Category Archives: Music

December updates and a Christmas goodie for cable geeks

The silent treatment?

Hi there.
I know I have not been posting a lot the past few months. Sorry for that, really.
The last quarter is always a busy time at work and especially so during Corona; my mother fell ill; I sort of crashed when I ran out of energy; and it was a lot of work to clean up shop after my Plasma5 ‘ktown’ first got adopted as Slackware ‘vtown’ in testing and a bit later replaced the old KDE4 in the core distro. Lots of package recompilations and upgrades to work with the newer stuff in Slackware.

I also worked on (finally) migrating the old ‘bear’ server which was hosted in France, to a newer and more powerful server running in an Amsterdam Data Center. The new server ‘martin’ was mostly ready when I thought, let’s reboot ‘bear’ after applying the latest Slackware security fixes. And then it did not come back up… that was not a comfortable moment, since ‘bear’ not only hosts my own package and git repositories, but also The Slack Docs Wiki, the Slack Docs mailing lists, my own personal Wiki and some private family sites. I opened a support ticket and it turned out that the hard drive had crashed and all data on it were irrecoverable.
Luckily I had just finished making a set of backups and right before that fateful reboot, had discovered that my backup scripts omitted part of the server data… which I had also fixed just in time before  that crash.
It took some additional energy to get the services up and running on ‘martin’ again as soon as possible. I had made some new designs for the new server OS configuration and the new configs were un-tested… I hope not too many people noticed the partial down during the second half of November.
The new server runs fine now, has more disk space especially, so I can finally host the full history of Slackware releases and also the DAW and CINNAMON Live ISO images for which there was no room on ‘bear’.
Thanks again to those people who send me money un a regular basis so that I can pay the monthly rent of ‘martin’!

Despite that stress I have been enjoying myself still, just not in the spotlights. The semi-sudden switch in Slackware from KDE4 to Plasma5 and refreshing its XFCE Desktop had some consequences for my liveslak project. It took some time to work out a new optimal package set for the small XFCE image, and in particular the DAW Live image which is based on a bare Plasma5 Desktop needed attention to make it tick again.

So what’s new in Slackware DAW Live?

Remember: DAW = Digital Audio Workstation.
Read my original article documenting the research into a comprehensive collection of musician/producer oriented free and open source software, and a follow-up article on how to transform a Slackware system into a powerful Digital Audio Workstation.

Art work

I asked you in a previous post to come up with ideas for artwork to use in my Slackware Digital Audio Workstation. Thanks for those who contributed graphics and ideas – all of that creativity has been preserved here on the blog.
I decided to use the image to the left of this paragraph – a Slackware ‘S’ with headphones – as the icon to use for the “Slackware Live DAW” submenu. Contributed by Daedra and slightly colored by me.

I needed a second icon as well, to represent the ‘face’ of the Live user account, and for that I picked one of the contributions from Bob Funk: a Slackware ‘S’ with a TRS jack. You’ll see this one when you boot up the ISO and are asked to login at the SDDM graphical session chooser.

More art work was contributed by Sceptical-C, a friend of mine who doubles as a DJ, musician and producer. His black and white photography are the basis for several Plasma5 wallpapers and one of his photographs is also used as the background in the login and lock screens.

DAW_base package

I decided to move the configuration  of the DAW Live OS’ realtime capabilities out of the liveslak scripts and into a new Slackware package. This package called “daw_base” can be installed on any Slackware computer (preferably Slackware-current with PAM). It configures the OS in such a way that a user who is a member of the Slackware “audio” group is allowed to start applications with real-time scheduling priority. You’ll need that if you want to prevent sound drop-outs (also called XRUNs) during performing, recording and mixing. Some more tweaks are being made, they are documented in the package’s README.1st file. This package also contains the Plasma5 wallpapers which are created from the original Sceptical-C black-and-white artwork.
The package creates a new sub-menu in “Applications > Multimedia” called “Slackware DAW” and collects all my DAW related software in there. The submenus in “Multimedia” for the X42 and LSP plugins are moved into the “Slackware DAW” menu to keep it all closely together. This is very similar to what DAW Live also contains. Just the word “Live” is not present in the name of that menu installed by ‘daw_base‘.

