Category Archives: Music

Explorations into the world of electronic music production

Apart from playing the recorder flute in primary school and keyboard with my father-in-law, I pretty much never had the chance to make music or even, to create new music. That did not bother me in the past, but when I married into a very musical and creative family I realized I was the only one without musical education or skill in playing an instrument. The family has (ir)regular jam sessions and sometimes arranges (mostly private but) quite high-quality classical music performances.

But, I had other hobbies, Slackware being one of them of course, and reading books while listening to my own music collection (which almost has no overlap with my wife’s by the way). And I was glad when I saw that my son has inherited my wife’s genes and has a knack for languages and music. He is exploring digital music making, has a keyboard or two and installed Ableton Live on his computer. I could never convince him that Slackware was the better alternative to Windows, all his friends are on Windows and what the group does is important for a teen. And furthermore, there’s a slew on tutorial and instruction video’s out there, all expecting you to use Ableton.

I looked at Ableton for its possibilities, and I had several discussions with one of my colleague/friends who is also a DJ/producer and uses Ableton a his primary driver. Seems to be a real nice program… but it costs hundreds of euros. So purchasing a license for Windows 10 and another one for Ableton, just to be able to converse with my son was not an option. I’ll introduce him to my friend and we’ll visit his studio to get inspiration. Then he can implement what he learnt, using tools he is familiar with.

During the past two years, I made some purchases just to have fun with creating sounds and rhythms, buying a couple of Pocket Operators from Teenage Engineering. I had one of these PO’s in my car, plugged into the car stereo and let my son create loops and sounds while on trips. Lots of fun and not too expensive. I also have an external USB soundcard,a FocusRite Scarlett 2i4. and a MIDI keyboard and bass guitar in the attic. But life’s too short and lots of stuff asks for attention – I never spent much productive time with my gear.

But these recent discussions about how to create digital music from scratch, and my wish toe be able to record the live performances of my in-laws, triggered a desire to have a better look at electronic music production and music recording, but then on Slackware Linux of course.

What would be needed for that? I would need software to create sounds (i.e. synthesizers), manipulate audio, create drum tracks, sequence the music, record and mix it. Also my USB sound card needs to be supported and I want my use midi keyboard to enter the notes that I play into the system. I obviously need low-latency real-time performance of my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).

I guess that for many Linux musicians, the Debian-based AVLinux is a first choice when looking for pre-packaged, pre-configured Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) solutions and supporting software. But we Slackers already have Studioware – a Slackware expansion set which gives you a great toolkit with audio- and video manipulation software. My liveslak project even supports Studioware directly, and is able to create a Studioware Live ISO. You should try that out – it has a ton of software, not just for audio but also for video recording, manipulation and recording.

But… again… and that’s just me… I think that there’s no fun in using other people’s ready-made stuff. Here I am thinking again as the software packaging geek who wants to create possibilities for other people while not necessarily using those myself.

Anyway, I decided not to look too closely at what others had already done, and research a decent set of software products that I want to try out, and on Slackware-current too. Studioware is running on Slackware 14.2 and I tend to develop new stuff on our development platform.

And after a couple of weeks spent on reading, compiling, testing and scratching my head at my lack of knowledge, I came up with this list of software that I think is a nice start for venturing into DAW country. All of this is free and open source:

