Free Software! Yeah, buddy! (Part Deux)

Home | Computing Lunacy | Free Software! Yeah, buddy! (Part Deux)

So this new computer is happily running Linux and I’m starting to get used to it. It does pretty much everything I ever asked my computer to do. There is Bluefish, an excellent HTML editor, to replace an ancient copy of Homesite (for Windows) that has been on my computers for time immemorial. Open Office does pretty much everything to suit my needs. It opens and plays nice with all my archives from my antique copy of Office XP. Thunderbird is an excellent email program, which has been on my Windows computers for years after Outlook 2002 became outrageously flaky. Everything just works. However, it did take me considerably longer to get everything the way I wanted than it did with Windows.

Now comes Ardour and the ALSA/Jack audio part. I linked up with an excellent support site operated by the electronic music department at Stanford. The site is called PlanetCCRMA (google it) and is run almost entirely by one man, Fernando Lopez-Lezcano. The man is brilliant, both as a musician and a computer geek.?His best quality (from my viewpoint) is that he could explain the theory of relativity to Larry the Cable Guy so Larry could understand it.

I installed Ardour and a bunch of ancillary programs necessary to make Ardour actually do something useful. Also, a 10 channel audio card got installed about the same time in the computer. It’s a Delta 1010LT, made by M-Audio and came highly recommended from the Linux audio community. After installing the software and the sound card, it should have been a simple task to tell the computer to stop using the built-in sound chip and start using the new card… or at least you would think so.

The service used for most Linux audio is called PulseAudio. It was added to most flavors of Linux a few years ago to allow multiple sounds to be played at once, such as playing a mail chime while you’re watching a YouTube video. The service used to support the high end audio that Ardour produces uses a process called ALSA (Advanced Linux Sound Architecture) and is controlled by a program called Jack (if you’re a Linux guru and my explanation is not quite exact, please forgive me). Apparently the two sound services don’t always play nicely together. Some applications are written supporting PulseAudio and some are written supporting ALSA. Some support both. But if PulseAudio is running, ALSA cannot and vice versa. So if you have Ardour open and need to watch a piece of a DVD, that DVD playing application better have ALSA support in it or you’re going to have problems. In an ideal world, there would be a mediator to allow them to co-exist. It’s being worked on, but it ain’t ready for prime time, yet.

But my problem was even more serious.  Since the new audio card was installed, no audio was coming out of the computer.   Off to Google-Land I went.  Days later, I found what appeared to be the solution.  Everything seemed to work on the screen.  The right indicators were there, just no audio.  The box the card came in had been opened, so perhaps it was returned and was defective.  It came out of the Linux box and got plugged into my older Windows XP computer.  Installed the Windows drivers and it worked, first time!  So it wasn’t the card.

Back to the Linux box. Another day or two went by in Google-Land as I attempted to figure out what the hell was going on. Finally, in frustration, I sent an email off to the PlanetCCRMA mailing list. Fernando suggested that I get something that pretty much was guaranteed to work out of the box in ALSA/Jack. Download a drum synth program and run one of the demo loops while trying to figure things out. Oh, by the way, I should go into the mixer program for the card and turn everything up, as usually all that stuff is muted in Linux. BINGO!!!! For three or four days, I had been chasing trouble when the only thing holding me back was that the volume on the card was turned down. Nirvana had been reached, for the moment.

I played a bit with Ardour. For such a complex piece of software, it is surprisingly simple to learn and understand the basics.  Within a few days, I figured out how to import existing audio into Ardour, so I could start with a complete backing track to record my pathetic attempts at impersonating a guitarist. Adding a track wasn’t too tough. I found out a great deal in a very short period of time while playing with Ardour. I was happy!





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