The daw_base package also installs a template file for Slackware’s package manager ‘slackpkg‘. The template called “daw” contains a list of all DAW related software in my package repository and it allows for an easy installation and maintenance of that software collection.

New additions to the musician’s toolkit

Several packages needed a recompilation after the recent Slackware upgrades that are related to the new requirements for XFCE and Plasma5. I used that opportunity to upgrade software to their latest versions instead of recompiling – like Ardour, Mixxx, Jamulus, Guitarix for instance. But I also looked into some new stuff, mostly because people asked me about it. Here they are:

Zrythm.
An intuitive digital audio workstation all in itself. It’s under heavy development and nearing a 1.0.0 release. It supports LV2 plugins, offers a high level of automation, and looks really good. Perhaps an alternative for those who feel Ardour’s learning curve is too steep.

VCV Rack.
VCV Rack by the VCV project is a software emulation of the Eurorack Modular Synthesizer.
The project’s mission statement contains this line which resonated with me: “… the principle behind modular synthesizers is identical to the UNIX philosophy, where stable, minimal modules working together are preferred to a monolithic platform controlled by a single vendor (like portable synthesizer keyboards)“.

A short intermezzo first. My first experience with modular synths was as part of the audience when attending a concert by Pere Ubu, 1981 in De Effenaar in EIndhoven. Alan Ravenstine handled a huge contraption full of patch wires that produced all sorts of weird and interesting sounds. It’s what gave Pere Ubu their uniquely distinctive sound. I read later that he worked with EML modular synthesizers a lot but at the time I didn’t know. Damn impressive, but I decided that industrial sounds were more to my liking. This was during the early rise of Electronic Body Music, and that got me hooked for a while. If you can find the documentary “I dream of WIres” I recommend you watch it. The web site http://idreamofwires.org/ is dedicated to documenting the history of electronic music. An excerpt of a little more than 20 minutes is freely available, it contains an interview with Pere Ubu synth players Alan Ravenstine and Robert Wheeler.

Anyway – back in May 2019, a blog comment by ‘Hank’ already referenced VCV Rack with a question whether I would perhaps consider it for inclusion to my DAW software collection. At the time, my focus was on other things and a modular synthesizer is not the easiest instrument to work with, so I let that pass. But some recent youtube footage sparked my interest and here is the result – a Christmas present of sorts for you: packages for VCV Rack, and three free and open source plugins that expand the collection of available modules in Rack: vcvrack, vcvrack-audible-instruments, vcvrack-befaco and vcvrack-bogaudio.

Note that my VCV Rack package ‘vcvrack‘ contains the Fundamental plugin already. The software is quite useless without it so I decided to bundle it, just like the dev’s binary distribution. It is the only plugin which is automatically loaded by VCV Rack. If you install any other plugin, you need to execute one manual command to add the plugin to your user-directory: this will create a symbolic link to the ZIP file containing the modules and Rack will then automatically find and unzip this plugin and make it available to you.

$ ln -s /usr/share/vcvrack/Pluginname.zip ~/.Rack/plugins-v1/

All ZIP files in the VCV Rack system directory (/usr/share/vcvrack/) are module plugins – this is the format for distributing them.

Here is a Youtube tutorial series that you can use as an introduction to modular synthesis and VCV Rack in particular:

Enjoy! Eric

Liveslak new features, DAW Live, OBS Studio, logo contest

I wanted to update you about a couple of my projects that I was able to spend time on, now that I took some time off of work. I need to distance myself from my day job every so often to prevent a burn-out and this time I am dangerously close.
I baked bread for the first time in years and it was well-received in the family. The result was a tasty sourdough bread using the wild yeast culture that I am keeping healthy for many years now, even if I had not used it for making bread for a long time. Although a while ago I did share some of the sourdough culture with a friend who is also into baking bread. Even a tiny bit of “starter” can jumpstart your career of baking 🙂 It’s a tedious task to raise a healthy culture of wild yeast and suitable bacteria that create good bread.

But I would like to focus more on liveslak, on my Digital Audio Workstation spin, and some new software for which I created packages.

