everyone is staying at home or at least keeping a safe distance. And while it’s still way too early to speak of or to hope for a trend, we can still carry on and wait this out, shall we?

Be safe. Stay healthy. And thank you for reading.

Having fun with our server again…

Something broke again, so instead of making music or photographs or reading I’m spending most of my evenings with our server. I can hardly complain tho, because except for the rent of this small virtual server we’re not paying anything – using free and open source software throughout, so we’re responsible for it to work.

Sometimes tho I’d love to have some time for myself, or for some friends and family and other hobbies than this one… during my daytime I’m asked to do totally different stuff, so I’m not that much of a server admin anymore like I used to be. Hard to keep up if development is accelerating and you also have less and less time to keep up.

Anyhow, as you can see the webs are currently working. Next is email.

As always, thanks for reading.

A short history of free – and commercial – operating systems

Like the English Wikipedia with its “Featured articles“, the German one also has its “Artikel des Tages” on its start page – each day a different one. I love these, you learn a lot about the world with just looking (and reading if you’re interested of course).

And today’s featured article, or “Artikel des Tages” on the German Wikipedia is about BSD, the so-called “Berkeley Software Distribution” (I’ll link to the German pages here, for English just click inside of Wikipedia if you like).

BSD and its kernel are one of the two mainline free Unix kernels, the other one was/is System V. Both are monolithic, and both stem from the AT&T (later also Bell) labs. BSD was/is used in early and recent operating system versions from Apple, but after Steve Jobs left the company, he founded another one called “NeXT“, and used a microkernel called Mach which was developed at the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for his operating system NeXTStep. When Apple bought NeXT in 1996, part of the deal was that Steve Jobs should come back and become Apple’s CEO. What they developed then was/is known as macOS, and that’s today’s commercially most successful Unix variant for personal computers (actual version is “macOS Catalina“). And even iPhones and iPads (did I write that correctly?) are based on this architecture, tho the end user doesn’t see much of that.

BSD itself split up into three mainline “distributions”, or “flavours”, so to speak, named NetBSD, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD, each with slightly different goals but from the kernel side pretty much identical. These can also run programs compiled for Linux.

As for the Linux side: that’s younger than its BSD siblings, but older than anything with Mac in its name. I run Debian on my systems which is developed not by a company but by a team of volunteer developers (both hobbyists and employees of big companies) world-wide. The advantage of this is that decisions are based on team votings, and that the system cannot be bought and commercialized (or even be closed down) by any big company.

In case you’re interested in Debian’s history: 13 years ago after I met him at a Linuxtag meeting in Karlsruhe I email-interviewed Ian Murdock (the “-ian” part of “Debian”), and you can read that here on my site (RIP Ian, and thanks again for everything).

So much for a short history lesson, and about free software for today. As always, thanks for reading.