  • Music recording/mixing/manipulating:
    • ardour: the professional-grade Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
  • Sound editing:
    • audacity: a graphical sound editor with a GTK3 based UI.
  • Synthesizers:
    • amsynth: an analog modelling synthesizer.
    • helm: a polyphonic synth with lots of modulation also works as a LV2 plugin.
    • zynaddsubfx: a software synthesizer and also a LV2 plugin.
  • Drum machine:
    • hydrogen: an advanced drum machine with Qt5 based GUI.
  • MIDI input:
    • vmpk: Virtual MIDI Piano Keyboard is a MIDI events generator and receiver which can be used to drive a MIDI synthesizer.
  • Audio manipulation plugins (not counting the standalone applications mentioned above that will also run as an Ardour plugin):
    • avldrums.lv2: a LV2 plugin wrapping the AVLinux Drumkits.
    • calf: Calf Studio Gear is a LV2/DSSI plugin collection but it also works as a standalone JACK-host.
    • eq10q: equalizer (and more) as LV2-plugins.
    • vamp-aubio-plugins: a small collection of audio feature extraction plugins.
  • System tools:
    • jack-audio-connection-kit (jack2): to provide low-latency real-time audio routing.
    • alsa-plugins-jack: part of alsa-plugins but not included in Slackware, allows audio to be routed to and from ALSA applications that are not JACK-aware.
    • qjackctl: a Qt5 application to control the JACK sound server.
  • Support libraries for implementing a DAW:
    • aubio: a system to extract annotations from audio signals.
    • ladspa_sdk:  SDK for sound plugins adhering to the Linux Audio Developer’s Simple Plugin API (LADSPA).
    • liblo: implementation of the Open Sound Control (OSC), a protocol for communication among multimedia devices.
    • lv2: the LV2 open standard for audio plugins.
    • rubberband: a library for audio time-stretching and pitch-shifting.
    • vamp-plugin-sdk: an audio processing plugin system (you still need to install actual plugins).
    • wxGTK3: GTK+3 implementation of the cross-platform wxWidgets API
  • Further dependencies for the above (not part of Slackware) that I had to create as packages to get it all working:
    • drumstick: MIDI libraries for Qt5. This is also part of my ‘ktown‘ Plasma5 desktop package set.
    • liblrdf: library to access LADSPA plugin metadata.
    • lilv: a library for using LV2 plugins in applications.
    • mxml: library to read and write XML and XML-like data files.
    • serd: RDF syntax library.
    • sord: library for storing RDF data in memory.
    • sratom: library for serialising LV2 atoms to and from RDF.
    • suil: library for loading and wrapping LV2 plugin UIs.
  • System libraries that I already had in my repositories and which you may already have installed:
    • qt5: the toolkit for creating graphical interfaces
    • libxkbcommon: support library for Qt5, handling keyboard descriptions.
    • OpenAL: support library for Qt5, implementing a 3D audio API.
    • SDL_sound: support library for Qt5 handling the decoding of various sound file formats.
Update 15-march-2019

Additions to the above set resulting from the discussion in the comments area below the main article:

  • Music notation:
  • Live Coding:
    • supercollider: a platform for audio synthesis and algorithmic composition
  • Plugins:
    • lsp-plugins: Linux Studio Plugins supporting LV2, LADSPA and Jack.
  • Support libraries:
    • portaudio: a cross platform audio I/O library.
    • portmidi: a platform independent library for MIDI I/O.
  • Front-ends:
    • qsynth: a Qt5 GUI Interface for FluidSynth.

Looking back, that is a big list! Actually when I started with my shortlist as mentioned above I did not anticipate that my ideas would require this many tools to support it. However I think that in order to do some serious audio production work on your computer, this is actually the minimum of applications that you require. There may be more, and I am very curious to hear from you if there is Open Source Software not on the above list, which you think is invaluable to your work as a musician or music producer and should be added here.

The ‘big boy’ in this collection, and the center of any DAW activities on Linux, is Ardour.

Ardour DAW

This is a complex program, but luckily the developers have an extensive manual online. And if you search on Youtube you will find a lot of videos on how to work in Ardour (most of them for older versions and most of them too obscure or too rambling to be educational). However, an Ardour channel on Youtube has just been created with the intention of releasing a new series of quality instruction videos, produced by Unfa who himself has a lot of nice videos on his own channel. Like I said, I have been scratching my head a lot lately, but my hair is still there and I will make progress and understand how to use this tool efficiently… eventually.
And I am glad to finally have Audacity in my repository, something I wanted/needed for quite a while.

All these packages are available in my regular repository, with one caveat (at least for now): I have built all of them for Slackware-current (both 32bit and 64bit). If you are running Slackware 14.2 then for now you need to have a good look at Studioware instead, or you can of course download the sources for my packages and compile them yourself.
The build order is roughly like this:

  • jack2
  • alsa-plugins-jack (depends on jack2)
  • lv2
  • vamp-plugin-sdk
  • aubio (depends on jack2, and additionally on ffmpeg on Slackware 14.2)
  • liblo
  • ladspa_sdk
  • liblrdf (depends on ladspa_sdk)
  • rubberband (depends on ladspa_sdk and vamp-plugin-sdk)
  • serd
  • sord (depends on serd)
  • sratom (depends on lv2 and sord)
  • lilv (depends on sratom)
  • suil (depends on lv2 and qt5)
  • ardour (depends on jack2 aubio lv2 vamp-plugin-sdk liblo liblrdf lilv rubberband and suil)
  • mxml
  • ntk
  • portmidi (depends on openjre)
  • portaudio (depends on jack2)
  • zynaddsubfx (depends on jack2 liblo mxml ntk and portaudio)
  • hydrogen (depends on jack2 ladspa_sdk liblo liblrdf rubberband and qt5)
  • wxGTK3
  • audacity (depends on jack2 ladspa_sdk lilv suil vamp-plugin-sdk and wxGTK3)
  • qjackctl (depends on jack2 and qt5)
  • calf (depends on jack2 and lv2, and for Slackware 14.2 additionally on fluidsynth)
  • avldrums.lv2 (depends on lv2)
  • helm (depends on jack2 and lv2)
  • amsynth (depends on jack2 ladspa_sdk and liblo)
  • eq10q (depends on lv2)
  • vamp-aubio-plugins (depends on aubio and vamp-plugin-sdk)
  • drumstick (depends on qt5)
  • vmpk (depends on drumstick)
  • musescore (depends on jack2 portaudio portmidi and qt5)
  • qsynth (depends on qt5)
  • lsp-plugins (depends on jack2 ladspa and lv2)
  • supercollider (depends on jack2 and qt5)