The liveslak project received some interesting new features.
Most importantly, the hard disk installer of the Slackware Live Edition – called “setup2hd” – was expanded. In the past, it used to allow only the installation of the Live OS to your hard drive. But I received requests to also make it possible for setup2hd to install regular Slackware like the official installer does. It sounded like a good idea, and starting with liveslak release 1.3.7 the “setup2hd” program will let you choose from more package SOURCES than just the Live OS. In addition to the Live OS, you can now choose to install regular Slackware from a NFS, HTTP, FTP or Samba server. In other words, Slackware’s network install feature was added.
Why is this different from the setup program on the official Slackware ISO? Well, the most obvious improvement is that you are working in a graphical desktop environment (the Live OS). You can run the setup2hd hard disk installation in an X terminal while you keep doing other stuff like reading online materials or watching a video to pass the time. Moreover, you can install stable Slackware 14.2 from the Live OS. That means MMC and NVMe drives are supported during installation (which is something the official Slackware 14.2 installer does not provide for).
And to top it off, I am now also adding “setup2hd” to the small XFCE ISOs. Word of caution: the XFCE ISOs do not contain a “huge” kernel which means if you want to install the stripped-down XFCE OS to your hard drive, you will have to do a manual “chroot” after installation completes and before you reboot, to edit /etc/lilo.conf and add a section for the “generic” kernel. and then run the “lilo” command to make it stick. Hopefully the “liloconfig” command will learn how to do that for you, sometime soon. You can always perform a Slackware network installation from the XFCE Live OS of course!

The second new feature is the ability of liveslak to configure a custom background image for Plasma5-based Live OS. The custom image is used when generating the Live ISO, as the background for the SDDM login greeter, your desktop wallpaper, and for the lock-screen backdrop.
What I still want to achieve is adding similar functionality to the XFCE and Gnome based Live variants. The snag is that the configuration needs to be scriptable, i.e. when the “live” user logs in everything must already be in place and pre-configured. For Plasma5 that was not trivial to work out, and I have zero Gnome and XFCE scripted desktop configuration knowledge. Suggestions and code snippets are welcome.

My Digital Audio Workstation project, called Slackware Live DAW, received some updates as well. The blog article I link to describes the generic process to tune and tweak Slackware for use as a real-time audio workstation, but I used that knowledge together with a whole lot of useful audio and music software to create a Slackware “spin-off” if you want – building on a lean Slackware package set plus the core of KDE Plasma5.
Since Slackware Live DAW  is based on liveslak, it profited from improvements in that area too. Most notably the DAW Live ISO now comes with a nice dark black & white themed background – which is better on the eyes if you work on your musical project in a room with low ambient light intensity.

Created with GIMP

The other improvement, or enhancement if you will, is that I have collected all the DAW specific programs in their own submenu “Applications > Multimedia > Slackware Live DAW” and removed them from the “Multimedia” menu. This lets you focus on the audio workstation purpose of this Live OS by having all your tools in one place.
And of course, the “setup2hd” program allows you to install the Live OS to your hard drive. One caveat though: the installation will be pristine, meaning you will get all the packages but not the “liveslak” customizations installed. What you won’t get is: the nice wallpaper, the “Slackware Live DAV” submenu, the real-time tweaks to the Operating System and the pre-configured JackQtl. On my TODO is to create a way (perhaps a package) to apply all of these customizations easily afterwards. For now, best is to run the Live OS directly from a persistent USB stick. If you have a bit of patience and at least 8 GB of RAM, you can load the whole Live OS into RAM when it boots up, and use the USB persistence to write your updates to the USB stick while you work, using the liveslak boot parameter “toram=os“. Loading into RAM will take a few minutes but then you have a lightning fast DAW OS that runs completely in memory.

I created a short video to show the boot sequence, the wallpaper and the new submenu:

Now that I am writing about my DAW project, I also want to use the opportunity to ask you – my readers – to participate in a small contest. I am not good with graphical tools, but I would really like a couple of graphics:

  • a logo for Slackware DAW Live. Higher up on this page I used a generic “tux with headphones” image but I want something special for the project. A SVG file would be best but I will settle for a nice PNG.
  • a user icon for the live account. Currently all Slackware Live editions use the purple Slackware “S” icon , but I want an icon that reflects both Slackware and making music.