I hope to get some interesting feedback from you. I am also considering how all of this could be added to a function-focused liveslak variant, as small as possible so it may load completely into memory. Actually I would prefer to attempt such a Live ISO using a bare Plasma5, rather than XFCE or other light-weight desktop environments (everybody else is probably already using XFCE). The Plasma5 desktop framework is very powerful and fast, and it could benefit the user of a DAW if everything she plugs in just works.

Ideas? Enjoy! Eric


Mongolian folk music

A few sounds I wanted to share with you.

I have a broad musical taste, ranging from classical to metal, from ethnic to industrial. I am drawn to all these kinds of music because of the physical and emotional impact. Music has to move me – I have never been a follower of hit lists. It’s not about the song texts, more important is the atmosphere conveyed by the song text. I like to be surprised by sounds I have never heard before, or a musical direction that is new to me. Ethnic music especially appeals to me – perhaps because as a young child, my dad used to let me listen to cassette tapes full of eastern and african music.

On the topic of ethnic music, which is what this post is about, what I appreciate in music is when it achieves a fusion of cultures. For instance, combining traditional ethnic melodies and instrumentation, with contemporary music and production. In a broader sense, mixing the old with the new. That is what keeps the old music alive and gives the contemporary music a new soul. Germany is full of bands that create an exciting mix of medieval and ethnic song structures with electronic or rock music. Musical purists have a hard time appreciating these blends… I have had discussions with friends and family about how old music is being killed by fusing it with modern rhythms. Well, to each their own taste. I enjoy myself immensely and to me that is the important bit.

I rarely listen to radio stations these days. When I was young, I was hooked to  my stereo because that was my source of musical education. Now of course there is the endless ocean that is the Internet… I visit a lot of music blogs and let myself be inspired by the stories told. If you’re interested, you may want to look at the Totally Fuzzy music blog aggregator.

Recently, I have been listening to some contemporary Mongolian folk music that was mentioned on one of these blogs. Mongolia is a country that has been influenced by its big neigbors China and Russia, who both ruled there in the previous century. Several hundreds of years earlier, Mongolia’s culture was touched by Tibetan Buddhism, but of course we all know it best for Genghis Khan, the ruler of the Mongol Empire some 800 years ago.

I was intrigued by the discovery that contemporary Mongolian bands practice the same “throat singing”, also called “overtone singing” or “höömii” that I was familiar with… but assumed to be limited to Tibetan Buddhist monk chants. What do you know.

A nice example of the art of throat singing, accompanied by an ancient mongolian musical instrument (in this case, a morin khuur) is displayed in the following video (exemplary is the comment “cameraman at 4:38 trying to identify where that sound is coming from – then he’s like WTF?!?!“):

I was pleased to learn that there is a thriving musical scene in Mongolia, centered around its capital city Ulan Bator. I also found that I missed several concerts in the Netherlands and Germany that I could have attended if only I had known… but there are some good video registrations which I will link to further below.

Egschiglen is a group that has been around for some 20 years now. Their music has a trance-like feeling to it. It is inspired by works of classical Mongolian composers, and their instrumentation is fully acoustic and authentic. Quite different from the more modern sounding folk/rock groups I will discuss next, the two albums by Egschiglen I heard (Zazal and Gereg) touched me on a deep level. Perhaps because I have not really experienced a lot of traditional Chinese music? I found it magical.

I found a recording of a live performance in Berlin (the band has a second home in Germany) by three of Egschiglen’s members, followed by a larger set where you can experience the full band including their female singer:

Of the bands that produce contemporary music, perhaps I like Altan Urag best. There’s so much energy and originality here! The song “Khukh Tolboton (Blue Mark)” of their album “Made in Altan Urag” featured during the closing credits of the movie “Mongol” (2007). Here is a link to a video that was made by joining shots of that movie with shots of the band (the song is played at a slightly higher pitch than the original album version, probably to make it fit with the movie credits):

Completely different atmosphere in their song Requiem:

And then there is Hanggai – a Beijing based group founded by a former member of a punk band who rediscovered his Mongolian roots. If I interpreted correctly, they are the most successful Mongolian band outside Asia.

Hanggai make quite an appearance! See this video which is a live performance at the Midi festival in Beijing of the song “Xig Xile” from their 2010 album “He Who Travels Far”:

A studio take of the same song can be seen here:

The unique aspect of these bands is how their music successfully fuses their own cultural roots with the world they live in today. In China, that is certainly an achievement. To me, this was a worthwhile addition to my musical library.

Enjoy! Eric

Punk Poet

Tonight I saw an interview with John Cooper Clarke on television. Once called “the punk poet”, his star rose in the late seventies and early eighties with energetic performances – reciting his poetry on stage almost like firing bullets at you. Dressed up all in black he would look like a skinny scarecrow. John Cooper Clarke often opened punk gigs, warming up the audience with a near unintelligible stream of witty texts. I very much liked JCC’s vinyl albums where his recitals were enhanced with a musical backing by the Invisible Girls (lead by Martin Hannet, the producer of Joy Division and many other bands to follow).

Those initial years of fame were followed by decades of silence, and the interview explains why – he “just did not care” anymore. Now, he is back, performing live… looking older and frailer because of a past heroin habit, but still the energy and wit is there!

Here is a youtube video of an old performance – “Health Fanatic”. I love it!

Unfortunately Youtube “beeps” away lots of the rougher text parts, otherwise I would have linked you to the superb “Twat”. Also recommendable is “Beasly Street” which in the 1980s was regarded by many as a sign of the time. It is a pamphlet against Margeret Thatcher – the Prime Minister whose politics caused massive unemployment in the UK at the time.

OK let’s add it anyway. This one backed by the band.

I hope you will have a good time John. Rattle those sticks a bit.


RIP Lux Interior

R.I.P. Lux Interior

On wednesday february 4th 2009, we lost another icon of the music scene. Lux Interior, co-founder and singer of The Cramps, died at the age of 62. The old bastard!

The Cramps were a major influence on the development of my musical taste in the early 80’s (yeah, previous century… I am old). Pure raw energy and mean guitar sounds provided by Lux’s wife and Cramps co-founder Poison Ivy. I saw them playing live in Ahoy, Rotterdam, sometime between ’85 and ’88, can’t exactly remember. The Ahoy is a brick hall with terrible acoustics but the audience crowded in front of the small stage and that gave the concert an intimacy and vibrance that made us all forget about the crappy surroundings. Steamy show, fantastic performance.

I can’t tell you which of their songs is my favourite track… there is so much! Human Fly is high on the list, as is Garbage Man. Their cover of Fever is something you should have heard at least once.

There is lots of video footage to be found on youtube, definitely worth having a look at. Like this one:

The picture at the start of this post is the front cover of The Cramps’ “Off the bone” album. I actually have this as a vinyl record with the cover in red-and-green. The record came with red-and-green 3D-glasses. You look through these glasses at the cover and the scene will spring to “full 3D” life. Nice trick!

Sad to see you go Lux. Your music will haunt us forever, may you rest in peace.

Youtube HD mp4 download

*** This post was updated with new JavaScript code on 27-oct-2009 ***

Sure, you can install Video Downloadhelper for Firefox if you want an easy way to download your favourite YouTube videos.

However, these will be downloaded in “FLV” format (Flash video). Nowadays, many videos on YouTube are available in High-Definition (HD) format and you may want to retrieve the higher quality (MP4) movies instead.

Here is a bit of JavaScript which checks if the movie you selected is available as HD 720p. If a HD format is available it will be the preferred download type (fmt24) instead of the usual “high” (fmt18) or

I got the javascript code from this page, which I found after my original javascript code stopped working (I guess Google removed the javascript functions to block folks like us): . The new code is a lot uglier than the initial javascript, but it works. That page also has the same code available, nicely reformatted, as a GreaseMonkey script if you have that firefox extension already installed.

Define the following text as a bookmark and you are only a click away from downloading HD YouTube videos (in Firefox, right-click the link below and select “bookmark this link“):


Note: this was the old code which now will no longer work:


The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Select a YouTube video, click on “pause” if you do not want to play it in the embedded video frame. Then, click on the bookmark you created and the video will start downloading. It will (always) be saved with the name “video.mp4” so you will have to rename it after the download finishes.

Have fun! Eric