I welcome your submissions and will create an overview page with all of the graphics I receive. Ultimately I will select the ones I like most and use then in the liveslak project. So please do  not share copyrighted material.
I came up with the wallpaper image myself, and I asked a friend of mine, who is also a producer and a dee-jay, to supply some of his own black & white photography as wallpapers for Slackware Live DAW.

Some of the packages I created or updated lately

I usually update the blog when I have something to share about my high-profile packages like chromium, libreoffice, openjdk, vlc and the likes. But I add stuff to the repository from time to time that serves a specific purpose – either because someone I know requested a new package, or because I expand the list of available software for my DAW Live project. Here are a couple that I did not mention yet.

OBS Studio (formerly known as Open Broadcaster Software) is video recording and streaming software. It is sometimes referenced by people when they email me with requests to create a package for it. Working out the dependencies and packaging those is not trivial. I realized that I could use this myself (to create the above video of booting DAW Live), and have added it to my slackbuilds repository along with a dependency that was not in there yet: mbedtls. The other dependencies for OBS Studio were already in my repository: jack2, vlc  and x264.
I chose not to add “luajit” as yet another dependency. Luajit meant to add Lua scripting support, but OBS Studio already supports scripts via Python3. If anyone needs Lua as well, let me know. I also did not add the suggested “fdk-aac” encoder dependency for AAC audio since Slackware’s ffmpeg package also has an AAC encoder and OBS Studio will use that instead.
I realize that Patrick recently added Simple Screen Recorder (ssr) to Slackware-current but OBS Studio is more powerful and has a lot of features which make it particularly suited for people who stream their video recordings directly to sites like Twitch or Youtube.

Geonkick is “a synthesizer that can synthesize elements of percussion. The most basic examples are: kicks, snares, hit-hats, shakers, claps”. Unfa has a video up on Youtube in which he shows a bit of the interface and the percussion sounds you can create. I added this one to my DAW package list so you can use its functionality as a plugin in Ardour or as a standalone app.

 

QTractor? My DAW package list already contains Ardour and Audacity to use as your main application to record, mix and process music. They serve different purposes and audiences – Audacity is a multi-track recorder with nice post-processing capabilities, and for some people that is all they need when Ardour has a long learning curve.
Qtractor is yet another digital audio workstation tool. It is a multi-track sequencer for audio and MIDI, with a nice QT5 interface and extensive plugin support. I guess it is comparable to Ardour but less complex and therefore suited for somewhat less experienced musicians and producers.

And here is MuseE, another audio and MIDI multi-track sequencer with an interesting feature list and a QT5 interface. Similar to QTractor you can use MusE as a your DAW studio interface or use it to pre-process your MIDI tracks before importing them into Ardour, as shown in this video tutorial sequence by LibreMusicProduction.

It will be a matter of preference which of these programs you are going to use. They are all part of Slackware DAW Live so go ahead and try them out! The Slackware DAW Live ISO image can be found at https://martin.alienbase.nl/mirrors/slackware-live/pilot/ https://slackware.nl/slackware-live/latest/ and I recommend to copy it to a USB stick as a persistent Live OS, using the iso2usb.sh script.
If and when I manage to migrate slackware.nl to a bigger server I will be able to finally host it there along with the other liveslak stuff (Update 2020-Nov-15: I finally migrated to a new server and the old server died in the process, but not before I managed to save all important stuff).

Have fun! Eric

MS Windows on Linux: wine and MinGW-w64

 

I came across two separate discussions on LinuxQuestions.org that had a common root cause; a lack of Windows VST support in Carla and missing PE binary support in Wine causing Windows games to fail on Slackware.
They made me think about how I could help fix the core issue, which is that both SlackBuilds.org and Slackware 3rd party repositories (like mine) do not offer MinGW packages or scripts. To address the issue I needed to create a MinGW-w64 package, which is what I did. More on that, further down.

Back to the issue at hand and their common root cause.

Starting with Wine 5.x, the developers added support for compiling wine’s Windows programs and DLLs into Microsoft PE (portable executable) format instead of building them as Linux ELF binaries. This has advantages, one of the more obvious ones adding compatibility with some copy protection schemes in Windows games.
However with wine-5.12 and newer, it appears that the PE binary format is now a requirement for some modern Windows-based games that you can play in Wine on Linux. Diablo III, World of Warcraft and others are mentioned in the relevant bug report.

This meant that I needed to do something if I ever wanted to update my own Slackware package for wine to a newer version than the 5.6 I had in my repository. Apparently to compile binaries into native MS Windows PE format, you need MinGW, the “Minimalist GNU for Windows“. In fact, I needed MinGW-w64 whichs is a fork made in 2007 of the original MinGW which adds 64bit Windows support and a lot of other enhancements, and is actively developed. Since this is not available for Slackware as a package or SlackBuild yet, I needed to come up with my own version.

The LQ thread mentions an OS-agnostic project from developer ‘Tk-Glitch’ called  “(Mostly) Portable GCC/MinGW” which people used successfully to obtain a working MinGW compiler on Slackware. Since I was completely clueless about MinGW I started with that script, and for me indeed it built a MinGW compiler suite with support tools. Alas, the script was only meant for 64bit OS-es and of course it was not a proper SlackBuild script. So I used the project as inspiration (like, I used the script’s flow and logic) to write a SlackBuild script that would also work on 32bit Slackware.
The result is that I now have MinGW-w64 packages in my repository for Slackware-current as well as 14.2 (32bit and 64bit). The package installs a profile script to “/etc/profile.d/” which adds the MinGW binaries to your $PATH environment variable. On 64bit Slackware you will get both the MinGW programs that create 64bit Windows PE binaries (x64_64-w64-ming32-*) and those that create 32bit Windows PE binaries (i686-w64-mingw32-*). While on 32bit Slackware you will get programs that create 32bit Windows PE binaries (i586-w64-mingw32-*).

Having a MinGW-w64 package finally enabled me to compile the newest wine (enhanced with the wine-staging patch set) properly.
Since the MinGW compilers are in the $PATH, the wine-build will automatically use those where needed, no change to the SlackBuild was required. The result is a wine-5.17wine-5.18 package which has grown considerably in size due to the addition of PE binaries. I hope this package will enable you gamers to play your favorite game again.
Note that I have added new dependencies to the wine package for Slackware-current. In order to improve DirectX sound support you need FAudio.  For Direct3D 12 support, wine additionally depends on vkd3d. You’ll have to install those from my repository as well.
Both FAudio and vkd3d fail to compile on Slackware 14.2, due to a lack of Vulkan library support and outdated other libraries such as Gstreamer, so the wine package for Slackware 14.2 was built without them (but it does need OpenAL as a dependency there. This got added to slackware-current as ‘openal-soft’).

And then there was Carla, the subject of that other LQ thread.
Carla is an audio plugin host; it is contained in my Slackware Live DAW project. It supports a lot of plugin formats, like LADSPA, DSSI, LV2, VST2, VST3 and more. It turned out that my Slackware package for Carla did not support Windows VST plugins. VST is mostly used on Windows, VST is a proprietary format from Steinberg which requires a licence from them to create or host a plugin. The VST3 source code is placed under a GPL3 license; however you still need written agreement from Steinberg if you want to distribute a plugin. Nevertheless, if you are a mucisian and purchased a VST plugin then Carla needs some additional work to use that Windows VST plugin.
Again, MinGW-w64 (and wine) were needed to expand the capabilities of my carla package. Luckily, a new version of Carla was released yesterday so I could apply my newfound knowledge immediately. The new carla-2.2.0 package supports Windows VST’s. Go get it.

For the techies:
Note the different architecture used in the names of the MinGW 32bit binary compilers: “i686” on Slackware64 and “i586” on Slackware. On 64bit Slackware I compile a new gcc, binutils and all the libraries they need first, and use them as a bootstrap for compiling MinGW-w64. That is why I could switch away from Slackware’s “i586” to a new “i686” architecture target, and in principle I can use a different version of GCC than the one shipped with Slackware. On the Slackware 32bit OS I was unable to compile this “bootstrap GCC” so I needed to stick to the version of GCC which is present on Slackware and use that to compile MinGW-w64.
If someone feels adventurous and has a lot of free time, the issue on 32bit Slackware is that after I compile various support libraries, then binutils and then gcc, I can not complete the gcc compilation because it ends prematurely with an error “/tmp/build/mingw_gcc_bootstrap/bin/ld: cannot find -lc“. Apparently the linker does not search /lib or /usr/lib for whatever reason. If I add symlinks for libc into “/tmp/build/mingw_gcc_bootstrap/lib/” then I get a little further in the process, but then the same happens for -lm”. Etcetera. I do not have this issue on 64bit Slackware where I use my multilib version of gcc packages… no idea whether that makes the difference. So in 32bit Slackware I just skip compiling my own GCC and move immediately to compiling MinGW. Suggestions are welcome and appreciated.

Have fun with this! Eric

Note: I used one of Dave Gauer’s logos for MinGW-w64 to decorate this blog page.

Sonic-Pi: live-coding music software now on Slackware

Here is a new program for inclusion into my DAW package collection. It is Sonic-Pi, a ‘code-based music creation and performance tool’ as its web site states. My DAW collection already features Supercollider, which at its core is a powerful audio synthesis engine, but it also features a graphical user interface which you can use for live-coding music. Sonic-Pi has similar capabilities but it is more intuitively accessible (compare it to vi and notepad for instance).
Therefore Sonic-Pi would be better suited for introducing people to the concept of creating music through writing code, and letting that music evolve during a live performance by updating on-the-fly the code which represents the audio synthesis.

Sam Aaron is the creator of Sonic-Pi and uses it as a musical instrument in its own right with his band. He did a TEDx talk about programming as performance a couple of years ago:

He explains how Sonic-Pi was conceived as an educational tool. By making a free and open-source program like Sonic-Pi available to schools (and it runs on the Raspberry Pi – now you know where the program got its name from), you will gently introduce young kids to the art of computer programming while at the same time infusing them with a love for music – because they will be able to create the music they like in no time.

Sonic-Pi uses the synthesis engine of Supercollider, which means that that has to be installed as well. Both Sonic-Pi and Supercollider use JACK to route the audio and let it come out of your speakers.
The graphical user interface allows easy access to a large collection of example code snippets, sound samples and synthesizer definitions, so you will be listening to music in a few seconds after starting the program – after which you can begin modifying that code and hear live what your programming does to the generated music. The GUI also contains a nice visualization of the music you are generating.

The software is usually distributed as an ‘appimage’ which simply bundles everything you need into an archive. This is not really Slackware-like, so I wrote a SlackBuild script which brings some order into the directory structure, removing a lot of redundant megabytes and creating a proper package with a nice menu item.

The liveslak scripts have been updated as well so that the next Slackware DAW Live will include Sonic-Pi.
If you use slackpkg you can download an updated template here: http://www.slackware.com/~alien/tools/templates/daw.template and use “slackpkg install-template daw” to have easy access to the full list of packages.

Get Sonic-Pi from https://slackware.nl/people/alien/slackbuilds/sonic-pi/ or https://slackware.uk/people/alien/slackbuilds/sonic-pi/ . Mind the dependencies!

Have fun! Eric

MIXXX: powerful DJ-ing software

Yesterday I watched a new video on Unfa’s Youtube channnel. He reviewed and demo-ed MIXXX.

Mixxx is a powerful and free (open source) DJ program which allows you perform a live set with up to 4 virtual decks and optionally stream it to a broadcasting server. Common effects like echo, flanger, reverb, bitcrusher are available, and through its LV2 plugin interface you can use many more external effects to spice up your set.
Its master sync feature ensures that the music primed in all your decks stays locked to the beat. You can control pitch and key, or loop a stretch of audio. Quantize your cues and loops so that they start right on the beat all the time. And so on – and all of that with an attractive skinnable user interface.

You can plug in a MIDI controller and map its buttons/knobs/sliders to operate the Mixxx user interface so that you do not have to use your computer’s mouse & keyboard to cue, mangle and cross-fade the audio. There’s actually a lot of presets you can load for the most well-known MIDI controllers like the Novation LaunchPad Mini.

If the JACK daemon is running you can connect Mixxx to it, but it will perform just fine with ALSA as well.

This was a piece of software which was missing from my DAW package collection. Therefore I created packages for mixxx and its dependencies and added them to the repository. The liveslak scripts have been updated as well so that the next Slackware DAW Live will include Mixxx for you to try out.
If you use slackpkg you can download an updated template here: http://www.slackware.com/~alien/tools/templates/daw.template and use “slackpkg install-template daw” to have easy access to the full list of packages.

Have fun! Eric